It has been 18 years since you stepped onto the set of Doc Martin, what are your memories of that first series, and your impressions of Port Isaac
I do remember my first day on set. We were near Boscastle filming a wedding of two characters. They had been filming for two or three weeks so I was coming in at the middle of the block of filming.
It was just this lovely show which had a very particular feeling. It just had this lovely tone which was really difficult to describe, but it was very Doc Martin. At that point Martin and Louisa had bumped into each other way on a flight, then in a doorway, and then somewhere else. Then there was this scene at the wedding where they spotted each other across the room.
So you had no idea how popular it would become?
We thought it was just a one off.
We had no idea it would become so popular, and that it would go on all these years, and we would go on to have this relationship with this place (Port Isaac).
When the first series launched you described your character Louisa Glasson as “floral and pretty”, and you welcomed the chance to play a girly character, who falls for the new doctor in a small Cornish village.
There was a gentleness to her character but at the same time a strength. Certainly not that harsher quality some of the other characters I’d played had.
I have enjoyed doing comedy. I wanted to do something lighter after all the gruesome stories I have worked on, including my roles in The Vice, Murder in Suburbia, In Denial of Murder where I played the murder victim in a dramatisation of a true crime, and DCI Banks.
You had to learn a Cornish accent as well?
That has been learnt over the years, spending all the time we have had here, living in the village and being surrounded by local people. We had an accent coach at the very beginning. I got thrown in at the deep end with that one. But it is very interesting that everybody who lives in Cornwall seems to have a different tone, or different quality or strength to their accent. There isn’t really one sound which is reflected in all the characters in the series.
Did you choose to live in a cottage in Port Isaac rather than stay at hotel so you could be more part of the village?
I was asked if I wanted to have a place in the village rather than stay at the hotel, and I said ‘great’. It was more convenient and also it has been great to be part of the community.
So much has happed in my work life and my Doc Martin life since the very early days.
It was a very important job at a particular time in my life. I had one child who was very little, and I now have two children.
So it was just embarking on this lovely job, I had no idea that it was going to have the impact it has had. It was a lovely job, beautiful script, lovely character, great to work with Martin and a really great team.
But we really had no idea how it was going to evolve and develop. I was very much drawn to this lovely tone it has of drama and comedy. It is light but it is clever, and just really good fun. That is what I was drawn to, and that was very different from the things I had been doing until that point.
There has been the long running on-off romance with the Doc, at the end of series three it looked as if they were going to marry but Louisa left him at the altar. They reunited in series four, and Louisa became pregnant. In series five 12 babies made their TV debut playing the Louisa and the Doc’s newborn son James Henry. They finally marry in series 6 in a grand church wedding at St Nonna’s in Altarnun.
What has been amazing is how the relationship between Louisa and the Doc has evolved, because they were always at odds with one another. What was lovely about the series at one point was that Louisa was headmistress, he was Doc and they were living right across the bay, opposite one another.
They were in opposition to one another, and there was so much tension. There was always that thing of you can’t get them together because you need that tension. That is what is so great about the show. Finding out what the quality is, it is not conventional comedy or drama. It has its own tone and what makes things funny.
What is nice is that we found a way to bring them together but still maintain their differences and individual quirks, and accept they love each other, even though they don’t always connect. That evolution of their relationship over the years is something I’ve really believed has been interesting, especially when the kids arrived. It really does show up their different approaches, so there is a whole fresh source of tension between them, which comes from the base line that they do love and support each other but they have different ways of approaching things.
Elliott Blake, who plays James Henry in series nine and ten is an amazing little actor. He started with us when he was three and he’s now six. It’s amazing how he has changed, but has still stayed consistent.
At three he was this bright brilliant little actor and at six he is still the same. He is natural and such a joy to have on set. He’s a little poppet.
I got on really well with him, and we really bonded. When he arrived on his first day for this series I said Elliott ‘do you remember me’ and he said ‘no not really it was three years ago and I was only three’. So we had to build up that relationship again, but it didn’t take long.
Before that we’d had babies. At the beginning we had 12 babies playing James Henry, that was difficult. Sometimes there would be green rooms with loads of babies and loads of mums. You know what filming is like, you have to wait around, and babies don’t wait for anything, so you needed 12 of them to ensure you had a baby who was smiling or crying. You had the whole gamut of emotions in those rooms.
Those babies are now eight. Two mums are good friends and their sons are in the same class at school. Some times they come as extras in the school playground. That is really sweet.
The babies playing Mary Elizabeth are absolutely adorable. Willow and Bette Pollard, Austyn and Everly Daniels, with their amazing mums.
You have been able to introduce your own passion for vintage fashion into your character’s wardrobe – one of your favourite designers Justine Tabac, who specialises in designs using British vintage prints, designed a dress for Louisa. What influence did you have over what Louisa wore?
We have a brilliant costume designer, Stewart Meachem. I am madly, stupidly, into my clothes. It is quite a passion of mine. It’s great working with Stewart and we have found some fantastic things for Louisa’s wardrobe this year. We have been working with O Pioneers this year for Louisa’s wardrobe.
What have been the highlights of the ten series
One of my favourite moments was a dream sequence when I was falling off a cliff, being suspended on a harness thirty foot up into the air in a quarry. That was an unforgettable moment.
The fantastic unique quality of it being shot on film. We must be the only programme in the country which still shoots on film. I am so glad we do. It really shows off the landscape, it really is embedded in the whole quality of the show, that visual element. It has a very romantic feel as a result of that, and timeless too. I think that really helps. I love the discipline of working with film. It is very focussing and feels very much part of this show.
