7 Questions with… Isabella Pappas: Finding Alice star talks Keeley Hawes, crying scenes and terrifying stairs

We talk to rising star Isabella Pappas about her starring role alongside Keeley Hawes and Joanna Lumley in ITV’s dark comic drama Finding Alice.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 18 January 2021 - 9.44am

There have been plenty of TV shows about death and murder in recent years on TV, but very few have really tackled the subject of grief.

Finding Alice, which comes from three of the team behind The Durrells (Roger Goldby, Simon Nye and Keeley Hawes), takes on the subject of mourning head-on with heart, emotion and a healthy dollop of black humour.

The series begins with Alice (Hawes), husband Harry and daughter Charlotte (Isabella Pappas) moving into what should be their dream home.

But when Harry is found dead at the bottom of the stairs Alice and Charlotte have their lives ripped apart. Not only do they lose a man they loved, they also quickly discover he was a man of many secrets.

With an incredible cast including Joanna Lumley, Nigel Havers, Gemma Jones and Sharon Rooney, the show is perfectly timed to bring some joy to your Sunday evenings. The series begins on January 17th and after the first episode airs, the whole box set will be available on BritBox.

We caught up with Isabella Pappas to find out more about the series…

1. How do you describe Finding Alice?

Isabelle Pappas in Finding Alice ITV

I would describe the series as a dark comedy that navigates a journey of grief, through humour. And it explores the fact that it’s sometimes harder to grieve a person when you don’t really know who that person was to begin with.

2. Why do you think we often find humour in the darkest of moments?

From the experience of playing my character, I think it’s because it works as a coping mechanism and because we have to. Working through the show we would spend a whole day filming next to a grave and you just have to make jokes or else you spend the whole day just talking about death.

I’ve now experienced that first hand, it really is just a coping mechanism that you have to use otherwise everything would just be doom and gloom. You also realise that the person who passed on, it’s not really what they would have wanted. Hopefully. They wouldn’t want everyone sitting around feeling sorry. That’s something we explore throughout the show.

3. Who is Charlotte?

Isabelle Pappas in Finding Alice ITV

My character is emotionally stifled, but I think she does that with her emotions to stop her falling apart. She’s lost her father and she has to watch her mother spiral. And because her father had lots of secrets, that can be hard to process. Especially when she’s trying to mourn the father she thought she knew. It’s a struggle.

She’s trying to hold onto the idea of who her father was and also be there for her mother to address all these new things. Because he wasn’t who he said he was. She’s living in a contradiction.

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4. What was it like working with Keeley Hawes every day?

She’s honestly amazing. She would teach me so many things on set every day, but one she taught me that I tried to take away was the fact that it’s always important to give everything to a scene, even when you’re not on camera. So you might just be giving lines to someone else on camera, but Keeley always gives it her all. One of the most amazing things about her is that she’s so considerate and so kind to other people. She’ll always give 100% even when she’s off camera to make sure that she’s there for you.

I was so nervous on the first day doing a run-through and then Joanna Lumley came up to me and said, ‘Oh you’re playing Charlotte!’ and she gave me a massive hug. I was just so shocked. And then after the run-through she told me how great I did and I couldn’t hardly speak. I just said, ‘Oh, oh, oh, you’re amazing’. They were all so kind and so funny. Some of my favourite moments making the show were just sitting with them all and listening to them talk about all their past films and TV experiences.

5. The house is a major part of the show. What was it like to film in?

Isabella Pappas and Keeley Hawes pose on the stairs in Finding Alice ITV

The set that was built in the studio for interior shots was amazing. The staircase was terrifying. My waiting area was often opposite the staircase so I would just often stare at it.

There is a scene where I had to run down the stairs where I was so scared. There were mats and stuff underneath me and everyone was so sweet and everything was safe. But the whole premise of this show was on how dangerous these stairs are and I’m just running down them. It was really fun.

6. What was the biggest challenge of the series?

Acting-wise, one of the most challenging and exciting scenes was the end scene. I won’t say exactly what it is, but it was very challenging scene emotionally. I’ve never had to experience those levels of emotion on screen before. It was really cathartic actually.  It’s very interesting to totally letting go of everything with the crew all around you. But at a certain point you forget about everyone being there and it’s kind of amazing. 

Isabella Pappas and Keeley Hawesin Finding Alice ITV
Finding Alice

I’m quite lucky that all the roles I’ve ever played have involved crying, but this was next level crying. I learned from watching Keeley and seeing how she geared up for scenes and took on some of what she was doing.

I’m someone who likes to use emotion memory and call upon those, but Keeley was talking to me about how that can be draining. You’re not always going to have something that you can use that will make you cry. She really taught me how to immerse in the character and feel it from their point of view in those moments before the scene starts filming. Once I figured out that, the crying was something that just came naturally rather than something in the script. I definitely owe that to Keeley.

7. Is there scope for a second series?

I’m so hopeful. I won’t give away anything, but the ending is definitely a cliffhanger. Picking up from that point would be amazing because it all gets so much crazier.

Watch Finding Alice from Sunday, January 17th at 9pm on ITV.

The full series 1 box set will be available on BritBox after the first episode.

Get six months of BritBox on us

You can opt in to a six-month BritBox trial on us when you take any of our broadband packages.