■ The actress, 38, talks about friends from corrie, leaving Barnsley for RADA and the stories behind her new murder doc series
What’s Murdertown and what are you up to?
When I got the call I thought they’d phoned the wrong person because I’m an actress, not a presenter, but they said they wanted more of a narrator and storyteller. In the wake of this renaissance of television, not only has drama come a long way but documentaries have too. I found it incredibly interesting to tell these stories. I narrate it, predominantly, but I’m on screen too, driving around these places we’re talking about and making it feel like you’re there.
Were you worried about the real-life murders being sensationalised?
I was but that isn’t the case — there’s a lot of detail, they are all closed cases and there are heroes that have a light shone on them. There’s a woman who is a specialist pollen expert who managed to close one of the cases 20 years after the murder had been committed. I found that heartening.
Is TV presenting a new skill?
Storytelling is storytelling and that’s what actors do for a living. There’s that old adage ‘don’t let the truth ruin a good story’ but this is all true. There are things I wouldn’t believe if I got them in a script. There’s one about a woman who was dying and confessed that the medical skeleton she had in her shed was actually her husband. She killed him 20 years earlier by knocking him over the head with a statue of a frog and wrapped him in tarpaulin. If I got that in a script I’d say: ‘Come on, no one is going to believe this, we need to tone it down.’ But it’s all true.
What’s your drama Cheat about?
It’s a four-part thriller for ITV and it’s on at the end of the year. I’m playing a sociology lecturer, Molly Windsor plays my student and it’s called Cheat — so you can guess what happens.
How did you become an actress?
I went straight to Rada when I was 18 and left when I was 21. I had a ball. I’d never had an acting lesson, there wasn’t a drama teacher at my school, so I couldn’t get enough. It felt very global — I became friends with people from Canada and New Zealand and I loved it.
You can do the best audition ever but if you don’t look right, you can’t have that part
Did you go out a lot?
Not really — we didn’t have much time. We were in from 9am to 6pm every day and on top of that you’ve got your lines. We just used to go to each other’s houses or the pub at the end of the road. There wasn’t much messing about. I have a lot to thank the place for — they taught us how to broaden our casting opportunities so they got me to play characters with an upper-class accent, I never used my own accent, and what I love about my career is how varied it’s been. And that’s definitely down to training.
Is social class still a big issue in acting?
It’s always been there. And location. I’d look at the TV when I was a kid and had no idea how anyone would get on it — I was from a deprived area in terms of the arts but 50 miles west of me there were amazing acting workshops going on. It’s always been an issue but at least we’re doing things about it now. For me, it’s all about equal opportunity and accessibility. Acting’s about representing every type of human being and the opportunities need to be there for everyone.
Is it improving?
It is because it’s a conversation now — when I was going to Rada from Barnsley it was just a case of ‘get on with it’. I’m now putting money into a scheme run by another actor I know to pay for a working-class student to go through drama school for three years. I hope things are changing — but you’d need to ask someone who wants to go to drama school if they feel they have the support.
How do you keep yourself motivated in spite of the inevitable knock-backs?
For me, if you’re an artist there’s nothing else you can do. It’s not a choice in our business as to whether you stick with it or not. But it’s like any desirable job, you’ve just got to develop a thick skin and keep on.
Have you been rejected harshly from any auditions?
No, that’s not really the problem in our game — it isn’t a situation where you all set off from the start line and whoever’s the fastest wins. It’s all a matter of taste. For every person who enjoys a particular actor, someone else doesn’t. You can do the best audition ever but if you don’t look right, you can’t have that part. A lot of things are out of your hands.
Do you still speak to anyone from Coronation Street?
Yes. I texted Simon Gregson yesterday and I speak to a lot of them quite often but I don’t know a lot of the present cast. But they are some of the best friends I’ve ever made.
Murdertown is on Mondays at 9pm on Crime + Investigation