■ The actress, 48, on dressing up as a chicken, her new cartoon show Love Monster and the future of hit sitcom Miranda
Were you surprised to be asked to do the Miranda reunion show at Christmas?
Miranda contacted the cast and said ten years was coming up — I couldn’t believe it had been ten years since the first episode went out. She wanted to do something to celebrate it but didn’t want to do another episode. It was a lovely thing to do for the fans because people ask me every day if there’s going to be any more Miranda. It was great — we did it live at the Palladium. Tom Ellis flew in from LA. It was really special. I don’t know if we will be doing more episodes. Miranda writes it so it’s up to her. It’s lovely that people have such fondness for it.
Do you hear from her much?
Yes, we’re all still in touch — me, her, Sally [Phillips] and Patricia [Hodge]. We all meet up and we’re all good friends. Sally and I are working together on Gaby Roslin’s Talking Pictures radio panel show. We’re all very close. When you’re in a show when it starts and you don’t know how it’s going to do, it’s quite a bonding experience. And it was unusual that the four main characters were female. It started on BBC2 and grew by word of mouth. So when it did become very successful we all went on a unique journey together. It’s something that remains very special to you as a group of friends and colleagues. We remember thinking ‘Who is going to watch this?’ at the start and then 12 million people watched the final episode.
What was the appeal of the show?
She’d set out to write something very traditional — a homage to studio sitcoms that were quite broad with slapstick and acknowledging the camera. At the time there was a lot of observational comedy around so she was going against the grain. There was a feeling that type of comedy had been and gone as everything was observational now so she stuck her neck out to do something she felt people would enjoy. It was a brave thing to do. And none of us could have foreseen teenagers loving it.
It touched on all those things about feeling awkward and feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing and you’re making an idiot of yourself. Most adults feel that way but they just cover it up with varying degrees of success. I never in a million years thought it would be so popular with teenagers.
Why are you being the voice of a rabbit in Love Monster?
She’s Tiniest Fluffiest Bunny and her catchphrase is ‘Oh my carrots.’ She’s the best friend of the title character, Love Monster. It’s aimed at under fives and it’s on CBeebies. It’s beautiful — it’s about everyone being accepted for their differences. Love Monster is a big monster but he’s very sweet and has lots of worries about things such as letting people down or not being good at things. Tiniest Fluffiest Bunny doesn’t have these anxieties so they help each other through different situations. It helps children talk about their feelings.
What was your favourite cartoon as a child?
Bod. The music was very sophisticated — it was really cool jazz. It was like something you might hear improvised at Ronnie Scott’s. I have a DVD of Bod and I’m quite surprised I loved it so much because some of it is quite adult — there are lots of quirky bits.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve provided the voice for?
A tiny kitten in a cat litter advert. Bernard Cribbins was the voice of the commercial and I was a kitten who couldn’t find the litter tray. I had to say ‘Oh no, I’m bursting.’ As if a kitten would be worried about soiling the floor. Bernard Cribbins was a huge childhood hero of mine so it was very nice to get to meet him as you don’t always record together with the other actors when you do voiceovers.
Did you ever consider giving up acting?
It’s very difficult when you start. I was doing musicals and wanted to get into comedy. I did a series of commercials for ready meals with the director Mandie Fletcher, who also directed Ab Fab and Blackadder, and she really encouraged me. She also directed the last episodes of Miranda, which was a nice full circle. It was hard to go from musicals to straight theatre, as there was a lot of snobbery, and then from theatre to television. It was difficult but I loved acting so much I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. And you need that passion when you’re dressed up in a chicken outfit giving out leaflets in a shopping centre — which I have done.
Do you have any unfulfilled career ambitions?
I want to film an underwater sequence in a shark film.
■ Love Monster is on CBeebies