December 2016 | by Carl Marsh
What do you think people expect when they meet you in person, do you think they, the public, has a big misconception about your persona?
Not really. I have been lucky to have been portrayed in a good light by the media, and when I appeared on Strictly as myself and not as a character, I think people got a chance to see a real version of me that is quite normal. Although the public do tend to recognise me easily by my voice as well as my face, and then expect me to know medical knowledge that I can never answer!
You lasted for a very long time on Strictly Come Dancing, what got you through all those long and gruelling days, as I know you were filming Casualty at the same time?
I don't think anyone can truly prepare for being on a show like Strictly. It is all about juggling! It is all consuming, and you have to be firing on all cylinders in order to remember your normal day to day jobs and learn lines for work, and to then keep up with the new demands of something like learning ballroom and Latin dancing when you have never even tried it before. I relied heavily on family support, public transport schedules and the buoyancy of not knowing what bubble of showbiz I had entered! I was floored at the public reaction and the support I got each week. It was also really tricky not knowing how long I was going to remain in Strictly for, and for Casualty to work out ahead which episodes I could be heavy or lightly featured in, so I guess everyone was juggling to accommodate. I filmed 3 days for Casualty a week and dance trained 2 days. It was like living 2 lives. It was very different to any other performance I have had to be part of and nothing like acting on stage, so what I felt was a new version of fear and excitement. I suppose this is what happens when you try something out of your comfort zone.
What did you enjoy the most about playing Dr Zoe Hanna in Casualty for nearly a decade? And of the cast you have worked with over the years, who did you get the biggest kick out of working with on Casualty?
I loved playing Zoe and I'm still very protective of her. She was a character with many colours and ingredients that I was lucky enough to play with. I suppose what I loved most about Zoe was her unpredictable twists and her attitude. I could take her anywhere and the writers seemed to feel the same. They could always press Zoe's self destruct button but similarly, they allowed her awkward comedic flaws that were often fun to play. I especially got lucky with my leading men. Both Michael French and Jamie Davis provided me with huge professional fun and laughter playing opposite them. Michael has a steel in his performance that I was always drawn to matching, and Jamie loved to workshop and create new meanings within our scenes, so it often stretched me to try new things. The sisterhood at Casualty has blessed me with many close friends that I truly enjoyed working opposite. Finding a cast with girls that root for you and want to work well together is what I think I experienced most at my time at Casualty. Jane Hazelgrove, Susan Cookson, Suzanne Packer and Georgia Taylor were the girls that showed me the ropes when I started the show 8 years ago, and I was so welcomed that I always remembered to pass that feeling on with new cast in the hope that they would feel the same. It's really important on a long running job to feel like you have a family at work.
Sadly you are no longer in my wife and daughters favourite show. What will you be appearing in next?
I did a small stint on the new series of Broadchurch and then flew off to India to make an episode of Who Do you Think You Are. I then landed a great role in the ITV series Safe House 2 which is about a serial killer on the loose, and I play the DCI in charge of the case. It was really cathartic for me to play a totally different personality after playing one person for over 8 years.
Do you recall what prepared you best for being an actor when you started out, and did you ever question why you were even attempting it as a career choice?
I never chose to be an actor. Acting chose me. I was spotted at a bus stop on the way home from school when I was 15 by the casting director at Brookside, and ended up playing Nisha for 3 episodes which then somehow became 3years!
So I was totally unprepared for acting and hadn't made my choices for life at all, but I can't tell you how perfect a route this was for me in hindsight. I never had huge expectations and reality TV wasn't around then for people to aim for TV careers as such, so it wasn't like everyone wanted to be actors at school or stuff. I have been really fortunate to stumble my way along the years to being part of a profession I am actually really suited to, and one that I probably wouldn't have considered. I enrolled into a night time drama school to gain some acting knowledge, but everything I know has been learnt from every director and senior colleague that has taken me under their wing and guided me through the stages of acting. Looking back, I wouldn't have done it any other way.
When it comes to your acting career, what is the greatest moment and also the most painful moment so far?
My greatest moment to date was probably landing the role of Anji in No Angels and playing out her crazy, lovable charm. The girls I got to play opposite were all so gifted and accepting of finding a new form of comedy within drama, that every episode on that show was enjoyable. My most painful moment was on stage at The Bush during a performance of The God Botherers by Richard Bean when my fellow actress, the lovely Georgia Mackenzie, lost her voice on stage and we had to close the performance half way through the show. It was a real shock, as I could feel her struggle and didn't know how to help her out. Thankfully she recovered after a few days and normal service was resumed!
Can you describe in your own words what acting means to you?
Acting is a feeling of suspension when you can transport yourself into the life of another, and really feel their truth. It's playing with words, and enjoying the moments that you can create again and again with yours and others skills. Bringing words to life.
When you do happen to relax, do you like to read fiction, non-fiction or both?
I enjoy both fiction and non fiction. I am currently reading Stephen Fry’s autobiography which I got last Christmas, and have only just got around to reading! White Teeth by Zadie Smith captured me enough to write her a letter after I had put it down. As a child, I loved reading, and I have passed that on to my son Noah, thankfully.
And what book would you always say is the best book you have ever read, and why?
Donna Tartt’s Secret History and Ferris Bueller's Day off (yes, I read the book before the film) are two books I would take with me on a desert island!
Are you ever hard on yourself? If so, what do you do to bounce back?
I am both hard and easy on myself in equal measures, depending on the stress. I find a deep tissue massage and meditation really useful for de-stressing my mind and switching it off when I get too busy in my mind and body.
In life, what do you fear the most?
I think I fear losing my loved ones the most. As you get older, it becomes more of a reality but it means I am more grateful and feel luckier as time goes on that I have all my family near me.
What do you love the most?
Laughing till my stomach hurts!