Any of those lucky enough to see Hebe Beardsall’s magnificent performances as Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Miss Trunchbull in Matilda on the Ripon Grammar School stage will have suspected they may just have been watching a star in the making.
The talented actress is about to appear on the big screen, in Full Monty producer Uberto Pasolini’s new film Still Life, which stars Downton Abbey actress Joanne Froggatt and recently premiered at the Venice International Film Festival.
Hebe plays teenage mother Lucy in the film, which also stars Sherlock Holmes and Happy-Go-Lucky actor Eddie Marsan as a council officer tasked with tracking down relatives of those who die alone, and is due for release in the UK within the next few months.
The 20-year-old Durham University English student, who left Ripon Grammar School in 2011, plans to pursue a career in acting full-time after she graduates next year.
She knew she wanted to be an actress from the age of ten when she took part in school performances including playing the poet Homer in one particularly adventurous production, at Kell Bank Primary School near Masham.
“I know it sounds a bit clichéd but I was really shy. Acting was the one thing that brought me out of my shell.
“My shyness just disappeared when I was on stage. It helped me develop in confidence.”
She was just 15 when she bagged the part most teenagers could only dream of – that of Ariana Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
After contacting casting agents to see if anyone was auditioning for a fair-haired teenager, the budding young actress got a call out of the blue.
“They just happened to be casting Harry Potter and invited me to London to audition,” she explains.
It may have been a fleeting role but competition was fierce to win a part, no matter how small, in what was to turn out to be one of the top five worldwide grossing films of all time.
“The sets were mind-blowing – it was so cool to see them first hand,” she said.
But it wasn’t all star-studded glamour. “The waiting around is so boring,” she confesses. A number of TV roles followed, including the part of Pacifist Pam in the CBBC TV science fiction series The Sparticle Mystery.
Academically gifted – Hebe gained 10 A*/A grade GCSEs and an A* and two As at A-level – her parents never tried to persuade her to follow a more conventional and secure career path. But as the daughter of writer Jonny and sculptor Janie Beardsall, who also design and make fabulously outlandish reclaimed fur hats which have featured in Vogue, Hebe was never going to work in an office.
Jonny and Janie have always encouraged Hebe and her 17-year-old sister Ruby, who wants to be a fashion designer, to follow their dreams.
“I come from a very arty, creative family and they are so supportive. I probably wasn’t ever going to do a normal job.”
It is a cut-throat business, particularly for young actresses starting out, but Hebe takes it all in her stride.
“Rejection is something I am quite good at taking at the moment,” she says.
“It is an extremely difficult industry to break into, especially if you are a young, blonde female. But I am very determined,” she adds.
Hebe has been told she has a “period drama face”. Unique and full of character, the up-and-coming actress certainly has the look many casting directors are after.
“It’s important not to be pressurised into looking a certain way or being too skinny. You have to embrace the look you have got and make that work for you. You need to find your niche.” Effortlessly stylish, she loves vintage clothes: “I know what I like, I don’t follow trends,” she says.
While studying for her degree, she has been enjoying taking part in Durham student drama productions, playing a wide-range of roles including Miss Wade in State of Fugue and Ismene in Sophocles’s Antigone, which attracted critical praise.
Her next big part is that of Nora Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. “Durham Student Theatre is thriving and I really enjoy being a part of it.” What she loves most about acting is the varied personalities she explores. “I’m intrigued by psychology so it’s amazing to delve into different characters.” Her ambition is to appear in a period drama. “I would love to be a Bennet sister in Pride and Prejudice,” she says.
One of her role models is the British Olivier-award winning actress Ruth Wilson, best known as Alice Morgan in the BBC TV psychological crime drama Luther and star of the film Jane Eyre. “She has such an incredible face and is so versatile.”
The big-budget film work Hebe has experienced is a world away from where she first started on her primary school stage and admits that, at times, it feels almost unreal.
“Every time I am on these big sets, with famous actors and directors, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the whole thing.”
At the Harry Potter premiere in London in July 2011, she rubbed shoulders with actors like Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent and David Thewlis and she was particularly thrilled to meet X-Men: First Class actor Nicholas Hoult.
Although Hebe emphasises her role in Still Life is small, she says it was an incredible experience. “Thankfully, the baby actresses I worked with were impeccably behaved and so sweet.”
Hebe would encourage students who want to pursue a career in acting to persevere.
“Drama school, post school or university, is the most conventional route in or you could try sending letters with a headshot and information about you to casting directors,” she says. “I’d recommend buying Contacts, a handbook with advice and contact details for everybody in the industry.”
n This article appears in the current edition of Ripon Grammar School’s alumni magazine, The Clocktower. which can be downloaded at ripongrammar.co.uk/old_riponians_association