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Amanda Holden On Mad About Alice



We’ve seen her out for revenge in Cutting It, playing for laughs in The Grimleys and hunting for a husband on the West End stage, but never before as a mother figure.Yet Amanda Holden’s latest TV role is the one she’d most like to tackle off screen – if only she could find the time, writes Nicola Hicks. When Amanda Holden trills,“Everything today is thoroughly modern!” in tonight’s West End performance of Thoroughly Modern Millie, she could quite easily be singing the theme tune for BBC One’s Mad About Alice. In the new family sitcom, starting this Friday,Amanda and co-star Jamie Theakston play Alice and Doug, a couple who split up long before their marriage was over and who, because of their nine-year-old son, Joe, are still very much a part of each other’s lives. “It’s a good reflection of family life as it is now. Something like one in three families have parents who are separated these days and there’s no such thing as the ‘2.4 kids’ family anymore – modern families are a lot more confusing,” says Amanda of the series, which also stars Gregory’s Girl favourite John Gordon Sinclair.

Alice and Doug’s relationship certainly has its fair share of confusion – not least because, though both are seeing other people, there are still times when they’re forced to think and behave like a couple again: when organising Joe’s birthday surprises, for example, or answering his awkward questions about why a woman might be impressed by the size of a man’s lunchbox…

“It was a completely different thing for me because I’ve never played a mother before,” says the 32-year-old blonde.“To play somebody who has a kid and is quite chaotic and disorganised really appealed to me. I always seem to get either very nice girl-next door roles or very glamorous, rich girls, so it was lovely for me to play that part.” Amanda speaks warmly of her fellow cast members, in particular Jamie, whom she describes as a gifted performer, but she reserves her highest praise for the show’s youngest stars.

“The kids were just fabulous,” she laughs. “Billy, who plays my son, Joe, is cute as hell and the little girl, Jessica, was just adorable. For me, she has the best lines and she steals the whole show – though I think she was basing her character on the Addams Family. “I was very fond of both the children – they were very grown up and adult … and when they weren’t, it was even better because it meant that Jamie and I had someone to play with!” Amanda’s first experience of being a mum has also confirmed something that she already had a good inkling about – especially now that she’s armed with an answer to the inevitable lunchbox question (something to do with the size of his sarnies, apparently): “I definitely know that children are in my future – definitely,” she smiles. “Though I’ve probably got a bit too much on at the moment…”

She’s got a good point; back in October, Amanda returned to the West End stage for the first time in 10 years, wowing critics in the starring role of the jazz-age American musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, and, as the actress points out, a baby bump could hardly be hidden behind a string of flapper beads. Nor is it particularly compatible with the rigorous exercise regime Amanda has embarked upon to keep on top of the role. There’s more to this part than the Louise Brooks bob, you know.

“Literally since last June, I’ve had tap dancing lessons, ballet lessons, I’ve been in the gym, I’ve had tennis lessons to get my stamina up. It’s really demanding but it’s such a challenge. I’m so exposed, I’m so out there every single night,” says Amanda, clearly delighted to be treading – or rather tapping – the boards again. “It’s such a fluffy, feel good show that even if I were in the most miserable of moods, I’d cheer up after the first number. Without sounding like Miss World, the company I’m working with are just the nicest bunch of people ever and I’m having a really good time.”

Amanda has grown particularly close to co-star Maureen Lipman.“She’s fabulous, she’s a real woman’s woman – very strong, very feisty and really supportive of me. It’s great to work with someone you’ve admired for so long, to see how she does it … and to find out she’s as neurotic as the rest of us.”

Like her Mad About Alice playmates Billy and Jessica,Amanda caught the entertainment bug young. Growing up in Bishops Waltham, near Winchester, she would treat her mum, sister and stepdad to regular shows – making her diva-style entrances wrapped in a pink blanket emblazoned with the words “Dancing Queen”.

“I used to rush down on a Sunday, turn the telly off – even if they were watching it – and make up song-and-dance routines,” says the actress, who had also perfected her Oscar acceptance speech by the age of nine. Fortunately,Amanda’s ever-patient family encouraged her blossoming talent, and were hugely supportive when, aged 17, she left home to join London’s Mountview Drama School. “It was strange being in a room full of people just like me and trying to get my voice heard,” Amanda once said – but that didn’t hold her back for long. After roles in The Bill, Goodness Gracious Me! and Jonathan Creek, she landed her first major TV part in the BBC’s Kiss Me Kate, and was soon on her way to juicier roles in the dramas Hearts And Bones and Cutting It. But there is, she reveals, yet more excitement to come – and Mrs Holden had better dig out that Dancing Queen blanket.

“We’re going to be making the cast album of Thoroughly Modern Millie at Abbey Road Studios in the New Year, so I’m really excited! I’m going to pretend I’m a pop star!” she giggles. While we’re on the subject of pop stars, there is,Amanda confirms, absolutely no truth in the rumour that she’s lined up to appear in a celebrity version of a certain reality TV music show. “No! Absolutely one hundred per cent no way! Simon Cowell can go away – he can come and see Millie and he can judge me on that performance but that’s the only performance he can judge me on! I definitely wouldn’t do one of those programmes – I have enough people scrutinising me without that…” she laughs, ruefully. Amanda does reveal, however, that she hopes to make a splash in Australia in 2004. “I’ll finish in Millie next summer and I really want to go to Australia because I’m a keen diver,” she says. “I just want to see the world, but I think I’ll have to do it gradually. My sister lives in Thailand, so I think my boyfriend, Chris, and I will go there too, then come back and do a bit of work to pay for the next trip.” And though for years Amanda has laughed off suggestions that she could “do a Catherine Zeta-Jones” and hot foot it over to Hollywood, it has not escaped her attention that LA might make an ideal stopover…

“It would be fantastic [to work in LA] – I have a great manager out there who’s constantly begging me to go over and is getting lots of people to come and see me in the show over here. But I’m not brave enough to sit and wait for it to happen and turn down work in England. “I’m also not sure I’d like to live there … though since I’ve gone on a big health regime and I’m not drinking, I’m eating healthily and I’m keeping fit, I practically am Mrs LA at the moment!”

Hmmm … this, coupled with Amanda’s admission that her ideal next role would be a musical film – “I would have loved to have done Chicago” – can only mean one thing. Watch out Catherine – it can’t be long before they’re mad about Amanda over there, too.



The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai




Romola Garai The Miniaturist

Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.

What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.

It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.

Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.

Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.

One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.

Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.

What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.

Anya Taylor Joy The Miniaturist

Anya Taylor Joy plays Nella.

Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!

What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.

I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.

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Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small




Trust Me Sharon Small

Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.

What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].

How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.

How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.

Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.

What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.

What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!

What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.

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Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker




Trust Me

Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.

What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.

How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.

Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.

How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!

Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.

Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!

What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!

Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!

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