■ The actress, 73, on a water pistol fight with Brad Pitt, an unusual proposal and the tenth series of crime drama Vera
Why do viewers like Vera so much?
She’s not glamorous so she’s not a threat. You can watch with your husband and he’s not lusting after her. It’s family viewing. On World Book Day there was a little girl on Twitter who dressed as Vera. She’d even got a warrant card — she was so cute. And I believe there’s a farmer who’s got his scarecrow dressed as Vera. If that doesn’t frighten the birds off, nothing will! Why is it necessary for women to be glamorous? It’s a form of brainwashing.
It’s been ten years since the show started — has there been a change in what you’re expected to do?
If there is, would someone tell them? They still have me running everywhere and climbing fences and ladders! But I’m all right. Somebody reminded me today that I’ve run three London marathons — the last one in 2004 — so maybe that’s why I’m still moving. I might start exercising again.
Your husband proposed while you were filming Vera…
It was on Skype. I said to him: ‘That’s a bit rich, isn’t it, proposing to me on bloomin’ Skype? You might at least get on one knee!’ So he did and disappeared off the screen!
What was it like working with Robert Redford, who directed A River Runs Through It?
When I turned up on set in the US we went inside his trailer to talk about my character. He said: ‘Your character is a very hard-working lady. When things get tough she just, erm, she just, er…’ And I said: ‘Gets on with it.’ He said: ‘Excuse me?’ He thought I’d told him get on with it! My character was a Scottish Presbyterian, so I’d boned up on the Scottish accent, but he told me she wasn’t Scottish and that her accent was Middle American. I had three weeks before filming began so I spent all the time in a small town in Montana and just got into conversation with local people until I learnt it.
You were Brad Pitt’s mum in that film, weren’t you?
This was in 1992 before he was a star. We had a water pistol fight one day but he cheated because he filled two!
Have you ever been tempted by Hollywood?
There was a while when I was offered some jobs in sitcoms or series in the US but if you go down that path you’ve got to sign up for six years. It’s a whole change of life. My husband Michael had a career at the time and I couldn’t interrupt that. We decided that if they would reduce it to two years we would think about it. They did and I made the pilot but it wasn’t picked up. We felt that was a narrow escape because in the end we didn’t really want that.
You had an amazing career before Vera…
I was thinking of hanging up my acting boots when it came along! I looked around at mates packing up or going on holiday. When did I last have a holiday? I’ll tell you exactly when it was — it was 32 years ago because I’m always working. My husband doesn’t get fed up with it. He comes to Northumberland when we’re filming Vera. That’s a holiday to him. He’s not working, is he? It’s me who’s grafting! No wonder he proposed!
How long will you keep going?
If there’s an audience appetite for it, it could go on for a bit longer although I wouldn’t want to do it on a Zimmer! Ten is a good end mark but then so is 11 and 12! Viewers enjoy Vera because it concentrates on the story. We don’t go too much into personalities so people are trying to solve it at home themselves. Lots of people have said to me what they like about it is that they’re kept guessing until the last few minutes.
What’s been your favourite and least favourite role?
I was very pleased with Grown-Ups, which was a Mike Leigh film I did yonks ago. Vera is a favourite, of course, and I loved working with Timothy Spall on Mysterious Creatures and Outside Edge. I also did a short film for Sky with Tom Jones and Alison Steadman called King Of The Teds, which was fun. I can’t really think of any I regret but if there’s something I don’t want to remember I have a talent to forget it.
What’s on your bucket list?
I’ve never been on a cruise. I’d like to go with my niece Valerie. Maybe to the fjords — that would be nice. I don’t long for a holiday but I’m aware that, actually, you haven’t had one, Brenda, and you might quite enjoy it!
For anyone who might want to try to copy Vera’s inimitable style, where does her hat come from?
I bought it in a fishing shop in Newcastle. It did get lost once. It was my fault, although I didn’t own up to it at the time! They’re hard to come by, actually. I was invited to a crime festival in the US last year and a signed hat went for £600, although there are some very good lookalikes for sale on Newcastle quayside market!
■ The new series of Vera starts on Wednesday at 8pm on ITV