■ The actress, 42, talks schoolgirl crushes, being irked by the Beach Boys and her new ITV crime drama, Wild Bill
Your co-star in Wild Bill is Rob Lowe. Were you a fan of The West Wing?
Well, yes… but I have to confess that Rob was the absolute number one pin-up at the boarding school I went to, so for me it was all about St Elmo’s Fire. It was a single-sex school so you can imagine the teenage hormones were running riot. The thoughts we had about Rob Lowe… everyone had an absolute crush on him! It makes me blush to think about it.
Did you confess that to him when you met?
Yes, actually, I did tell him… he just smiled.
In Wild Bill, you’re his love interest/sparring partner. How does that go?
My character is a judge and really she sees Rob’s character, a US cop who has come over to sort out crime figures in Lincolnshire, as a bit of eye candy. She thinks he’s the prettiest thing to have landed in her neck of the woods — she even calls him Chief Chippendale. So she wants to take advantage of her position and they crack on at a gallop. It really gets going in episode two and the strength of their connection takes them both by surprise, though it’s not exactly a meeting of minds. I can reveal you get to see Rob Lowe with his top off, which is no bad thing, surely?
You’re playing a judge. Have you ever been arrested?
No, amazingly I haven’t as yet. Though I nearly was when one of my flatmates at Edinburgh University thought it would be a tremendous joke to lock me up in a room with a policeman for a while and just leave us there. I have no idea how that came about but I must have been locked up with him for a good hour and we couldn’t get out. I’m amazed he didn’t arrest me.
Do you think you would have made a good judge?
I don’t know about that but I do know that I am full of admiration for the job they do. I spent time at the Old Bailey in the public gallery and found it fascinating, I was hooked. I went court hopping and I found all the women judges so admirable, combining their understanding of the law with having empathy. It makes you consider how human beings should be treated, how they should behave — and how society should deal with misdemeanours. These are really important questions.
It’s interesting that Wild Bill is set in Boston, Lincolnshire, a part of the country that’s rarely seen on TV.
That’s a huge component of the show. It’s farming central in that area and you get a strong impression that Lincolnshire and the people there felt unheard and unrecognised by Britain as a whole for a long time. It’s an area where immigrants do a lot of the labouring, which has informed a lot of the attitudes there — the idea that you can seal up the borders and the problems will end, for one. It’s a perfect microcosm of this fractured Britain.
What was it like, filming there?
Mmm… well, I have to confess I cheated a bit. All my scenes are with Rob so, because my son Jack was young, the producers kindly let me film in a lovely house nearer where I live. It was just me and Rob Lowe holed up in a room… dirty work but someone’s got to do it!
You balance TV work with theatre roles. What’s your next stage performance?
I’m playing the lead in David Hare’s Plenty and it’s a role I truly relish, though it slightly scares me. The play examines the life of a woman who at 17 is enlisted as a spy in World War II. She’s signed up to work with the Resistance and that shapes her life. She’s experienced the idea of being challenged by her work and by feeling truly useful, and then she has this creeping sense of disillusion when she can’t find her place in post-war Britain. There’s no place for her in society. But it’s not really a period piece, it’s timeless. It’s about finding a new footprint for equality.
Have there been any signs yet as to whether your son Jack will be an actor like you or a musician like his dad, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey?
It’s funny you should ask that — we’re quite competitive on that front, which I know is probably completely wrong but what can you do? There’s been a period where music seemed to be winning but I think Guy cheats and leaves musical things lying around for Jack to play with. We went through a really bad phase where Jack would insist on nothing else but the Beach Boys — if I never hear that song Barbara Ann again I will be truly thankful. Maybe he could be an accountant — that could come in really handy!
■ Wild Bill starts on ITV on Wednesday at 9pm. Plenty is at Chichester Theatre until June 29