‘It’s possible for really abhorrent people to be very attractive’: Charlotte Ritchie on You, Fresh Meat and that Harry Potter cameo

The actor has been a staple of brilliant British television for over a decade but her latest role in the Netflix hit series ‘You’ will introduce Ritchie to an international audience. She speaks to Annabel Nugent ahead of the show’s return

Thursday 09 February 2023 06:36 GMT
Charlotte Ritchie: ‘It can be satisfying to see those who have everything suddenly be left with nothing’
Charlotte Ritchie: ‘It can be satisfying to see those who have everything suddenly be left with nothing’ (Getty/Sky)

Charlotte Ritchie fans are very excited for Charlotte Ritchie. The star of Fresh Meat and Call The Midwife is much-loved on her home turf but her fans predict a new wave of stateside stans. “Charlotte Ritchie’s fame era incoming,” reads one tweet. Another laments: “It’s gonna be hard to gatekeep Charlotte Ritchie now.” Others skew more unhinged. A few are of the “I’d let Charlotte Ritchie step on me” variety. “That’s so worrying!” Ritchie, who is absent from social media and therefore cloistered from its deranged dialect, laughs. “Flattering – but worrying!”

Her fans are probably right. Soon an international audience will awaken to Ritchie’s charms thanks to her role in Netflix’s hit show You. The series – which, in a coup of casting, sees Gossip Girl hearthrob Penn Badgley play a serial stalker, sometimes murderer – is Ritchie’s most international foray yet. Now in its fourth season, You relocates to London where Joe has adopted a new identity. With it comes a wardrobe of waistcoats and a fancy job teaching literature at a cobblestone university too pretty to be in London. (The city’s jumbled topography, which puts Kensington and Shoreditch within walking distance of one another, will amuse UK fans.) Ritchie plays Kate, whose group of rich friends Joe infiltrates. Kate is a gallerist with a sharp eye for chic outfits and shady strangers. “Icy b****” is how Netflix describes her character.

Season four is a thrilling shake-up for You. Against all odds, the show continues to resuscitate a premise that could’ve died after season one. Still, Joe’s newest addition, a handsome beard manscaped to casual perfection, will do little to appease long-standing criticism that You romanticises a stalker. “It’s grim,” says Ritchie. “But it’s possible for really, really abhorrent people to be very attractive. That’s definitely not a myth. In fact, so often that plays into people’s ability to have power over someone.” She offers a lyric from a Fontaines DC song she likes that relates. “‘They say charisma is exquisite manipulation’; charismatic people are really good at manipulating you into loving them and that’s Joe’s most sinister character trait,” she says. “We can be… I can be really easily swayed by that. Charisma can get you really far in this world.”

Over Zoom, Ritchie is friendly and self-effacing. It’s rare, though, that she forgets the parameters of an interview – and the fact any her words could be printed. Her caution is understandable; they’ve been taken out of context before, she tells me. Sometimes, she’ll begin a seemingly innocuous thought and midway through decide against finishing it, tossing out a fishing line but reeling it in before I can bite.

Ritchie’s breakthrough role came in 2011 when she played Oregon for four seasons of Fresh Meat. (Unless you count a fleeting appearance as Unidentified Slytherin Girl III in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. “I met someone on a set recently who must’ve quickly Googled me because they said, ‘I love your work in Harry Potter!’ And I was like, ‘Did you? Thank you very much!’”) The Channel 4 comedy written by Peep Show creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain about a group of badly behaving university students also starred Jack Whitehall and Zawe Ashton.

Oregon, whose edgy haircut and atypical nickname belie the fact she had a horse growing up, became an early avatar for the “gap yah” girl. Insecure and cloying, Oregon cares deeply about appearing carefree. “I think she represents all my worst sides, for sure,” says Ritchie, Later, she tells me she had initially been reluctant to call herself an actor. “I had a real stigma around it, like it was embarrassing to say that I thought of myself as one even though I really respect and love actors,” Ritchie says. “I think I was fighting a side of myself that was like, ‘Oh, if I care too much it will be embarrassing and vulnerable.’”

For all her faults, though, Oregon was madly, enviably resolute about what she wanted. “So that must be in me somewhere,” says Ritchie. “Or it’s so not in me that it’s thrilling to play that kind of person.” Either way, Ritchie never imagined a future in which she’d play such “steely” characters. “I always thought I’d be playing a sort of sickly cousin of somebody like the one that maybe dies in Little Women.” You know, “because I was kind of scrawny and pale and a bit wet.” She laughs.

