I imagine it’s very hard to dislike Eve Austin. It could be done, theoretically, but you’d probably give yourself a migraine or burst a blood vessel in the attempt. She’s just good stuff, very funny, forthcoming, easy to talk to. She’s in her early twenties and wise with it, candid but considered and without the haze of media training radiating from everything she says

We meet at Milk Beach in Soho, an Australian restaurant and bar playing its music so loudly I wonder 1) if I’ve finally become old and 2) if my dictaphone, trustily recording these interviews since 2018, is about to explode in a shower of Bastille and Daft Punk. Austin assures me we’ll be fine. She can be loud, too.

We order our coffees black (take that, Milk Beach!) and immediately start talking (loudly) about her latest project. This Town is a BBC1 drama created by Steven Knight (British screenwriter responsible for both Peaky Blinders and, if we’re to believe Wikipedia, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and directed by Paul Whittington (The Crown, Cilla, Spooks, The Moorside). Set in the Midlands during the 1981 Birmingham riots, the show follows a group of mismatched and misunderstood locals as they, against all odds, try and break onto the music scene together.

Auston, herself a Midlands native, plays Jeannie, a musician struggling to write lyrics. While dodging through back alleys to avoid police during an afternoon riot, she runs into an old school acquaintance Dante (played by Levi Brown), a talented poet who can’t write music. You see where this is going: “I could do the tunes, and you could do the words. What do you say?”

Though Austin herself isn’t at all musical (she doesn’t speak when I ask, instead letting her brilliantly expressive face communicate the answer) she insisted on learning to play all of her songs for This Town. “I had the letters written down on the keys in little stickers and I was like, just point – just point to the key and I’ll press it and I’ll try my best.” Impressively, a lot of her own playing made it into the final cut. “The beauty of ska music is that it’s kind of messy, it’s not a really polished thing. So when there was a bit of jankiness in the playing of it, it kind of worked.”

Austin tells me that her character is a “fierce, feisty skinhead from the block”. Jeannie sings, smokes, shouts, drinks, prays, plays the keyboard, laughs like a drain, scales brick walls to escape riot police. She’s complex and talented and, like most characters in the show, fighting to survive. Austin talks about her with immense fondness, as if the character of Jeannie is a real person that she really genuinely knows. Perhaps she does. She’s a woman of nuance, described by Austin in the same sentence as both “the warmest and softest person” and “a tiny, tiny little dictator” (having watched the show, I can confirm that these descriptors do, in fact, both check out).

This Town is really great, pacey and soulful and wonderfully acted by its full cast. A lot happens in the six-episode arc, so I won’t attempt to summarise. Instead, I ask Austin to do the honours: “Incredible music, dark storylines littered with comedy and joy, and some of the most beautiful friendships I have ever seen on screen.”

Eve Austin

She’s palpably proud of this project, which Steven Knight has described as a love letter to Birmingham and Coventry. Austin grew up in Nottingham, and speaks frankly about the shameful lack of arts funding and opportunities outside of London.

“There are rooms that you will go into where no one speaks with an accent like yours, and no one comes from the place that you do. And I’m just really grateful that with this project – because there are so few of them – that it was such a priority for them to look in the Midlands for actors. Because if you look in these towns, you will find people who are amazing at what they do. They don’t all come from one place.”

Austin has been acting for most of her life. At ten she auditioned for and got into the Television Workshop, a Nottingham training base for young performers. Alums include Samantha Morton, Vicky McClure, Jack O’Connell and Bella Ramsey, who is quoted on the website as saying “Workshop teaches you to be and become. No pretending.”

Austin talks about it in similarly reverential tones. “I have a lot of people say when I do my auditions – ‘What the hell is in the water in Nottingham? Where do all these people come from?’ And it’s just that we had an opportunity. We were kids whose parents couldn’t afford to send us to clubs.”

Each year at the Workshop they put on a play. “You would rehearse every night after school and every Saturday and every Sunday. It was such a commitment.” Aside from the obvious hard work and dedication, her process included a “99p Mayo Chicken on the way, one on the way home.”

She tells me she once considered not doing an acting job she’d booked because it clashed with one of these plays. “I still don’t think I’ve ever taken work as seriously as I took doing the plays there. To be viewed as a talented actor at the Workshop meant more than, like, an Oscar. It was just so important to be a part of it.”

Eve Austin

She got her first proper telly job at age 14 in BBC One zombie series In the flesh. “I was so scared. Luckily one of the lead actors in it was a Workshopper, Harriet Cains, who is now one of my best friends in the whole world. I was missing school to come up and do it and she just took me under her wing. I slept in her hotel room and she’d take me to Nando’s every night.” Eve’s mum has always been wholly supportive of her career plans, though she did hint at her getting at least some A-Levels. “Just in case! She was like ‘It’s quite a precarious business.’ But she’s always had total belief that this will happen for me.”