What will you miss about Doc Martin?
I think the camaraderie between all the cast members, we know each other so well. We’ve all watched our families grow up and we have got to know each other really well from spending every other summer here. It is always a real joy when we get together for all the set pieces. There is a real ease about that. It is really lovely and I will miss that.
Also working with Martin. There is such a great relationship between Doc Martin and Louisa. It is very particular and we have found this quality they have which is really fun to play, and I will miss that. I will miss the fantastic sets. I was thinking I should get photos of all the sets. Imagining all the sets being pulled down is just overwhelming.
I was saying to Martin at the final readthrough that I have not absorbed the fact that this is the end, not properly. We are doing it, we are in the middle of it and I am just parking it. That idea of it being over is something I am not prepared to face, which is why I am finding it quite difficult looking back over the series, because it makes you realise what a massive part of our lives it has been. Also this incredibly unique job whereby you have got very other year available to work on other projects and then we all come back to Cornwall and Doc Martin because we love it, not because we have to, which is another unique aspect of this. It really has been a very special and unique time. I don’t think I will ever be part of something like this again, not the way this works.
Will you maintain all the friendships you have made during the series?
I think it will be very difficult not to. We are so tied together. In that way it has been very special. What is also lovely is – with the 81 hours of television we have made – all the other actors coming through that time. We have great scripts and we get great actors drawn to it. We have had some amazing guest stars. So it is wonderful to get to play with all this people. It is this lovely place where you get to meet people you’ve worked with before and people you’d like to work with. It is one of those jobs where you are happy to be here all the time.
What will you miss about Port Isaac and Cornwall?
It is so beautiful here. You can just walk up the the hill to the coast path and to Port Quin and to Polzeath. I don’t have a car here so I walk when and where I can. If I need a bit of air and a bit of space I walk up the coast path and it is the best view. It is an unbeatable cliff top walk. You can sit and watch the sun set there. All those things are beautiful perks of the job. I have started to go swimming in the sea. You get lovely ponds to swim in in London, but it is not the same as swimming in the sea.
I’ve been rowing with the Port Isaac rowing club, who were so welcoming. Then there’s the pub quiz every Wednesday evening. That is always really fun, rowdy and raucous and bonds everybody. It is a very close knit set.
The other unique aspect of this whenever we are filming in the village it is like having a live studio audience. There are hundreds of people watching, it is quite extraordinary. At first it was quite overwhelming, now it is really lovely. The people who come and watch are people who absolutely love the show, and are enjoying being part of the filming. It is nice to meet the people who are real fans.
Being out and about in the village can be a bit busy when you are trying to get from a to b, but it is just great that people love the show, and you take it in your stride. They come from all over the world to watch us filming, what an amazing thing.
I can’t get my head round how it has sold to so many countries. I still haven’t seen any of the other Doc Martins. But maybe in years to come there will be Doc Martin conventions and we will get to meet all the other Doc Martins and Louisas.
Would you return to north Cornwall for a holiday?
At the moment I think it would be so odd to come back. But it is so much part of my life I can’t imagine not coming back. All these places you slightly take for granted. The beautiful cliff path walks, the way it goes day to day, and how familiar a part of my life it is I am sure I won’t be able to stay away too long.
What souvenir from Port Isaac would you take home to remember the series
My souvenir is the very happy time I’ve had and the brilliant experience of working in a very unique relaxed way. The show has its own quality which can’t really be replicated, it has its own tone, and that is something we have all found together. My souvenir is also that it can be easy, it can be really fun to make a drama and it can be a conducive and creative environment. We have not had people breathing down our necks telling us what to do. We are left to our own devices, and dramatically and creatively that is absolutely brilliant. It is a very good model. That is the secret to the success of this. It stops at Philippa (Philippa Braithwaite, the producer) and it doesn’t go beyond. The model of how the show works is imprinted on me, and also it has been a very beautiful place to be that I will never forget and I will always have a relationship with with Cornwall and Port Isaac. It will always be part of my life. What a gift.
One ‘souvenir ‘ from Cornwall was your dog
Our first dog Jethro was from round the corner in Delabole. It was very sad when he died of cancer when he was five. Then Ziggy came into our lives. He is a rescue dog and also from Cornwall. So two Cornish dogs.
How do you feel about this being the last series?
The final readthrough was quite emotional. It was the first time we had all been together in one room, rather than over Zoom. There has not been any personal readthroughs for so long. I am finding it really hard to say goodbye to it, and to really absorb how many years it has actually been.
On set there is a painting of Port Isaac in Doc and Louisa’s house I have my eye on before they strike the sets. There’s a few little jars I also have my eye on too. Things that have been there in my peripheral vision for all those years. I’ll be at the front of the queue for that painting.
What have you been doing between series nine and ten?
I wrote and directed a film for BBC called Delia Derbyshire: The Myths & The Legendary Tapes. I played Delia Derbyshire who composed the Dr Who theme tune. I was so fascinated by her music I was really drawn to her story. It was a project I had wanted to get off the ground for a while, and I was thrilled when we got a commission from the BBC. I am very proud of that. It was an exciting piece of work to be part of. It was broadcast last year and has been on iplayer for a year, and has been on the film circuit. It has been really exciting.
Last year I also did an Oscar Wilde adaptation, The Canterville Ghost which was a co production between BBC and an American network. It hasn’t aired here yet.