■ The actress, 56, on turning down reality TV, why Cindy Beale still drives her insane and the gender pay gap
Are you acting at the moment?
No, I am waiting on something to happen. I’d love to do something like Prime Suspect. Mind you, I do get offered a lot of reality TV that I don’t do. I did Bear Grylls: Mission Survival but that was different. I don’t want to do anything I am not in control of. I don’t mean I am a control freak but I just think, you never know how you are going to be edited! I also think actors don’t do that many of those things as they don’t like being themselves in public.
Do you think the showbiz world has changed a lot?
Things were very different when I started out. There was no ‘celebrity’. Even when I went into EastEnders [as Cindy Beale in 1988], it was very gritty and there were no soap awards. When I was leaving [in 1998], that was the first time a soap had ever been up for a Bafta and it was for my storyline leaving EastEnders.
Do you look back fondly on your EastEnders days?
Yes I do. My agent didn’t want me to do it. I had done 11 episodes and the agent said, ‘I think it’s time to go now.’ I wanted to stay and I did.
Cindy Beale was so iconic, wasn’t she?
She was too iconic! It’s really hard to shake her off. She drives me a bit insane. It was 20 years ago but to keep seeing yourself from 20 years ago is just weird. I can’t stand her voice. I know it was just a part but sometimes you do feel like a victim of your own success because no actor wants to be remembered for playing one role.
But you’ve played lots of different roles since quitting EastEnders. Which part are you most proud of?
I did a Jacqueline Wilson drama, The Illustrated Mum, for Channel 4 about a woman who had bipolar and we won an International Emmy. I loved doing that. I also did Two Thousand Acres Of Sky and I moved on after three series. Now I sometimes wonder why I did. But that’s life.
Is it getting harder to land great roles now you are older?
Yes, absolutely. It has been proven with the gender pay gap that there are not as many roles for women as men on TV. We need more female writers to write the roles for women. I also think it is very hard for younger working-class actors. If you don’t go into a soap, where do you go? Few dramas are written about the working class and that is why I like the Lennie James drama Save Me. It is set in London.
Talking of the gender pay gap, have you ever experienced it?
It’s weird because women don’t talk about money as much. It’s a bit of a taboo. I did a job a long time ago with a guy. He asked me how much I was getting. It turned out he was getting more. I felt it was unfair and threatened to pull out. My agent managed to get me the same as him and he never knew. I think it is good if women do support each other. You have more power in a group.
Are you glad you left Coronation Street when you did in 2014?
Yes. I always knew I would stay for three years. If my daughter [Maia Rose] had been at university, it would have been easier. I like to do different dramas rather than anything long-term. Mind you, if Netflix came along with a big drama in Atlanta, maybe I would!
What made you decide to launch a skincare range?
I met a man who was involved in the beauty manufacturing side of things and it went from there! I’ve created an anti-ageing, age-defying range that will rehydrate your skin. I am the creator and controller of it all and it’s a start-up. It’s really exciting…
What’s the best advice you’ve been given when it comes to taking care of yourself?
Being an actress, I am under the light a lot and my mum always told me to look after my skin. I always have and I’ve never done the sun, either. I remember when I got my first acting job and I was so proud I could afford to buy some Clarins! That was when I was 21 and I got a job alongside Gary Oldman…
Are you chuffed Gary won an Oscar this year?
It’s brilliant. Even when he was young, there was something quite electric about him and you could tell he was going to do well. I loved the fact he had his cup of tea and thanked his mum!
Collins’s skincare range, Pellum Vero, is available at mcskintruth.com