Clémence Poésy Is Reason Enough to Watch ‘The Essex Serpent’

In a sea of impressive performances, it’s Poésy’s that emerges as the most nuanced. In the hands of the 39-year-old French actor—still best known globally as the ethereal Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter franchise—Stella has an innate fragility, but is also funny, warm, and watchful. She understands what’s happening between Cora and Will, and yet she welcomes the former into their home. While Cora is convinced that there’s something out there and Will is skeptical, Stella is open about her uncertainty. Later, in her interactions with Frankie, we discover her penchant for collecting shells and marvel at her ability to see the beauty in other small, seemingly inconsequential things. We also learn that she’s hiding a devastating secret.

As the first two episodes of The Essex Serpent land on the streaming service, Poésy speaks to us about its contemporary resonances, her delightfully bohemian costumes, and why she believes the show wouldn’t have been made even a few years ago.

Vogue: Had you read The Essex Serpent before you got involved in the adaptation?

Clémence Poésy: I first heard about it during the audition process actually, and then discovered the book after reading the scripts. I did everything the wrong way round. The scripts already had so much and then with the book, it was so precious to have access to the inner life of the character in another way. I felt like I was getting all these little keys to help me on my way to finding her.

From both the scripts and the book, what was your impression of Stella, and what were the things you wanted to explore further in your performance?

I like how quietly extraordinary she is. Nothing is showy. She’s got this immense generosity, goodness, and love. But also, she has a very unique way of looking at the world and, in her own way, she has freedom, even if that’s not as obvious as it is with Cora. She’s this very humble hero, and I liked that combination.

And this richly detailed world that Stella lives in, especially the rectory, is infused with so much warmth. What was it like coming onto that set?

So, there is an actual house that we used for the exterior shots and the garden, and that was an amazing location. Then, the cottage itself was a set, but we all felt like we wanted to stay the night. [Laughs.] To get into Stella’s world, I thought a lot about domestic joy. It’s not a phrase you hear often, because domesticity can be boring. Stella’s life is quite contained in some ways, yet she still makes it magical and enjoys every little thing. On that set, you could feel the care that had gone into everything and a playfulness when it came to the choice of curtains and furniture. She probably makes her kids’ clothes as well as her own, and puts little details into them. I looked at the work of [artist] Carl Larsson, who painted his family, and [photographer] Sally Mann, and the way she looked at her children as they grew up. The house also gradually becomes bluer and bluer. Stella is obsessed with the color blue—she thinks it links her to another world that she’s about to enter. That was beautiful.

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