Actress Zoe Telford, known for her work in shows including Sherlock and Death in Paradise, on Christmas in Buckinghamshire, and her new role in Sky’s time-traveling thriller, The Lazarus Project
For Zoe Telford, Christmas is a local affair. The actress, who lives in Oxfordshire with her partner, children, and dog, is a regular attendee at the festive experience at Waddesdon Manor, located a short distance from Aylesbury. The 19th-century château, built by Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874 for entertaining and housing his fine art collection, is celebrated for its Yuletide event, which in 2022 marked its 20th year.
“We take our kids there every Christmas,” she smiles. “There’s a lovely light show, and you can get hot chocolates, and there are stalls. It’s a really special treat – I love to do it.”
As for Christmas Day itself, that will be spent at Zoe’s countryside home. “For us, Christmas is a time for family, so we will be hunkering down,” she notes. “We really love board games and stuff like that.”
It’s a picture that seems a world away from Zoe’s life as an actress, during which she has played roles in TV shows including Sherlock, Teachers, Death in Paradise, and the 2013 reboot of Yes, Prime Minister. The familiar face, whose hometown is Norwich, started out as a dancer, attending Italia Conti and leaving during her teenage years. However, it was when she finished school that she found herself wanting to make a career in acting instead.
“I see acting as a way of communicating and entertaining, and I think that’s something that’s always been very central to who I am,” she explains. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have the desire to communicate in that way. Once I left [Italia Conti], I felt like acting was something that I really wanted to pursue rather than dancing.”
Zoe attributes her big break to The Last Train, a post-apocalyptic drama series first aired on the ITV network in 1999. Aged 25, the actress played Roe Germaine, a young, pregnant woman traveling on a train from London to Sheffield to get an abortion. “[The show] is about a group of people that are on [the] train, including a scientist carrying a vial of a cryogenic solution, and the train crashes, and we all get frozen in time and come out into the future,” she says.
When it comes to favourite roles that she’s played, however, Zoe namechecks Absolute Power, which ran for two series on BBC Two from 2003 to 2005. A comedy with its origins in the BBC Radio programme of the same name, the show follows the goings-on of the fictional PR firm Prentiss McCabe, with the actress starring as Alison Jackman, a young trainee. “It was [done] by John Morton, who did Twenty Twelve and Ten Percent and has done quite a lot of that kind of thing,” Zoe notes. “I really like his writing, and Alison was just a really fun character to play.”
Though Zoe has had parts in theatre, it’s clear that the screen is her big passion. “I really do love working with the camera – I like the intimacy of film and TV,” she says. “I like that you can get up close on a person’s face, and I guess I like the more physical elements of that as well (a lot of acting is physical, and it’s kind of about the things that you’re saying between the lines). For me, there’s an intimacy to the camera, which I love.”
November saw Zoe debut in Sky’s sci-fi thriller The Lazarus Project for its second season, playing the character of Dr Kitty Gray. The show, which returned on the 15th of the month, focuses on George (Paapa Essiedu), who is given an opportunity at a secret group with the planet’s fate in its hands when he keeps reliving the same few weeks again and again. The second series of the programme sees the world lock into an unceasing time loop promising total global extinction, with the Lazarus team racing to find a solution before humanity disappears for good.
“Kitty is an astrophysicist, and we meet her in 2012 when Janet [played by Vinette Robinson] travels back in time,” explains Zoe. “The show is produced by Urban Myth Films, which has a terrific writer in Joe Barton. There’s lots to like about his writing, but one of the things that I personally really like is that all the characters are kickass.
“Kitty’s an outlier,” she adds. “I guess you could describe her as one of those people in the 0.001 percent of the population who are really advanced mathematically and scientifically. She has a kind of unrelenting curiosity that drives her to discover new ways of tackling problems that humankind may encounter.”
As for TV and film projects which have yet to be released, Zoe has recently been working on an independent film, which she notes she is “very much looking forward to”. Another upcoming venture, meanwhile, is a TV project called Red Eye. “That was really good fun and was with another bunch of really great people,” she says. “I’m feeling quite lucky at the moment!”
She might describe herself as lucky, but it’s clear that Zoe’s talent as an actress is what has made her a screen favourite in a career lasting three decades. Whether she’s playing Maggie in the early Noughties comedy drama Teachers, Dr John Watson’s love interest Sarah in the crime smash Sherlock, or Paula in the gritty drama film Greyhawk, the performer has the ability to turn herself into a wide range of parts. With the actress set to return to the screen in the near future, it will be interesting and exciting to see the roles she ends up taking on as time moves forward.