Regeneration game

Regeneration game

By Michael Pickard
June 6, 2024


Doctor Who marks the latest stage of a varied career on and off-screen for actor Michelle Greenidge. She speaks to DQ about taking risks to land her dream job and working alongside Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson on the BBC’s flagship sci-fi series.

From council worker to television actor, Michelle Greenidge’s career has regenerated once or twice. Now, as one of the stars of the latest season of Doctor Who, she’s mixing with aliens and dealing with the sight of a bright blue police box crash-landing in her London flat.

Viewers might also recognise Greenidge from roles in Mandy, The Witchfinder, After Life, It’s A Sin, Adult Material and Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, where she appeared in the first of its five films, Mangrove. It’s a body of work that suits Greenidge’s own tastes, featuring a mix of comedy and drama projects, and showcases her versatility on screen.

“It’s a weird one, actually, because when I trained, it was always in my head to be a bit of a chameleon,” she tells DQ. “It’s really important for me to do jobs I like. I won’t do something just because I fit the brief, because you put everything into it.”

Greenidge has appeared in projects helmed by noteworthy creatives, from directors such as McQueen to writers like Ricky Gervais and Russell T Davies, who penned It’s A Sin and is back as the showrunner on Doctor Who after reviving the sci-fi series in 2005.

“It’s always a good thing to be involved in shows that people are talking about and are popular, with people who have got a good resumé behind them,” she continues. “But that is not the be all and end all, because sometimes I’ll do short films for people just starting out. It’s nice if they can get someone established on their projects. It gives them a bit of a head start, and I’m all about helping and supporting people, especially young people.”

Michelle Greenidge as Carla with Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor in the new Doctor Who

Now starring in Doctor Who, Greenidge was introduced as Carla Sunday, the adoptive mother of Ruby (Millie Gibson), in the 2023 Christmas special The Church on Ruby Road, which was the first full episode featuring Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa as the 15th incarnation of the Doctor. An alien who travels through space and time in its TARDIS, which takes on the appearance of the aforementioned police box, the Doctor teams up with Ruby to take on a band of baby-eating goblins before she becomes the Time Lord’s companion.

Subsequent episodes have seen the pair meet a spaceship full of talking babies, save music in the 1960s and encounter soldiers on a futuristic alien planet. Every episode also touches on the mystery surrounding Ruby’s real parents.

Greenidge first got the call to audition for the role of Carla in December 2022, and she jumped at the “exceptional opportunity” to join the show. She recorded two scenes as part of her audition and was quickly hired.

“Doctor Who is such an iconic show, I was blown away when they told me I got the job. I was bouncing off the walls,” she recalls. “Then starting on the show was everything I would have hoped and more, because it is really a family and everybody is kind. They are working at the top of their game. They’re incredibly talented. They’re supportive. Everything about that show just makes me feel happy and at peace.

“In those environments, I’m able to bring my best work to the table because I’m comfortable, and I was comfortable with the cast and meeting Ncuti, Millie and Angela [Wynter, who plays Carla’s mother Cherry] and we all get on. It’s a really important thing for me to have good chemistry with people on and off screen, so that was a real bonus. We’ve all been comfortable and happy to bring our best work to the table.”

Through the series, viewers see the family dynamics between Carla and Ruby, her adopted daughter among many other children that she has fostered – though events sometimes lead Carla to forget she even has a daughter.

Greenidge (far right) alongside co-stars (L-R) Angela Wynter, Millie Gibson, Gatwa and Anita Dobson

“Carla as a character has got so much love and care for others, particularly Ruby, and she’s got huge compassion,” Greenidge says. “It was really important to me that that really resonated with the audience and came through. She’s a loving mother, and Ruby’s very special.

“It’s a modern family – Carla, Ruby and Cherry – and the three of us are three independent women bonded together in a loving and caring family. I loved the way we were introduced in the Christmas special, along with Ncuti. We’ll see what the series brings, but you’ll be seeing more of us.”

With Disney+ buying into Doctor Who at the start of Gatwa’s reign, the series has returned with a larger production budget with which to bring to life new aliens and unrecognisable worlds, even if the Doctor and Ruby find themselves somewhere on Earth. As such, Greenidge says Doctor Who is produced on an “epic level,” with filming split between producer Bad Wolf’s own Wolf Studios in Cardiff and locations in the surrounding area.

