The following interview with Crystal Clarke contains spoilers for all three seasons of PBS’ Sanditon.
As Sanditon Season 3 was airing on Masterpiece PBS, actor Crystal Clarke sat down with writer, Felicia Henderson, to discuss playing Georgiana Lambe, the only Black character that Jane Austen wrote into her novels.
Clarke consistently delivers powerful performances as Georgiana in a period drama that openly explores Regency-era racism, tainted British fortunes, and the destructive effects of forced family separation on enslaved people. In our candid conversation between two Black women, Crystal Clarke shared insights for all actors, for production teams working with actors of color, and for any Sanditon fan interested in a deeper understanding of Georgiana.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Felicia A. Henderson: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. Before we get into specifics of Georgiana’s story, I’d love to discuss how you, as an actor, approach preparing for the distressing racial dynamics in the very confrontational scenes. Georgiana is hit with blow after blow and eventually, in 3×03 learns in open court that her own status as a “person” under the law is pretty shaky. How do you prevent Georgiana’s racial trauma in the “fictional” world of Sanditon from becoming a part of you?
Crystal Clarke: That’s a great question. It’s pretty easy for me — because I’ve practiced it so much — to keep myself very separate from a character. When I’m in the moment acting, I’m in that moment. And when I’m not in that moment anymore, I leave it behind. So, I try not to rehearse things too hard, too much, because I don’t want something stuck in my body. And it also helps me as an actor to be more free in the moment if I don’t have things planned to a T moment-to-moment. It allows me more room for following my instinct. And it also allows me to keep myself separate enough that I don’t take things home with me.
I don’t take things home with me! That’s my rule number one. I’ve really worked hard to avoid doing that. And it’s a scarier way of acting because I think that a lot of people find comfort in being able to plan things … a lot. But I tried that early on in my career, and I found that it actually stunted me more than it helped me. And it kind of kept me more in my head.
Felicia A. Henderson: In your head when you were in front of the camera?
Crystal Clarke: Yeah, when I’m in front of the camera, and also after because then you’re thinking afterwards, “Oh, but I was going to do it that way, but I did it that way.” And if I’m not doing that, then it’s like, “Well, I followed the moment and how I felt in the moment, and I trusted myself.”
Felicia A. Henderson: Wow, that is courageous, and it gave excellent results.
Crystal Clarke: Thank you.
Felicia A. Henderson: Let’s go a little bit deeper into Georgiana’s character. She’s notoriously sassy, and people love to talk about her one-liners, but I see Georgiana as often too tolerant and forgiving of other people’s nonsense. Arthur Parker pushes her into Lockhart’s arms; Mary Parker is constantly urging her towards “respectability” in Season 2, and even Charlotte Heywood often is really naive about slavery and the ugliness of it. I really see, in those moments, Georgiana biting her tongue. Could you speak about the emotional labor that Georgiana performs to maintain those close relationships?
Crystal Clarke: Yeah, it’s just she’s in survival mode so much in those moments, and it speaks a lot to the journey that she then goes on to find herself. In Season 3, she’s moving from “I’ve got my money” to “Oh, no, I’m not going to have my money.” Then, all of a sudden, she has it, and it’s like: “Okay, well, now I have my money. Who am I with all this money?” I think that struggle and the negative path she goes down there for a second on the journey to find herself is a result of the loneliness that comes with not feeling like you can 100% be yourself with the people around you. She can’t 100% express herself because people don’t automatically get it.
So, as a Black woman, if I go on a set and I’m in conversation with another woman of color, another person of color, there’s always a sense where, if something happens around us, we together notice it in a way or notice something that other people aren’t noticing. There’s a knowing there. And it’s not to say that people are bad or anything for not noticing. It’s just that we’re coming from a certain perspective, but Georgiana doesn’t have anyone to share that perspective with. It’s easy for us to see that as Black women. But I think when people don’t come from that perspective, it might be hard for them to understand that aspect of Georgiana and how that makes her relate to the people around her.
Felicia A. Henderson: So, she doesn’t have permission, or you know, doesn’t have the freedom to truly be herself?
Crystal Clarke: Yeah. [Sigh] Because people can try and meet her in that. Well, you know, Arthur listens to her perspective, Charlotte listens to her perspective. So does Mary. But there’s a difference between someone listening and hearing you and someone just knowing you and you not having to explain yourself. There’s a different freedom and a different safety that comes with that.
Felicia A. Henderson: Two questions to follow up on that. So, there’s this lovely moment in 3×03 where Mary asks, should we leave her alone with Otis, and Charlotte says something like, “I suspect he’s the only one who can truly understand what she’s going through.” So, the writers were on top of things enough to understand that dynamic?
Crystal Clarke: It depends on who wrote that episode. [3×03 was co-written by Justin Young and Robin French.] If it was one of the writers of color, then that makes sense. There were bits of that kind of stuff that came through. We had Justin, obviously. And then there were other writers added, including some who were people of color. Everything would go through Justin. So, while the other writers would put down a sort of base, the final version of everything would go through him, if that makes sense. And so, some of those moments of perspective would come through. And I think the best thing about reading the scripts for Seasons 2 and 3 was being able to see more of that.