In a world of glossy teen shows, Fresh Meat was the filthy outsider. Literally. You could practically smell the stale cigarette smoke and vomit coming from their student accommodation. The series followed the vaguely realistic lives of students grappling with being on their own for the first time. On a mission to seem interesting, Oregon embarks on an affair with her English professor Tony Shales (played by Tony Gardner). Their relationship is refreshingly unsexy. Shales is less sex god than a sad sack. “It was icky and I liked that,” says Ritchie. At the time, she was less keenly aware of the power dynamics being explored. “I mean 100 per cent it is such an abuse of a position because as a student you feel like you’re becoming an adult when really you’re so far from it,” she says. “Luckily I didn’t have any experience of that.” She lets out a knowing laugh. “Not that I would tell you if I had!”

Penn Badgley and Ritchie as Joe and Kate in season four of Netflix hit series ‘You’
Penn Badgley and Ritchie as Joe and Kate in season four of Netflix hit series ‘You’ (Netflix)

Although still only in her early thirties, Ritchie has witnessed an industry in flux after the MeToo movement. “It’s hard to judge how much it has changed because that time has also tracked me becoming more experienced and maybe finding my voice more,” she says. “I think you have to be wary of the position that you hold [...] whether people might listen to you more just because of that.” That being said, she does believe things have truly changed. For the better. Intimacy coordinators, for example. “I think the important thing is that you feel that you can genuinely choose whether you want to have one or not – and to what extent they’re involved.”

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Ritchie’s performance on Fresh Meat was lauded. It landed her guest spots on panel shows such as 8 Out of 10 Cats, where she quickly learnt that those comedy skills were not, in fact, transferable. “Everyone had all their jokes prepared,” she recalls. “I was a really foolish viewer and thought they just came up with it so when they were all unfurling their bits of paper to make a joke, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’” A look of horror flashes across her face. “I was so green.” That kind of panel show format isn’t for her, Ritchie says. “You definitely have to be the loudest. At least that’s my memory of it but then at the same time, I feel like I was having my own imposter syndrome vibe because I’m not a comedian and I’m not a writer.”

Born in Clapham, southwest London, Ritchie attended a private girls school in nearby Dulwich. None of her classmates had the “Succession-type wealth” that you see in You, though. “At school, it was definitely not a thing to be flashy. That was very much not the vibe.” Afterwards, during her time as an English Literature student at Bristol University, Ritchie had been part of a successful vocal group called All Angels who toured the country performing classical music to massive audiences. “It had curbed a lot of what I could do in terms of partying,” she says. Her time on Fresh Meat made up for it. Ritchie recalls her time with All Angels fondly. “It sounds really corny but to sing in harmony is a really lovely thing and I hadn’t developed the self-consciousness that I got in my twenties so I was feeling quite free.” Things that might bother her today, like, say, wearing matching dresses, didn’t faze her then. “I was earning good money and getting to sing with my friends. It was awesome.”

From left to right: Joe Thomas, Zawe Ashton, Kimberley Nixon, Greg McHugh, Ritchie and Jack Whitehall in ‘Fresh Meat’
From left to right: Joe Thomas, Zawe Ashton, Kimberley Nixon, Greg McHugh, Ritchie and Jack Whitehall in ‘Fresh Meat’ (Channel 4)

After Fresh Meat wrapped in 2016, Ritchie joined Call the Midwife where she proceeded to win hearts – and later break them – as Nurse Barbara. The move from raucous comedy to BBC drama was drastic. Ritchie had long been an admirer of Call the Midwife and was “genuinely purely thrilled” when the audition came through. Even if she hadn’t been a huge fan, Ritchie admits she wasn’t in a position to turn offers down then. “There’s always an element of thinking you’re never going to work again, constantly thinking, ‘I’ve got to get a job.’”

Jobs are certainly not a concern for Ritchie’s character in You, nor for the assortment of aristocrats that Kate surrounds herself with. This season is bang on trend, keeping step with TV’s recent fixation with the super-wealthy (Succession, The White Lotus, Bling Empire ). “That wealth is more visible than it ever has been before with Instagram.” And now, the cost of living crisis certainly makes the gap even starker. It’s a wonder why we like watching shows about the rich so much, Ritchie muses. “I don’t know why it’s enjoyable to watch rather than just horrible.”

Seen through Joe’s sardonic gaze, You paints its characters as insufferable, insatiable, irresponsible toffs. It’s this third quality that Ritchie believes most fascinates us. “Their lives are consequence-free,” she explains. “Lots of people have to deal with the effects of their actions, whereas you get the feeling that behind the scenes if people have enough money, they can get away with everything. There are people who are rich enough to pull strings and they definitely do.” So, naturally, it can be satisfying to see those who have everything suddenly be left with nothing. Even if it’s fiction. “It’s sort of a justice.” Ritchie pauses for a moment. “I mean, I don’t think that should extend to death but it’s definitely part of it.”

Part one of season four of ‘You’ is available to stream on Netflix

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