The evening saw Elizabeth interviewed by two of our current students, the screening of an episode she directed, and a Q&A with the audience. Hear below from Elizabeth, our host for the evening Professor Rob Stone, and one of our interviewers Maria Bastan-Sarabi, BA English and Film.
Elizabeth talked about her time as a Drama student at UoB, including her first time on campus:
I remember I first walked on to the beautiful campus, saw the clock tower and just had that feeling of I want to go here, I need to go here – this is special, there’s magic here. Being in a place that’s all about curiosity and learning and education.Elizabeth Henstridge
Elizabeth also reflected on what drew her to study drama at UoB:
‘It felt all encompassing, I knew I wanted to act but I wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything else in the world of theatre, or theatre literature that I would have been drawn to, and to be open to that.’
Professor Rob Stone, Professor of Film Studies and a director of B-Film provides some background on how the event came about, and the impact Elizabeth had during her time with us.
‘Every year, B-Film: The Birmingham Centre for Film and Television Research hosts a prestigious annual lecture and screening and for 2023 I wanted an industry professional, never imagining that we would be welcoming and honouring a Hollywood star and director!’
‘The idea to invite Elizabeth Henstridge came to me last year, when I was enjoying my daily episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and, while reading background information about the series, discovered that she had graduated from the University of Birmingham with a first in Drama and Theatre Arts in 2009. I found a way to contact her and she quickly and kindly replied with equal enthusiasm for a return visit to her alma mater as guest of B-Film in collaboration with the Department of Film and Creative Writing and the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts.’
‘Throughout the evening, Elizabeth connected with our audience of mainly students in a unique and thrilling way. Her insights into acting and directing, anecdotes from the Marvel universe, and examples of her creative and professional endeavour from her own career were truly inspiring.’
It's marvellous to host an event like this with a special guest that brings together our academic community of scholars in film and television studies, creative writing, drama and theatre arts. As a fan before and an even bigger one now, I was thoroughly delighted.Professor Rob Stone
‘The value of Elizabeth's insights and the example of her career to our students is immense. Her character on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jemma Simmons, has an amazing arc over seven seasons, gaining autonomy and authority while sustaining the humanity and intelligence of the series; but more than this, it is Elizabeth's generosity and eloquence that most enthralled all those who joined B-Film in welcoming her back to the University of Birmingham on the night.’
One of our undergraduate student interviewers, Maria Bastan-Sarabi, writes about her experiences of the evening here:
When Professor Rob Stone asked me if I would be interested in interviewing Elizabeth Henstridge for the annual B-Film event, I replied with profound enthusiasm and instantly began to compile a series of questions. I was keen to find out how an aspiring actor, who studied Drama and Theatre Arts, swapped Birmingham for Hollywood. More importantly, I was aware that students from across the University of Birmingham would be equally inspired to hear a past graduate discuss her rise to success.
I was naturally very nervous for the event, however once I was introduced to Elizabeth, I found her to be very approachable. I instantly felt comfortable as we engaged in conversation about university life and shared similar anecdotes on accommodation and bars we had visited! Elizabeth offered me advice on navigating my next steps after university as a third-year student. She encouraged me to not worry about having a set plan and rather to enjoy my time left at university. We discussed the different routes that graduates take and bonded over our passion for film and creative arts.
The actual interview in front of an audience of around 200 began with Elizabeth discussing her decision to go to Hollywood. Elizabeth moved to the States for television pilot season, when new series are given trial episodes, and only intended to stay for one year until hearing that she had landed the role of Jemma Simmons in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Elizabeth shared that she felt a connection with her character and described how Jemma Simmons taught her a great deal about herself and shaped her into the woman that she is today. Elizabeth also touched upon the pressure she felt by being part of the global franchise that is Marvel, and how this challenged her to become more confident as an actor. The interview was full of laughter as we surprised Elizabeth with photographs from her final performance at university and her audition tape for the series. Elizabeth reflected on how at the time everything seemed daunting and uncertain, but when she looks back now it is exciting to remember how she found her way without ever knowing what lay ahead.
As an aspiring journalist, it was a great experience and challenge for me to interview someone who displays so much passion and care in their answers. I asked Elizabeth about her transition from acting to directing and any future projects she was keen to share with us. Elizabeth began her journey into directing by shadowing Clark Gregg on the set of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and she described how she essentially learnt on the job. She shared that she was keen for a challenge and balancing the role of actor and director was very new to her. She described how she was surprised by the level of responsibility that she found herself carrying when directing the season seven episode ‘As I Have Always Been’. Elizabeth revealed how the episode was built from her choices and authority, whereby she was exposed to a whole new area of creativity and was shocked by the cost of creating each episode, in particular the expense of special effects. The episode, which has a complicated time-loop structure and dramatic shifts in tone, stands as the most successful in the entire series and was received with an appreciative round of applause from our audience.
I benefited from this experience personally and professionally, and it was a pleasure to interview Elizabeth, whose enthusiasm and insight stimulated us all. Beginning her journey at the University of Birmingham, Elizabeth’s relatability to students is profound. Elizabeth’s successful career inspires us all and proves that the possibilities in the future for those studying creative arts are endless.Maria Bastan-Sarabi