Jodie Turner-Smith on playing a Black Anne Boleyn—’It felt so natural to play a Queen'

Jodie Turner-Smith opens up about being cast as Anne Boleyn in new Channel 5 series

Jodie Turner-Smith
(Image credit: Samir Hussein / Contributor / Getty Images)

Jodie Turner-Smith has revealed her experience when it comes to being a Black actress portraying a historical white woman, the actress claims “it felt so natural to play a queen."

Jodie Turner-Smith has opened up in a recent interview about her portrayal of the historical figure Anne Boleyn in a Channel 4 series. The upcoming series is a three-part psychological thriller that follows the three months before the execution of Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn. 

The actress opened up about the diverse casting for this historical drama. She told Radio Times that the cast in the Channel 5 series of Anne Boleyn may be a “stretch” for some people but ultimately leads to a better portrayal of the human experience. “It’s much more approachable and appealing to a contemporary audience when you cast this way because we are distilling this down to a human experience,” she said. 

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She went on to say that in any artistic performance, the viewer must suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the content, and therefore this performance is like any other. She said, “If you ask anyone to watch a film or to observe any art, you are asking them to suspend their beliefs.”

She continued to say, “I am aware it’s going to be a stretch for some people because they will feel too distracted by that, but I think for a lot of other people who are finally ready to see the world in a different way, they’re going to see that this is a human story we are telling, and a fascinating one at that.”

The English-American actress then spoke about how she refuses to put limits on herself and although this role is unlike her previous performances, stepping into this role felt quite natural. She said, “When I envision the world for myself and what is possible I don’t put limitations on it. I would never say, ‘No one will ever give me this role.’ I definitely had an awareness that no one had given me a part like that yet, but to me it felt so natural to play a queen.”

What have other cast members said about Anne Boleyn's casting?

Other actors in this series have also spoken about the casting in this series. Thalissa Teixeira who plays King Henry VIII’s mistress Madge Shelton, stated that when it comes to a retelling of a story, casting shouldn’t be based on race.

She said, “I think color-blind casting is actually an old, old term that we should try and eradicate really, as well, because I don’t actually think there’s such a thing. Because it’s impossible to avoid someone’s race in a story. And I think if you’re trying to ignore the fact that we’ve cast those people in those roles, then you’re not understanding the concept of retelling a story that goes beyond that.”

She also stated that modern Britain looks different now and the themes that are picked up in this series are just as relevant today. “We’re embracing the fact that we are obsessed with these stories still, we’re still telling stories about Anne Boleyn. And it’s everyone’s history. It was a British history, and Britain looks completely differently now. And I think that we can tell a story that goes beyond what we’re saying. We’re not just talking about Anne Boleyn. We’re talking about stories about faithfulness, and sisterhood, and brotherhood.”

Were there many Black people in Tudor England?

Its a common misconception that there were no Black people in the UK in the 1500's.  Although England wasn't as culturally diverse as it is today, emigration was taking place during this time and some Black people lived in England during the Tudor period.

The Telegraph reports that Black people from across the globe lived in England during this time, "They were mostly ordinary working people who had come to England from Africa, Europe and the Spanish Caribbean. They came over with privateers, merchants, aristocrats and queens, lived and worked alongside white people, were paid wages and were accepted into Christian society through baptism, marriage and burial."

The Telegraph reports that although there was only a small number of Black Tudors in society, they were free from slavery. During this time, the slave trade was taking across the globe in places such as the Americas, Spain, Italy and Portugal. According to historians, although persecution was rife in England, this was based on religion, class and gender as opposed to race. So despite misconceptions, Black Tudors did exist and they were in fact free individuals in England.

What nationality was Anne Boleyn?

Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII's second wife who was born in England in 1501. The historical figure was Caucasian and grew up in her family home at Hever Castle in Kent. 

Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, the 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard. Anne was educated in the Netherlands and France and returned to England in early 1522.

Did Anne Boleyn have a son?

No, Anne Boleyn did not have a son. She did give birth to Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned for 45 years on the throne during what was known as the Elizabethan era. In comparison, her father Henry VIII reigned for 38 years before his death. 

Although Anne did try to have another child, she was unable to produce a male heir and after Elizabeth's birth, she had three miscarriages before Henry VIII had her executed for numerous crimes. 

Historians say that the evidence for the crimes of which she was accused (incest, witchcraft, adultery, and treason) was unconvincing. It is suggested that Henry VIII was likely just looking for a reason to continue his courtship with, who would later become his third wife, Jane Seymour.

When will Channel 5's Anne Boleyn be on television?

The Channel 5 drama will be released on Tuesday 1st June at 9 pm. The three-part series will continue on Wednesday night and conclude with the third and final episode on Thursday night at 9 pm. 

Laura Harman

Laura is a news writer for woman&home who primarily covers entertainment and celebrity news. Laura dabbles in lifestyle, royal, beauty, and fashion news, and loves to cover anything and everything to do with television and film. She is also passionate about feminism and equality and loves writing about gender issues and feminist literature.

Laura loves drinking and eating and can often be found trying to get reservations at London's trendiest restaurants. When she's not wining and dining, Laura can also be found travelling, baking, and hiking with her dog.