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Oona Chaplin and her Taboo character Zilpha Geary: Everything you need to know

Oona Chaplin as Zilpha Geary, a half-sister to Tom Hardy’s James Delaney on Taboo

Haunting, seductive, cunning and bereft of overt emotions, Oona Chaplin brings a deliciously deep dive of innate talent to her role as a seemingly contended well-to-do English lady, Zilpha Geary, on FX’s collaborative (partnered with BBC and Sonar), evocative and gritty period drama Taboo.

Chaplin — the granddaughter of British silent film star Charlie Chaplin — co-stars with Tom Hardy, who is cast as James Delaney and serves as executive producer.

Nothing is at is seems in this dark period drama. The taboo twist is married Zilpha and her half-brother Delaney are revealed to be former lovers who are drawn to each other like a moth to a flame.

They might possibly be the parents of a love child squirrelled away, financially taken care of by Delaney from afar. This will be revealed in future episodes if it is true.

As we learn of Delaney’s backstory, the tragic, tortured story of Zilpha crystallizes as well. As Zilpha confronts her compartmentalized desire, lust and love for her half brother, we begin to put together the pieces of this entire story.

In it their father’s legacy is at risk from the most powerful entity next to the crown, the East India Company, which has it bad for Delaney’s inheritance of Nootka Sound — which he has no intentions of relinquishing.

Oona Chaplin was the perfect person to cast as Zilpha. A child of the world, she grew up in Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and Cuba, with the world was her oyster as her famous mother’s acting career took her to exotic locales the world over.

In her mid-teens, Chaplin won a prestigious drama scholarship to attend Scotland’s Gordonston School which led her to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), graduating in 2007.

Her language proficiency and multi-cultural immersion and advantage have her career split between cinema in English and Spanish speaking countries.

Hardy and Chaplin each were at the recent winter tour of the Television Critics’ Association attended by Monsters and Critics, where they described the friction of their push-pull attraction and the forbidden nature of it all.

The series begins with the uncomfortable realization by Zilpha that she still has buried feelings for her adventurer half-brother James, who returns for his father’s funeral after he was thought long dead.

The drama suggests quickly on that James is in love with Zilpha, and her husband soon becomes savvy to their history and chemistry.

Hardy described his lusty and quietly lethal Delaney as “a bristly pig”. Meanwhile Chaplin said of her complicated role: “I think Zilpha did a very good job after James left, of building a life that was appropriate for the time.

“She was in a moderately happy marriage with a gentleman that was good for her, and she was going about her business. And then he comes back and throws everything up in the air, and suddenly she has these feelings.

“In her desperate attempts to bottle them up, they just keep getting stronger, and more erratic, and volatile, and change her in unexpected ways.”

Chaplin’s critically acclaimed Zilpha portrays a deeply complex woman of her time, hemmed in a loveless marriage of convenience, made comfortable in her financial situation. You can feel her yearning to be true to her heart but pragmatic enough to keep emotions reeled in, but for how long?

As Taboo progresses, we will learn of Zilpha’s fate as Delaney presses her to own her feelings, and more about their potential love child.

Aside from this role, Chaplin has already made an impression on American and British audiences with her feted role as Robb Stark’s healer wife Talisa on Game of Thrones. Like many characters in the George R.R. Martin tale of the Westeros, hers did not survive.

In Taboo, Chaplin’s highly exotic Spanish-Anglo looks and intensity as an actress are well sourced and taken advantage of for this dangerous play of corruption, absolute power and the mystical and spiritual journey that Delaney underwent.

Her beauty and talent have a wellspring of brilliant DNA to draw from.

You could say she was born to do it, as Chaplin hails from Madrid, Spain, to Anglo-American actress Geraldine Chaplin and Chilean cinematographer Patricio Castilla.

But even more impressive is that her creative lineage goes beyond her parents, to her grandfather Charlie. She is named after the silent screen legend’s fourth wife Oona and is also the great-granddaughter of American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

We guarantee you’ll be seeing lots more of her in many films and television projects to come.

Taboo airs on FX Tuesdays, at 10/9c through February 28th.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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