In BBC’s new thriller Black Narcissus, the repressed life as a nun in a remote convent is brought to life with harrowing consequences – and actress Karen Bryson has revealed that she found herself in character sooner than she thought she would.
Karen, who has previously appeared on UK favourite Shameless, was transformed into gardening-loving Sister Philippa for the new tale, wearing the full habit every day as the team of nuns (led by Gemma Arterton’s Sister Clodagh) navigated the culture shock of life in the Himalyan Mountains.
Speaking about her new role to Metro.co.uk, Karen explained that the story, based off the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden, has particular resonance to today’s world, but as someone who is used to being so full of character, she became overwhelmed as she stepped into the habit for the first time.
‘These women lived a really strict, repressed life through choice, or maybe not choice – one could argue it’s a calling,’ she told us. If you’re called, you’re called.
‘No touching. Repress emotion. You can’t look at yourself, it’s vain. You have [just your face] to communicate with….When I first put the costume on, and its layers and layers, I actually cried.
‘I know it sounds a bit actory, but it wasn’t. I was just overwhelmed, as each piece when on, and there was a big mirror and I watched it, the wimple, and then the habit, [the tears] just popped out, which seems a bit silly.’
‘All these things we use as women to express ourselves, that was completely taken away,’ she continued. ‘There were tights, then if it was cold, thermals over the tights, a truss, then a sort of grandad shirt that came up to the knees, then the heavy dress down to the feet.
‘Then the wimple came over the head and ties at the back, then another piece over the top that squared it off, then a tie, then your cross, then the habit.
‘As the gardener there would also be a mosquito net thing that would go over the top, then the hat.’
Ultimately though, Karen believes this helps her become Sister Philippa, in a tale that plays with the idea of mental health and coping mechanisms when isolated from their normal world.
‘This is what these women would’ve worn, and if they’d decided to make it out of fabric that wasn’t heavy, I’d feel cheated,’ she said. ‘Phillippa would’ve been in the garden in all that. All that and the apron on top of that.
‘If you need to communicate you have to turn your head, you have to listen a bit more because your ears are covered. I liked that. It allows us to tell the story in fine detail.’
Black Narcissus starts December 27 and airs across three days on BBC One.