BILLIE PIPER and her massive smile are such a feature of the British cultural landscape, it’s hard to remember a time without them. She was just 15 when her debut single, Because We Want To, made her the youngest artist ever to top the pop charts. Reinventing herself as an actress in 2003, she became one of Doctor Who’s most beloved companions (her Rose Tyler to Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor) before going on to conquer the stage — including a storming Young Vic production of Yerma, which now stands as one of the most award-laden performances in UK theatre history.
Today I’m trying to pin down the 36-year-old to talk about her new film, Two For Joy, which is easier said than done because she’s pulling 14-hour shooting days on the set of her directorial debut, Rare Beasts — which she also stars in.
She’s also pregnant with her third child — her first by Tribes frontman Johnny Lloyd. Does she ever stop?
‘I wouldn’t say that I am relentlessly running around but others might argue otherwise,’ she laughs. ‘I have actually only done two jobs this year and this is my third. But because they are quite varied, it feels more radical than it is.’
Considering she’s in week three of a five-and-a-half week shoot, Billie sounds remarkably chilled. She is clearly thrilled to talk about Two For Joy, directed by a mate of hers, photographer Tom Beard.
‘Tom is in our friends circle,’ she says. ‘We all spent Christmas Day together last year playing charades which, with actors in the room, gets quite competitive…’
Two For Joy is the story of a depressed single mother (Samantha Morton) who is neglecting to care for her kids or herself. Piper plays another struggling mum who is in an abusive relationship.
‘I am really interested in telling stories about mental health,’ she explains, ‘and [Two For Joy] is very much about the fallout of mental health and what happens when people don’t get the right sort of treatment.’
Another subject that’s unsurprisingly on her mind is the challenge of being a working mother.
‘It’s great having so much opportunity as a woman — it is precious and I’m loving it — but it is also very hard and stressful, and I don’t think anybody is talking about that,’ she says. ‘Trying to balance everything often seems impossible!’
That’s reassuring to hear, I tell her, as everyone would assume that, as a celebrity, she has a charmed life.
‘One of the many good things about being an actor is it means we often get to spend enormous solid chunks of time with our kids, even if there are times we don’t see them a great deal,’ she says.
She shares two children, Winston (nine) and Eugene (six) with her ex-husband, actor Laurence Fox.
‘But it’s the emotional stuff that everyone shares, regardless of what profession you are,’ she adds.
She hadn’t counted on being in her mid-trimester while on her first directing job but she’s taking it in her stride.
‘I always think the middle part of your pregnancy is when you’re wired into the matrix — you have amazing brain power and clarity,’ she says. ‘It’s either side of that when you lose it completely. Fortunately, I am filming in the part that feels most safe and progressive.’
And there’s no hint of putting her feet up just yet. ‘I am working till the end, as I always have done. That seems to be the way now, doesn’t it, if you’re a working woman?’
Particularly one as busy as Billie.
Two For Joy is in cinemas from tomorrow. Piper is also supporting TK Maxx’s Give Up Clothes For Good in support of Cancer Research UK Kids & Teens, tkmaxx.com/give-up-clothes-for-good
Billie on Doctor Who
‘I am really happy that they’ve got a female Doctor. I think it makes perfect sense at this very moment in time and Jodie Whittaker is so good I can’t wait to see more of the current series.
‘I try and make my kids watch it because all of their friends talk about it to them all the time, but they never really want to watch it! I can’t understand why. I hope they will show some interest at some point.
‘I remember moments trying to watch it together with my eldest [when I was on the show] but he found it a bit scary in that I am his mum and I am running away from all of these scary things. I think that was a bit traumatising because they were not quite at an age where they can separate that out. Or they might just not like it!’