■ The EastEnders actress, 51, talks acting drunk, tricky plotlines and doing Bruce Forsyth impersonations
You’re having a busy time in the show — are you happy with how things are going for Rainie?
I am. I am thoroughly enjoying playing Rainie right now. I love the character and the people I’m working with. It’s a great vibe working on EastEnders — there’s no egos flying around, it’s a lovely team of people.
She’s had a turbulent time…
Yes. When she first came into the show she was on heroin. I was only booked for two episodes in 2007, then I got a call to come back. Then she became a destructive auntie, then she was on crack cocaine with Phil Mitchell, then she had trouble with drink and the prostitution story with Ian Beale. Then, all of a sudden, they asked me to come back this time and put the character on a different road.
Why did you want to become an actress?
I can’t remember why but I wanted to from an early age. I had a double act with a friend at school and we’d do impersonations — such as Bruce Forsyth, Margaret Thatcher and Frank Spencer — at talent contests. I just really wanted to act. When I was 14 my mum said it was a very insecure profession and asked if I’d be happy if I ended up living in a bedsit with only tins of beans to eat. I said yes, I’d be happy with that and I’d risk it. And it has been insecure but I’ve had more than tins of beans.
What was your first professional job?
When I left drama school I did a very small play called Have You Met Our Rabbit? I was 19 and playing a mum in her mid-thirties who was trying to seduce her son’s friend. There was a live rabbit on stage so that taught me how upstaging animals can be. Everyone, including me, was looking at the rabbit.
Do you get bored with people telling you how much they liked Pulling?
No. It was a great show and I loved playing Karen. She was a great character and it was fabulously written by Sharon Horgan and Dennis Kelly. I loved doing that.
She was drunk in most of the episodes — any tips on acting drunk?
Go to London Bridge station on a Friday night and watch people try not to fall on to the tracks. I used to watch women, all dressed in their office gear, walking along drunk at 11pm. I was thinking they would tip over at any moment and they managed not to. So it was about studying other people and their physicality when they’re drunk.
You were in Family Affairs. Did you get a dramatic ending?
No, our family just drove off to Spain. Not particularly dramatic. A new producer started and got rid of a lot of characters all in one go — all the actors got together and had a massive leaving party. It was a weird time. The same week I found out I was losing that job, I also lost my dad. It was a formative time. It made me realise how fragile and fickle everything is. Once you accept that then it can’t hurt you — either you will choose to leave a show or they will want you to leave. At some point someone’s going to make that decision, whether it’s me or them. It gave me a very philosophical view.
How do you deal with working in such a competitive field?
I don’t like the competitive side of it. I like working with directors and sparking off other actors and creating things together. If someone I admire gets a job I went for, I’m pleased it’s them — if it’s not going to be me, I’d want it to be someone I admire as an actor. Equally, I’ll get jobs they won’t get. We shouldn’t feel competitive about it, we should all just enjoy working when we are.
I’m not a fan of awards ceremonies. That’s not the point of this profession — we should be creating good work for an audience to enjoy, not doing it to compete against another show. And it’s all completely subjective and political. I’ve always said awards ceremonies are terrible unless you’re the one that’s winning — and even then it’s lovely you or your show has been acknowledged but the other shows are equally as good.
What’s been your proudest career achievement?
I really like Rainie, I’m proud to be part of this show. And Pulling — that’s my favourite comedy I’ve done. But I’ve done stuff such as Broadchurch that is different to either and I loved doing that. I’ve got three favourite theatre shows — I did the 25th anniversary production of Steven Berkoff’s East, Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads at the National Theatre and The Truth at the Wyndham Theatre. I’ve played so many different characters in so many different productions I can’t choose one.
Do you have any unfulfilled career ambitions?
Big movies — something like Mission: Impossible. If Simon Pegg can do it then I can do it.
EastEnders is on BBC1 tonight at 7.30pm