Angel Coulby (center) and Wunmi Mosaku (red) do all their own singing in… (Starz )
Who knew Angel Coulby could sing? Well, Angel Coulby for one.
"I've never had lessons or anything," the British actress said during an Oct. 15 phone interview. "I just always kind of, I don't know, somehow have been able to sing."
Coulby, probably known best in the U.S. for playing Guinevere on Syfy's "Merlin," sings for the first time onscreen in "Dancing on the Edge," a five-part miniseries debuting at 9 p.m. Oct. 19 on Starz.
She plays Jessie, a driven young jazz singer in 1930s London who signs up with the Louis Lester Band and wows high society and royalty. As a mixed-race woman from an impoverished background, Jessie is constantly wary of her precarious position in society even as her and the band's fortunes rise.
"She's in the spotlight now, but it's not necessarily going to last, so she's kind of desperate to hang onto it," Coulby said.
Coulby filmed the role between the fourth and fifth seasons of "Merlin," a fantasy series that ended its run on Syfy earlier this year. It was on "Merlin" that she first learned about "Edge" when "Merlin" crew members were talking about what they were doing next. She called her agent, who already was talking to casting directors for the miniseries.
While the acting role was juicy, Coulby couldn't resist the original jazz music written by Adrian Johnston that sounds like authentic 1930s tunes. She's a huge fan of the era and the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and earlier singers.
"I really found that actually this was kind of my niche with my voice," she said of her rehearsal time. "It's not kind of the classical music star voice, but definitely has a more jazz tone to it ... So it felt quite comfortable for me actually, and I loved it."
So can we expect an "Angel Coulby Sings Jazz Classics" album any time soon?
"I would love to do that," she said. "We got to go into a studio and work with a huge, amazing band of musicians. If I was offered the chance to do that again I would definitely."
Coulby talked more about singing, this role, keeping up with "Merlin" castmates and fans, and what's coming up.
Did anyone know you could sing? Did you know you could sing like that?
[Laughs.] I knew I could sing. Yeah, I haven't done a lot of singing in my time but it's been something I've always really enjoyed. But no, I think my agent sort of vaguely knew but she never actually heard me sing. When I first joined with her about 12 years ago I think that was probably something I mentioned at the time. But since then we haven't really kind of had the opportunity or reason to talk about it particularly until this came up. But yeah, I was able to use my lungs a bit more on this.
Was singing this music a challenge for you, or did you feel you could do it?
Yeah, I did. I really enjoy music of that time and ... I've always been really kind of charmed by that sound. So perhaps whenever I've sung to myself I've kind of leaned in that direction.
I think when Stephen wrote the piece he wasn't thinking that he would find an actress who could also sing in the kind of style of the piece ... He said that he added a few little scenes for me once he knew that he had a singer who could act as well. Or an actress who can sing, however you want to look at it.
Did you have a performance style or did that come with the choreography?
A bit of both I suppose. I tried to find as much footage as I could of the time to see how people moved in general, as well as just sort of while singing and performing. But I suppose I've got a bit of a flair for that kind of dancing and singing ... So it actually all came quite naturally when we came to do it. Like we had a choreographer who worked with us occasionally, but when it came to me performing onstage they sort of left me to it a bit and I sort of just let it happen. And it seemed to work.
I love the costumes in this. And I was wondering if your movement, even offstage walking around in those dresses, if you had to adjust.
Yeah, I think there's something about the elegance of the time, of having to sit in a certain way. A lot of the dresses I was wearing were quite tight. So you're not able to like stride down corridors or anything. You have to take your time when you're moving. And also, because they were original old costumes, a lot of them were very delicate and I remember there was one particular day where I had the costume people following me around sweeping up sequins from the back of the dress as I moved. They were kind of asking me not to sit down too much and stuff like that. So I had to kind of spend the day like standing up.