Leading UK casting director Sophie Hollander (The Witcher, Young Wallander) on Buckinghamshire school days, her passion for reading and finding her own path

Where did you go to school and when?

I went to primary school in Haddenham, secondary school in Princes Risborough and sixth form in Great Missenden – all in Buckinghamsbire.

What were your school/s like?

They were pretty run of the mill state schools, to be honest. I don’t remember them having a leaning towards any speciality. I was probably aware that we weren’t as well-equipped as the grammar school down the road, but the teachers were kind and invested in the kids.

Did you love school, or hate it?

Truly, I really think I only came into my own once I’d left school. It didn’t help that I didn’t live near the schools I went to, so the weekends could feel quite solitary. I’d come back on a Monday or after a holiday and feel like I’d missed out a wee bit in terms of hanging out with my friends. And so that always made me feel slightly on the outside looking in. But I also think this led to my total love of reading and stories. I could and still can read for hours.

What were your favourite subjects at school?

That’s easy, Drama. I LOVED those lessons. It all felt like play to me. If we had a double period of Drama I was thrilled.

Who was your favourite or most memorable teacher and how did they influence you?

Awww, Madame Dunford – my form tutor and French teacher. She was pretty no nonsense but created an entirely safe space and made the whole class feel like a family. She was generous and kind and treated us all like adults in the way of always being respectful, giving us autonomy and never making us feel like the children we were. 

Where was your favourite place at school and what did you do there?

Ha, the fields at the back of Princes Risborough because a whole gang of us would gather out there. During the warmer months, it would be us all lying in the sun having a laugh, sharing gossip about who was snogging who and who had broken up. I definitely wasn’t the most cerebral student they had but I LOVED the social aspect of school.

What beliefs did your time at school gave you?

They taught me that the path forward is an individual one. That progress for you is different than progress for someone else. Which meant, I guess, that even if I wasn’t the best at maths (I definitely wasn’t, I had to take my Maths GCSE twice!) my own (soft) skills would and could be just as valuable in the future. 

Sophie Holland. Photo (above and top): Yellow Belly

What was your proudest school moment?

I’d come in from Haddenham Middle School to Princes Risborough with very little confidence both socially and academically, and I remember Haddenham had been asked to write a kind of introduction – a ‘handover’ I guess. I also remember thinking that it wasn’t exactly glowing. Then, the first year at PR I won what was called a ‘Progress Award’. I’d developed more confidence academically and also formed quite strong friendship bonds. I feel like they’d seen it and acknowledged it, which was hugely validating and encouraged me to keep moving forward. It came at a pivotal time. I also won a book token and, well, you already know how I feel about books. 

What was the most trouble you ever got into at school?

Ha. I once got totally busted for using a word which was not deemed ladylike (to be honest, I’m amazed that only happened once). I was given a detention and had to stay after school with a litter picker and a bin bag and clean the field. I got much smarter about checking where the teachers were at any given point after that.

Were you ever ‘too cool for school’?


What is your most vivid memory, looking back?

I’d won the role of Princess Jasmine in the Aladdin pantomime. I vividly remember stepping out on stage when my mum was in the audience – and so was the boy I was going out with at the time – and completely missing the note on one of the songs, so it sounded like I was choking. 

That one really stayed with me. 

What other key influences/passions shaped you growing up?

Aside from my love of reading, I was obsessed with sci fi TV shows – things like Farscape and Babylon 5. It was the idea that the world is bigger than we can possibly imagine and that everyone can find a place in it. It makes me look at rule bending in a really different light – something to be embraced, never chastised.

What challenges are coming up next for you?

I’m super excited to see what projects are around the corner. I feel so lucky to have worked on some big worlds like The Witcher and Wednesday, but I’m always looking to try different genres.

How would you sum up your school days in three words?

Growth, Chaos, Fun. 

* Sophie Holland Casting sophiehollandcasting.com

Further reading: Actor Danny Mac on his rural school days and journey into acting