And happening it is. Through her teens and early twenties she’s taken to our screens in Doctors, Casualty, The ABC Murders, The Athena, Midsomer Murders and, most recently, the huge Netflix hit You.

Set and filmed in London, the psychological thriller follows murderous soft boy Joe (played by Penn Badgley) as he finds himself rubbing shoulders with the very worst of London’s young elite – who, incidentally, keep winding up dead. Austin is excellent as Gemma Graham-Greene, an exquisitely loathsome London socialite. To summarise the series in one brilliantly delivered Gemma line “If this is a murder-the-rich-to-get-back-at-the-poor-thing; I hope they know I inherited nothing but the castle when Mummy died!”

After a string of auditions where her self-taped scenes weren’t even downloaded, Austin didn’t really expect to book You. “I did this tape and I was just like, ‘Fuck it. I’m gonna make it ludicrous…’ They were always quite precious about sending lots of material – obviously if that gets out… so they sent this one little scene and I dressed up and I just looked ridiculous.”

Her ridiculousness paid off. She got the job based on that single tape. “Which has never happened to me before. I’ve always taped and then gone in the room, gone in the room again, gone in the room again.” Her agent rang on a Friday night while she was at a friend’s place. “I think I did pass out for a second. It was amazing.”

I ask what she thinks of this recent spate of ‘eat the rich’ cinema like You, The Menu, Triangle of Sadness. “People are frustrated. Life is really hard at the moment. And so I think if you can see rich people acting like arseholes and getting their comeuppance, it probably is a nice way to escape.”

Eve Austin

As much as Austin appreciated the scale and glamour of such a big-budget show (“it was nice to sit on a set where there was a catering truck at all times and you’re in a £10,000 suit”) her most effusive praise is for the ingenuity of British shows that have to make it work without that financial safety net: “I think sometimes the result is so interesting because people have had to absolutely wrack their brains to creatively fulfil these grand ideas.”

We talk about money and work and though she’s honest about how hard it can be as a jobbing actor supporting yourself with odd side gigs (she’s worked as a matchmaker, a 999 operator and everything in between), she’s entirely clear-eyed about how lucky she is.

“We [actors] have really good lives. It is really hard work and there’s a lot of rejection, but we also have so much free time. A lot of my week is spent hanging out with my friends, going for lunches, going to the theatre, and it would be really wrong to pretend like that isn’t a very lovely way to live your life.”

Her friendships become a running theme of our conversation. Austin loves her pals fiercely, and talks as proudly of them as she does of anything she’s done in her career. When we discuss Our Ladies, a 2019 film about a group of Scottish teenagers on a formative school trip to Edinburgh, she glows as much talking about the friends she made filming as the project itself.

“Meeting those girls changed my life. I didn’t go to University. My best friends from home all went and found new groups of people – and there was a period of time when I was still living at home, trying to do the acting thing and I was so lonely. And then I got Our Ladies.”

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Is she ever envious of these industry friends? “I’m really lucky I have the best friends in the world – they are just the kindest, coolest, greatest people. And they are all doing really, really well. So, I have had to sometimes be careful to not compare myself to them.”

She tells me about a good friend who, despite their talent, found themselves out of work for years. “And then they got this huge job – a life changer. And they called me and I remember holding back tears on the phone because I just so wanted what they had. I got off the phone – I was crying and crying and crying – and I remember just saying to myself, ‘I don’t want this. I don’t want to not be happy for the people that I love.’ And now I think it almost makes me happier for my friends to get jobs because you know how much it means to people. It took me a while to work on it.”

What would she tell other younger women hoping to break into acting? “I would say ‘You, yourself is what will sell. And if you try and be like somebody else because you think that’s better than what you have to offer, it will not work.’ I spent the first few years of my career trying to mould myself into the people I thought had made it, or I considered to be successful. And it didn’t work at all because I was going into rooms and I wasn’t being authentic. So I would say: ‘Be you and be really fucking proud of you, as well.”

It’s time to wrap up. It’s been more than an hour and our americanos are drunk to dregs. What’s next for Eve? A trusty last question. Holidays, as many as she can fit in before she’s back at work. Time with friends and family. Perhaps another series of This Town. And theatre, if she gets her way.

“I’d love to go on stage. It’s tricky because I didn’t go to drama school so I haven’t had a formal training in that way.” Her voice drops a little here, but remains firm and resolute. “I know I could do it,” she says – and I believe her entirely. 

This Town is on available on BBC iPlayer.