“From the beginning, you get your script, you read it, you understand what’s going on with it. You find your character and where you fit into that. You know your lines and you understand the relationships you have with other people,” Greenidge explains. “Then on set, you make choices. It’s up to you to make the choices that you feel best suit what it is you’re doing or deliver the message.

“I really like to immerse myself in my characters and really walk in their shoes. So I will do a lot of backstory work for my characters, things that are not shown on screen but maybe what I was doing before I did this scene, or about my family background or previous work history or whatever it is. That enables me to walk in the shoes of the character and be that person. It’s important you do that work so you know you can deliver those special moments.”

Gibson plays Ruby, Carla’s adopted daughter, and Ruby’s true parentage is a recurring plot point

The actor describes the Doctor Who script readthroughs as “nerve-wracking” affairs, with everyone involved in the show sitting together in a room to hear the cast go through the latest episode.

But with Davies running the show, each actor knows every bit of the story and how they fit into wider season-long arcs, while Greenidge says he is always available to field queries about characters.

“There are no ‘silly questions’ for Russell. He’s got time for everybody and is the most amazing man in television,” she says. “His ability to tell a story is exceptional, and that carries on with the scripts he’s produced on Doctor Who. Then on top of that, he’s such a lovely human; he’s just warm and supportive and he gives you great feedback as well.

“He’s always got time to thank you and he is very grateful, not just for the cast but the entire production team. He recognises the effort and the hard work they’re putting into the show, and to have that come from somebody at such a high level, you don’t normally have that. You have showrunners who probably think that, but you won’t necessarily know that from them telling you, and we know it because he tells us.”

While Doctor Who is known for pushing the boundaries of storytelling, this season is particularly special with Gatwa the first black, African-born and openly queer actor to play the Doctor. Greenidge describes him as “exceptional. He is just an awesome human, a brilliant actor and a lovely young man.”

“What he’s delivered so far has been incredible,” she continues. “People have really taken to him, and so they should. In one of my standout moments of filming this season, when Carla’s character changes [to forget Ruby in The Church on Ruby Road], I was able to see up close and personal how incredibly talented Ncuti is. It’s just his timing. Some actors can’t cry on cue, but he can cry. There’s nothing he can’t do.”

Greenidge’s other roles including starring alongside Diane Morgan in comedy series Mandy

From an early age, Greenidge harboured hopes of becoming an actor. She adored drama at school, and her early inspiration was Trudie Goodwin, who left her teaching post at Greenidge’s school in Peckham, south London, to follow her own acting career, starring in classic British police series The Bill as Sergeant June Ackland.

But with parents who wanted their daughter to find a more reliable income, she instead forged a career in housing with Southwark Council, joining the local authority at 16 and performing various roles from assisting homeless clients to working in the fraud department.

A chance opportunity to perform roleplay during a training course then led her to swap her council role after 20 years for a corporate roleplay company. She was then able to get an agent and start performing in theatre shows – and winning awards – before transitioning to the screen. But it’s her council work she credits as the training ground that prepared her for becoming an actor.

“Because I lived and worked in Southwark, it’s a real melting pot of people from every walk of life and they experienced highs and lows, so it was beneficial to me as a person to have experienced the pressures of living in a borough where there’s a lot of poverty,” she says. “That really grounded me as a person. But also I draw on that experience as an actor when I’m working, because I’ve had the benefit of knowing what situations feel like. I don’t have to struggle to imagine where people are at.

“If I’m performing an emotional scene, for example, I can almost feel my blood tingling. I can feel my heart racing, I get under the skin of it. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have learned through lived experience, and not just through drama school where you do what you think it is. I actually know what it is. I’ve got a lot of life experience now.”

Greenidge can now also be seen in Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams’ adaptation of her own novel about a 25-year-old Jamaican-British woman straddling two cultures and fitting into neither as she contemplates life after a messy break-up. She plays Aunty Maggie in the series, which debuted on Channel 4 in the UK this week and lands on Peacock in the US on Friday. She also has a role in Charlie Cavell’s upcoming dark comedy Kaos, a reimagining of Greek mythology starring Jeff Goldblum and launching on Netflix soon.

As for becoming part of the Who-niverse, Greenidge says she has enjoyed the journey so far – Gatwa’s second season has already wrapped filming – but is taking nothing for granted.

“I’m always grateful for the support I have, especially from the fans,” she says. “The Doctor Who fans have been incredible. I didn’t appreciate how much love there was for the show until I started my day one and I saw it for myself, and that just blew my mind. I’m incredibly humbled by that. It’s really nerve-wracking that so many people are watching the show around the world.”

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