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The Bigger Picture

April 09, 2024   |   Written by Adina Ilie

Hannah Dodd has an unusual presence. When you first spot her, she’s the epitome of femininity. In sheer black tights and a corset, her Bulgari diamond choker only further emphasises her already perfectly symmetrical features. A real English rose. And then off she goes. “Look at me! I’m Batman!” she says as she plays with her trench coat on the set of our cover shoot.

Her complex personality brings out the curiosity in people. Chameleonic and magnetic, she’s both sugar and spice. And everything nice. Don’t be fooled though. There’s tremendous fierceness lying behind those ocean eyes.

I remember when she first caught my attention. It was around the second season of Find Me In Paris, the Hulu teen fantasy drama (2018-2020). Something was intriguing about her on-screen presence that made her stand out. IMDb confirmed my suspicions. Her portfolio is vast. From her major role as Sarah Chapman in Enola Holmes 2 to Francesca in Bridgerton season 3, her other credits include Anatomy of a Scandal (2022), Eternals (2021) and Fighting With My Family (2019).

She’s an actor whose trajectory is difficult to predict – she’s as versatile as sheis specific, which keeps her from being pigeonholed, and that’s a privileged place. The 28-year-old was born in Colchester in Essex and she’s no stranger to the stage, having been dancing since the age of two. After attending a performing arts college, she graduated with a BA in theatre dance at the London Studio Centre in 2017. Just a year later, Dodd made her television debut as ballet student Thea Raphael in Find Me in Paris.

Fast-forward to the present time, Dodd’s authenticity is undeniable. But you can’t embody that kind of quality unless you’ve worked for your accolades. I do wonder what’s going through her head when she’s not having to walk in somebody else’s shoes. “I have a million things on my mind at once,” Dodd begins. “And also nothing. I’ve got so many thoughts going on at once. But I’m trying to be more present with people. I can get anxious at times, but when I’m with you, I’m like ‘no, I want to be here with you’.

She is present though. More so, her presence has the power to change the atmosphere in the room. But it’s not the type of presence you’d expect from a performer. Dodd is grounding, she’s not preoccupied by showmanship.

It’s the dancer in her bones that speaks the loudest. Dodd knows what it takes to make it in show business. It’s all about grit, determination and leading a life with love at the forefront. If you’ve known hardship, suddenly it’s far easier to be vulnerable and open. Dodd is nothing but honest. “Dancers and actors need a lot of strength and grit. Yet we’re also hyper-vulnerable people. And brave too, to keep going. Because we’ve seen rejection and hardship we’re not afraid to show love and our emotional side. Living in tension of opposites,” she explains.

Dance is a metaphor for life. Whether on or off-screen, working with your body removes you from your mind. Movement is life in motion. “Dance is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t do it. Everyone else is like ‘why are you putting yourself through this much torture and heartbreak and anxiety?’ And the truth is it’s because you love it and you can’t stop.”

She’s navigating the landscape from a different headspace. She’s a dancer, she’s an actor but she’s also a woman who knows exactly what she wants. Moving from movement to acting wasn’t a difficult transition for Dodd. It was in her blood to begin with. “Ultimately, dance has taught me so much discipline,” she says. “And it taught me how to show up every day. My teacher, Miss Jackie, taught me evolution and foundational knowledge. She would always say that college was a safe space and you could leave your problems at the door. And I think learning that things don’t happen overnight has helped massively in this line of work. You have to work. You have to do things time and time again until you land it right. It’s the same in dance as it is in acting as it is in life. You don’t suddenly get it perfect.”

The young actress hits the nail on the head on perfectionism. Being forced to watch yourself move and constantly look for your wrongdoings is not always easy. There’s a misconception about dancers using mirrors to admire themselves. But the reality of it is entirely different, Dodd states. “I always used to say that we dance in mirrors to be able to see what we need to improve on. That doesn’t work on a film set. So, I find it difficult watching myself as an actor because I can’t go in and change the finished product. And I’ve also trained my eye to look at myself and look for mistakes.”

Has Dodd managed to move past her perfectionism though? “Sometimes my perfectionism goes out the window. It depends on who I’m with and what actors and directors I’m working with. And I love getting to that place. But at the same time, Iclick into a technical route if Ihave to. So, it’s a balance. Sometimes I can throw it all away and sometimes I’m a hyper-perfectionist. That’s why I’m not very good at watching myself. I will look for
the mistakes.”

But perfectionism has its benefits too. When approaching her role as the pianoforte-playing Francesca in Bridgerton, Dodd tapped into the technical aspects of dance and transposed them into learning to play the piano. “I’m a dancer. So, I just learned, essentially, hand choreography. My piano teacher is incredible. She caught on to how I was learning and guided me in that direction,” she explains.

What weaved into Dodd’s life from all the parts that she’s portrayed? “When you spend years with a character, they bleed into your own life. I don’t know if I’ve purposefully taken anything on. But now, I have an enormous amount of respect for people. Learning about those women [from Bridgerton] and that timeframe gave me perspective. Spending time with Francesca helped me understand what a complex female character she was. I also nurture great respect for musicians. People spend years learning to play the piano, and that definitely informs my high regard.”

If there’s one thing that we should take away from women like Dodd is that hard work, determination, femininity and candour aren’t mutually exclusive. The complexity of humanity is most evident in the people who choose to not wear a mask. What’s her philosophy on life though? “Don’t wait for the miracle, be the miracle. If you want something, you have to go and do it. Whether that’s dancing, stretching, acting. It’s all transferable in life too. Don’t wait around for something to fall in your lap. It won’t happen. You have to go get it.”