■ The actress, 54, talks about anti-Semitism, her collection of short stories and ramping up the nasty in Poldark
We’ve just seen you in Poldark, playing the mum of unfortunate lech Osborne. Have you had a nice time playing Lady Whitworth?
Yes, it was a lovely job. It’s always good fun playing a nasty character — it’s quite a laugh accessing that side of you. The cast and crew were thoroughly nice and welcoming considering they’ve been doing it for four years and I’m the newbie.
Why is sexual objectification acceptable as long as it’s happening to Aidan Turner?
I’m not sure it is, actually. It would be naive of us to think people don’t notice Aidan Turner is a very good-looking bloke or that Eleanor Tomlinson is a very good-looking woman. Objectification isn’t a good look on anyone — I’m not sure that’s the way forward. Let’s acknowledge, of course, that we find people attractive when they look gorgeous and beautiful. But we don’t have to objectify them — you can treat people with respect and you don’t have to be publicly lusting after people. We spent a long time as feminists saying, ‘Can you see beyond the breasts and look at me as a human being?’ and it doesn’t play well to suddenly do it the other way round and go, ‘Cor, look at those pecs.’
You’ve written a new book called Impossible Things Before Breakfast — is there a theme?
The book is a collection of true short stories and I suppose I’m the theme because they’ve all happened to me — strange encounters, embarrassing reactions to things. Some are big stories, some are little stories but they’re all true and they’ve all happened to me. I like incorporating a few different ideas in each chapter and people can read them quickly — I can write them relatively quickly as well. They’re pithy and hopefully funny but I hope I can also get into some quite dark territory.
You say you’re easily annoyed in the book. What’s been annoying you recently?
Things in the news, American and British politics, and people’s reaction to it on Twitter also sometimes annoys me so I bow out for a few days. I don’t make a big announcement and flounce off but sometimes I think, ‘I can’t deal with the endless rounds of insults and petty arguments.’ And I don’t like rudeness. When I see people being rude to waiters it drives me insane because there’s no excuse for it. You can complain about something but you can do it in a polite, constructive way.
You suffer from anxiety. Is being a self-employed actress a good career path?
Probably not. My anxiety isn’t to do with that, it’s to do with claustrophobia and there’s a bit of health anxiety. Maybe if a proper shrink got hold of me they’d say, ‘Your real anxiety is that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing from one day to the next’, and I’m channelling all that into worrying about if I can get into a lift or not. That’s entirely possible.
You write about how you never work on Yom Kippur. Are you concerned about the resurgence of anti-Semitism?
Yes. There’s always been anti-Semitism but I’m very concerned about it. There’s a huge problem with intolerance generally and it’s being sanctioned in too many places across the world. Intolerance against Muslims, Jews, lesbian and gay people — everywhere you look across the world there are little pockets of governance where it’s acceptable to be homophobic, Islamophobic or anti-Semitic. It should worry all of us that we’ve lost our grip a bit and people are drifting back into smaller communities and hating the ‘otherness’ of other people. When we’re bombarded with negative imagery and fake news, it’s easy for people to drift into loathing difference.
How’s your plan to break America going?
I’m making little inroads. I did a bit in Transformers last year and a film with Uma Thurman called Down A Dark Hall, which is out in August. There are a couple of other things bubbling away. I’d like to do more American stuff but I don’t want to stop what I’m doing here or live somewhere else.
Were you killed by a robot in Transformers?
I wasn’t, I was alive at the end and I got to hold Mark Wahlberg’s hand. I played the heroine’s aunt so I was the comedy light relief. I hadn’t seen any of the films before so when I went to the premiere with my son, I turned to him and said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on!’ I didn’t know who was a goodie and who was a baddie.
What lessons has your career in showbiz taught you?
Always put aside enough money for your tax bill — that’s my advice to any freelancer. Be prepared to take a few chances. I am very risk-averse in every aspect of my life but you can’t do that in acting. You have to take a few chances and live a little.
Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) is out now