Shalom Brune-Franklin Is Watching Her Dreams Come True

When Shalom Brune-Franklin logs onto Zoom, she begins with a caveat.

“I don’t normally look like this,” says the actress from her London flat, explaining that she was in prep mode for an in-person screening of her new series “Great Expectations.” In a few hours, she would join her costars — Olivia Colman and Fionn Whitehead — on the red carpet wearing a striped Magda Butrym pantsuit.

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The 28-year-old British Australian actress stars in a new series adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel for Hulu. The show was written by “Peaky Blinders” creator Steven Knight and produced by Ridley Scott and Tom Hardy, the same trio behind the 2019 miniseries adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” “Great Expectations” stars Colman as the wealthy spinster Miss Havisham, and Brune-Franklin as her adopted daughter Estella.

“GREAT EXPECTATIONS” --  Episode 2 -- While Pip (Tom Sweet/Fionn Whitehead) continues his education with Miss Havisham (Olivia Colman), he grows increasingly attached to her daughter Estella (Chloe Lea/Shalom Brune-Franklin). In the city of London, the corrupt and powerful lawyer Mr. Jaggers (Ashley Thomas) gets a letter that will change Pip’s life forever. Written by Steven Knight; directed by Brady Hood. Estella (Shalom Brune-Franklin) and Pip (Fionn Whitehead), shown. (Photo by: Miya Mizuno/FX)
Estella (Shalom Brune-Franklin) and Pip (Fionn Whitehead) in a still from the show. (Photo by: Miya Mizuno/FX)

For Brune-Franklin, taking on the project, led by a cluster of British talent, was a “no-brainer.” “When I read the script, I was like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ I really loved Estella’s voice in the script. It almost felt like Steven Knight had married a modern voice to the sound of the classic novel. I thought that was really exciting and something fresh.”

Similar to “A Christmas Story,” the series takes a gritty aesthetic approach to the story. “This is not a period drama that maybe you’re used to always seeing, something that seems really clean and pretty and prim and proper,” Brune-Franklin says. “It’s kind of violent and dark and gothic.”

Like many, Brune-Franklin’s first exposure to Dickens’ novel was in school as a teenager living in Australia. But while she was already familiar with the story when cast, she was surprised at how little she remembered.

“I don’t think you take in as much as an adult — you read it in a very different way,” she says of her experience reading the book when she was younger. “Coming back and reading it now, I think it’s far more heartbreaking when you read it as an adult, when you understand the concept of dreams being crushed — because that’s what I feel the book is really about. It’s about people who had all these ideas of what their lives were going to turn out like, and essentially their dreams get absolutely annihilated. We all know what that feels like and these expectations of what you can become. The meaning hit home a lot more and completely washed over my 16-year-old brain.”

“GREAT EXPECTATIONS” -- Episode 3 --  Having left his life in Gravesend, Pip (Fionn Whitehead) has a brutal introduction to life working for Mr Jaggers (Ashley Thomas). Meanwhile Estella (Shalom Brune-Franklin) discovers a plan of Miss Havisham’s (Olivia Colman). Written by Steven Knight; directed by Brady Hood. Miss Havisham (Olivia Colman) and Estella (Shalom Brune-Franklin), shown. (Photo by: Miya Mizuno/FX)
Miss Havisham (Olivia Colman) and Estella (Shalom Brune-Franklin) in a still from the show. (Photo by: Miya Mizuno/FX)

The show was her first period role, and Brune-Franklin credits the costume and hair and makeup teams for helping her get into character. “So much of the preparation for this role happened in the fittings,” she says.

Aesthetic details helped fill out Estella’s backstory. The hair and makeup artist placed little butterflies in Estella’s hair as a nod to her childhood growing up in solitude; the costume designer wanted to make it look like the character’s dresses were “rotting from the inside out.”

“You are collectively coming up with the idea of who this woman is and why she looks the way she looks,” says Brune-Franklin, praising the collaborative process. “And then you can go away with that and let that inform your internal work that you’re doing.”

Her sartorial excitement carries over to the fashion world. Earlier this year, Brune-Franklin made the rounds at Paris Fashion Week, attending shows for Chanel and Miu Miu. “Honestly, going to Paris is probably a highlight in itself,” says Brune-Franklin of the experience, in addition to raving over the collections she saw. “I’m always blown away by how beautiful the city is every time I go there. I kept asking people in Paris, ‘Does this wear off for you?’ Because it’s so stunning.”

Another thing that has yet to wear off: the fact that she has been able to make acting her career.

If her university experience had gone differently, Brune-Franklin might have ended up in a different career: journalism. She notes there was a technical issue with her enrollment and was told that she’d have to defer her studies for a year. While on campus, she saw information for the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts — and decided she’d try out.

“I had that wild stab in the dark, and I ended up getting in. So I took that as a sign of, you know what, maybe I’ll become a drama teacher,” she says. “Gradually things sort of fell into place and I ended up acting full time — which is mental. I still feel like, oh my god — I don’t want it to end.”

With a busy spring ahead, there’s no end in sight. The actress stars in the Australian drama series “Love Me,” which returns for its second season in April, and she’s gearing up to start filming “Dune: The Sisterhood” for HBO. Brune-Franklin can’t divulge too much about the series plot, but she does share how she plans to spend her time off-set while in Budapest.

“I think I’m just gonna constantly live in a thermal bath,” she says. “They love thermal baths out there, don’t they?”

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