Felicia A. Henderson: That leads to my second question. I know that production added a number of Black women to the team for the Season 2/3 renewal — [Janice Okoh] in the writers’ room; [Dr. Sharon D. Johnson,] historical consultant; [Ethosheia Hylton,] a director, [Lauren Miller, costume designer] part of the on-set crew. How important was that to you in deciding whether to return?
Crystal Clarke: Well, Felicia [chuckling]. If you recall, a certain Instagram post I posted back in, when was that? 2020? I can’t remember. It was the deciding factor for whether or not I was coming back because I felt so much that Georgiana’s story in Season 1 started so hot. And it was such a disappointment to me that it ended where it did because it kind of just fizzled out. And there was so much potential with this character. And there still is! I would love to see people do other versions of this story because there are so many different places you can go. So many different places you can go.
Yeah, so, that was a big disappointment for me because I was really excited about the fact that this was the first character of color that Jane Austen wrote, that Georgiana was in the book. I really wanted to see much more from the story.
And not just that. I also wanted to be able to go on to set and see people who looked like me. It was just ridiculous to me that I’d worked so many jobs where I was the only person of color. I was like: “That doesn’t make any sense!” I lived in the UK for a long time. Was it 2011 when I moved there? Then, I left right at the beginning of 2020. So, I’ve seen the makeup of the country. People of color exist. And it’s not like they exist totally separate from white people. It’s not a country of segregation. So, speaking to that loneliness Georgiana would feel in those moments where she’s not going to be understood or known, not able to share her perspective with people. It was a similar feeling for me. And I just resented the fact that I should feel that way at work.
I also was like: “Okay, cool, I get this opportunity. But what about other people?” And also, there were certain things that, when I look at Season 2 and Season 3, make me so proud. To see the beautiful costumes that Lauren came through with for Georgiana and some of the beautiful words that were written for Georgiana. A lot of those things I know couldn’t have happened if there wasn’t another person of color behind them.
Crystal Clarke: Amazing! I was like: “Yes! Finally!”
Felicia A. Henderson: Can we talk about Georgiana’s wedding? My first reaction was honestly: “Let’s celebrate Black love out in the light of day.”
Crystal Clarke: [Laughing.]
Felicia A. Henderson: What we get, instead, is a very subdued ceremony; it had almost a clandestine feel. No Parkers. No Charlotte. Very private. But when I step back, it feels right. I’m curious for your view on how this muted, intimate framing still provides a very joyful conclusion for Georgiana.
Crystal Clarke: For me, when things are so personal, it shows a certain … it’s the way that I would show a certain amount of respect towards them. Like keeping them close. And it feels so right that it’s just her and her mom and the man she loves. And this is the start of her next chapter.
This is the start of the next chapter for her in terms of who she is and her really understanding that. And the start of the next chapter in terms of “what does family look like?” Because now, she’s got family! She’s had, obviously, “honorary Parker” status, but this is her family core. This is just for her.
Felicia A. Henderson: Yeah. [Sigh.] Yeah. I’d love to ask a couple of questions from your fans on Twitter. First, they wanted me to tell you: “Thank you so much for returning as Georgiana.” And a few with similar conditions wanted me to thank you for sharing your personal health struggles while filming; they appreciated your example. Now, a question that’s very relevant to what you were just saying is how do you imagine Georgiana’s life after the series finale? How do you like to imagine it?
Crystal Clarke: I’m a cozy person. I really like being at home; I’m a nester. And I kind of like imagining her doing that, just becoming a nester. And then finding something that she loves to do and being able to put her energy into that but still being part of a community somehow and being a positive force in that community. And, you know, family is so important, and I really value it. So, I really love the fact that she’s got this new start in terms of family, and I just imagine that it’s gonna be: “Ah-ahh!” [Giggling.]
Felicia A. Henderson: That’s so beautiful! You’ve probably inspired a lot of fanfic with that reverie. Sort of jumping around with another fan question. The Sanditon Sisterhood coordination group recalled your involvement in a critical script change to introduce the dark side of the sugar trade back in 1×04. How much of Georgiana’s arc, her abolitionist activism, do you think was set in motion by that initial input from you and Jyuddah Jaymes?
Crystal Clarke: Oh, I mean. [Chuckling] All of it?! [Both laughing]. I mean, like all of it. Um, yeah. [Laughing]
Felicia A. Henderson: Well, one last question to close. What scene are you most proud of? Or maybe most amazed that it got included in the story?
Crystal Clarke: Oh, man. Out of everything?
Felicia A. Henderson: Well, I know it’s hard to choose, but yeah?
Crystal Clarke: Yeah? Okay. I think I’m actually most proud of the scene in Season 1 on the clifftop [in 1×02]. Because I feel like that set me up for what the tone of Georgiana was. And, yeah, if I was in a different headspace, and something else came out that day, I may not have gone in that direction. But to allow that vulnerability was a lot. It was really, really imperative when it comes to how I played her the rest of the time. It’s where I sort of found her anytime the camera was rolling.
Felicia A. Henderson: Wow, that raw despair that’s hard to watch but absolutely essential. Let me just close by saying thank you, thank you so much and passing along again the love and admiration of the Sanditon Sisterhood community.
Crystal Clarke: I feel it!
Felicia A. Henderson: Oh, great! And wishing you so many good things for whatever you’re working on now and your future projects.
Crystal Clarke: Thank you so much, Felicia. You, too.
Sanditon is currently available for streaming on Masterpiece PBS.