Raffiella Chapman is a young actor who has been a Jurassic Coast Trust Ambassador since 2016. Raffi has a lifelong love of fossils, dinosaurs and science, and has regularly contributed her Raffi’s Rocks column to the Trust’s Go Jurassic Rangers magazine. Raffi is due to star in an upcoming episode of His Dark Materials on BBC One.
Tell us about your new series His Dark Materials – what can we expect?
The series is adapted from the much loved, bestselling book series by Philip Pullman and you can see it on BBC1 in the UK or HBO in the US. Starring Ruth Wilson, James MacAvoy, Lin Manuel Miranda, Anne-Marie Duff and Dafne Keen as the lead character Lyra, it’s a real treat for all the family.
The books are incredible so it’s very exciting to see them brought to life on television. I’m a huge Philip Pullman fan and was really lucky to meet him in October when I played Lyra in a rehearsed reading with Anne-Marie Duff at the launch of his latest book – The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth. He was every bit as fascinating as I guessed he would be.
What is your role in His Dark Materials?
I play Annie, the tough, cynical leader of a bunch of kidnapped children. I’ve loved the books since I first read them when I was eight so getting to be a small part of the series was a dream come true. Annie’s a great character to play and very different to me, I’m much more positive and optimistic!
What’s it like for you juggling your acting career, (home) school lessons, and your other interests like fossil hunting?
Being home schooled definitely makes it easier because there’s more flexibility, but I’m studying some GCSEs early and will take English Literature next year, so it’s a lot of work.
When I’m filming, production always make sure there’s time for school work between scenes. I’m a bit of a geek so my school work is really important to me too.
I try to get out on the beach and look for fossils at least once a month, usually on a Sunday which is really relaxing. I also have to squeeze in writing my Raffi’s Rocks column for the Go Jurassic Rangers magazine. Somehow, I manage to juggle everything and still have time to hang out with my friends!
Where’s been the most interesting filming location you’ve been to?
I would probably have to say… Belgium. I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting but we don’t always get to film in particularly glamorous places!
When I was filming Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, we filmed the exteriors of the house in Belgium. I remember the first day there, filming on the hottest day in Belgian history in long grass infested with tics! My costume involved a long dress with layers and layers of fabric, tights and pantaloons, I had ice packs strapped to my body underneath the costume AND I had to wear a wig.
I have to tell you, that was the hottest I’ve ever been! Thankfully the tights kept the tics off me too!
You’ve worked with some big names like Tim Burton and Eddie Redmayne. Who’s been the most memorable film/TV colleague you’ve worked with and why?
I’ve been very lucky to work with lots of lovely and talented people so it’s really hard to choose one. My first onscreen mum (in The Theory of Everything), Felicity Jones, was amazing.
It’s rare to meet such a genuinely nice person, and she’s very smart too so she’s a fantastic role model – not just for me as an actor to aspire to, but for anyone to have her confidence, charisma and work ethic.
I recently did my first ever theatre performance with Anne-Marie Duff in front of a huge audience and she took time to really help me and guide me through the process. She was just incredibly kind and funny and I’m in total awe of her talent. I’d love to work with her again because she made it so easy and so much fun.
Tell us more about your love of fossil hunting and earth science?
I’ve loved fossil hunting ever since I can remember. My dad started taking me to the Natural History Museum when I was just two and if he ever asked where I wanted to go I always said the same thing – the Natural History!
I marvelled at the cases full of fossils found by Mary Anning, admired the different rocks and minerals. The giant blue whale skeleton wowed me and I loved listening to the different elephants trumpeting, but most of all I was in total awe of Dippy!
His sheer scale and size was overwhelming when I was so small and to be honest he’s still pretty overwhelming now! I loved dinosaurs from the first time I saw him and became really geeky about them. At three I could list reams of dinosaur names and knew if they were herbivores, carnivores or omnivores!
Then I started watching the US version of Dinosaur Train and learned so much about the different species thanks to palaeontologist Dr Scott. (Dinosaur Train fans should check out Raffi’s Rocks next year for an exclusive interview with Dr. Scott!)
My parents nurtured my dinosaur obsession and took me to lots of exhibitions and even stage shows with dinosaurs in. Once we started fossil hunting, I was hooked. It was incredible finding real fossils and being able to take them home. I’ve got a pretty big collection now.
Do you have a favourite Jurassic Coast species – ammonites, Ichthyosaurs, Scelidosaurus or anything else?
I know it’s a bit obvious but I love ammonites! They come in so many different shapes, sizes, and even different materials.
Do you have a single favourite fossil in your collection? Why is it your favourite?
My favourite fossil would be a heart shaped micraster I found for my Mum on a Mother’s Day fossil hunt! It’s a great example and luckily she lets me keep it with my collection!
What do you love most about science?
Ok so that’s EVERYTHING!
I’m planning to take all three Science GCSEs, in a year, when I’m 15 so I can spend a whole year just studying science with nothing else getting in the way. Chemistry experiments are a big favourite of mine but of course I love anything to do with fossils, and a lot of my experiments over the years have been around fossils, like testing out the best way to dissolve rocks to release their fossils.
Any similarities that you’ve noticed between studying science and acting?
It’s all about chemistry whether it’s on the screen or in a test tube!
What’s next for you that you can share with us? Any travel plans or cool places you’ll be visiting soon?
I have a new movie called The Visitor premiering next year. It’s a psychological horror film and we shot it in an amazing stately home in Norfolk. I got to work with lots of lovely animals. In fact the animal cast outnumbered the human cast!
I’m shooting a new movie at the moment. It’s a big studio picture and my scenes are set in a really exotic country – one I’ve always wanted to visit but guess what? I’m filming them in a studio in London! See I told you acting is never as glamorous as people think!