“The Finest Hours” concerns the spectacle of two oil tankers being pummeled by one serious nor’easter. Actor Holliday Grainger wasn’t part of that. She plays Miriam, the fiancee of Chris Pine’s Bernard, who drives the rescue lifeboat into hundred foot waves to save the crews. She didn’t arrive till the end of production.
“My first day they’d been shooting with the guys for months,” Grainger tells us. “When I arrived everyone was staring at me — like, ‘Oh my god, it’s a girl!’ There was this totally different creature in their midst.”
Nevertheless, the 27-year-old English actress — best known for the Showtime drama “The Borgias,” the TV miniseries “Bonnie and Clyde” (as the former) and last year’s “Cinderella,” in which she played one of the wicked stepsisters — wasn’t simply The Girl. Based on a real event that happened off of Cape Cod in 1952, the film posits Miriam as headstrong. She’s the one who proposes to Bernard, not the other way around, which even today is often seen as a no-no.
“I don’t just think she’s strong for the period,” explains the actress. “Even nowadays she would be quite remarkable.” She spends part of the film storming into the Coast Guard office, demanding her man’s boss (Eric Bana) bring them home. “I don’t think doing that is a question for her. It’s not that she’s particularly brave. It just feels right. She goes with her gut rather than just being brave for the era.”
Speaking of which, Grainger has been largely doing films and TV shows set in the past over the last several years. That, she says, has just been coincidental. “It’s not something I actively look for,” she explains. She does point out that they’ve each been different periods and from all over the world, which keeps things fresh. And for her doing period is still relatively new.
“I started acting when I was very young,” she says. “Fifteen years of my career I was doing contemporary stuff. Period has just been the chunk of my career people have heard of. To me it still feels like a blip.”
Sometimes period work tied in nicely with her education. She studied English literature at the University of Leeds, reading the likes of “Anna Karenina,” “Jane Eyre” and “Great Expectations,” then finding herself in movie versions of each.
“It felt like the work went hand-in-hand with my degree,” she remembers. “It wasn’t like my brain was being pulled in two completely different directions.”
When she took on Estella, the young woman raised to break the heart of hero Pip, in the “Great Expectations” film from 2012, she wound up playing her in a more sensitive manner, not the evil snob as people often portray her.
“That was always how I imagined her,” Grainger says. “That was always what I would have done if I was going to play her. Some people have their own opinions of what that character is like, but you can’t just go with what everyone else thinks. It’s subjective, really.”
Grainger has yet another period film out soon: the star-studded "Tulip Fever," withDane DeHaan,Christoph Waltz,Alicia Vikander and Judi Dench.Still, she’s up for getting away from fancy costumes at some point. “I’d like to do a comedy,” she says. “A modern black, dark comedy — a Wes Anderson-y or Coens-y type that’s quite dark and obscure.”