■ The actress, 56, on her love of Corrie, living with ghosts and campaigning against fracking with sister Emma
You’re playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest. What particular challenges does the role have?
The play is surprisingly structured, it’s a bit like verse, so you know when you’ve missed a beat. I’ve never done Oscar Wilde before and I’ve been amazed by the challenges therein. The play goes at quite a lick as all the characters are quite quick thinkers and make things up as they go along. They jump from thought to thought very quickly.
You get to say the famous ‘A handbag?’ line from the 1952 screen version. How many ways did you try it?
Those two words have become iconic because of Dame Edith Evans but there are so many other brilliant words in the play I thought I won’t focus on those two. When you do something this well-loved you have to park that at a distance or you get stuck in a rhythm that isn’t true to your heart.
You’ve been busy this year — did you enjoy your stint in Coronation Street?
I absolutely loved it. I hope I can go back and see them all again. I did my first professional theatre job in Manchester and feel comfortable in that neck of the woods. I’m a fan of the show anyway. I had to wean myself off it when I had kids because I didn’t have time — but Corrie was my favourite. It had these wonderful female characters who were funny and strong. I was mad about Hilda and Bet and Betty. I did a recipe book and dedicated a hotpot to Betty. It was a great honour to be a little part of it for a while.
You played a psychic — do you think there’s anything in it?
There are people with added empathy and people who use this extra empathy can understand certain parts of the world — like a radio that can pick up stations other people can’t. There’s a lot of strangeness in the world that goes on that we don’t understand.
Have you had a supernatural experience?
I’ve bumped into a couple of ghosts. One at the Bristol Old Vic theatre — I felt it very strongly there and there was one in our old house. The one at the Bristol Old Vic was a bit irritated but the one in the old house was benign. I’ve only had sensations — nothing three-dimensional.
You watched celeb psychic Sally Morgan to prepare for the role…
I’ve watched her when she’s been on television. It’s very theatrical. She’s brilliant at what she does — whatever it is she does. She’s a showgirl and that’s what I am in a way.
You won the Inside Soap Best Bitch award for your stint in EastEnders years ago…
I have it in my work room. You could do someone real damage with it, which is appropriate. I’d never been a baddie before so I was chuffed to bits.
How did that compare to winning an Olivier?
Prizes are lovely but they’re just the cherries on the cake. It’s odd. I ran the marathon in 2010. I saw a picture of it today, which reminded me — you have to raise your arms when you cross the line and buy the photograph for vast sums of money. In our game awards are a bit insane — but with the marathon I could understand what it’s like to achieve something tangible.
Are you still fighting fracking?
My sister [Emma] is an amazing activist so I joined in with her campaign about fracking, which involved baking cakes. I do love cooking so it was good fun. We’re like addicts with our fossil fuels. We could be investing more in renewable energy but the powers that be have decided to pursue this incredibly invasive and destructive course of action. There are so many alternatives. It doesn’t add up.
Do you and your sister give each other notes and suggest ways you could improve your performances?
Oh God, no. Can you imagine? We’re supportive of each other. We’re admirers of each other. My sister is a phenomenal actress. When you watch people who are really good at what they do, even if you understand elements of the process, it’s so personal you think, ‘How on earth do they do that?’
What lessons has your career in showbiz taught you?
I was in the shops today and I was having a laugh with a lady who works there. She said: ‘I’ve got such a thick skin, Sophie, you could never offend me.’ I thought I’d like to have that sometimes but I don’t think you can in my job. You have to remain quite open because you have to think about other people all the time — and that can’t be a bad thing can it? Things like what makes us tick and why the world’s so weird. I’m afraid of becoming cynical. I suppose the job’s taught me you have to keep playing like you do when you’re a child.
The Importance Of Being Earnest is at London’s Vaudeville Theatre until Oct 20. It will be broadcast live in cinemas on Oct 9, oscarwildecinema.com