By the age of 14, Bethany Antonia knew she wanted to act. Raised in France and, later, a working-class community in Birmingham, U.K., Antonia didn’t know anyone in show business or the arts, but she started asking around anyway. The responses were demoralizing. “They just shut me down and said, ‘When you’re 18, you can go to drama school,’” Antonia tells me from Birmingham. That answer didn’t suffice. “It felt like such a long time away.”
So Antonia and her mother started their own research, and found a local drama group called First Acts Workshop. “It was [founded by] an amazing guy who wanted to help young people get into the industry,” says Antonia. “We would go every week, and we would do improv classes and radio plays and just learn the basics. And he would send us for auditions.”
It was at one of these readings that Antonia landed her first job. “It was a short film, and I met someone there who had an agent, and that was the first time I’d heard about agencies. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is like a secret way in that people have.’”
It was 2012 and agencies still required paper copies of C.V.’s and headshots mailed into their offices for consideration. “I basically made this database of about 350 agents and spent my whole school year just writing to them and being as dramatic as I could as a kid to try and be like, ‘Hello, please take me on,’” she says.
Of the more than 300 letters sent, only two agents responded—one of whom signed Antonia as a client.
That was not the last time Antonia’s career defied the odds. Four years later, she beat out 500 other girls to land the lead role in an independent feature film, Deborah Haywood’s well-reviewed mother-daughter drama, Pin Cushion.
Her next big break was the 2020 BBC teen thriller Get Even, a show in the vein of Pretty Little Liars and Riverdale. What set this elite private-school saga apart was the casting—it’s been widely hailed as one of the few cliquey high-school programs to get representation right.
Most recently, Antonia can be seen in the eight-episode Netflix adaptation of the Harlan Coben thriller Stay Close, in which she plays Cush Jumbo’s equal parts woke and recalcitrant Gen Z daughter. “It must be really hard writing for teenagers, and they were so good,” says Antonia of the show’s writers. “If anything didn’t feel natural, it did feel like we had the power to tweak it a little bit.”
And for her next move? “The older I get, the more I am inclined to write my own things. There’s just a whole other world out there where we can create our own content,” says Antonia. “There are incredible people making work, like Michaela Coel and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, setting the gold standard. It’s such a beautiful time to be a creative right now.”
Stay Close is streaming now on Netflix
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for Air Mail