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An interview with Jo Hartley - The Mimic S2

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Jo Hartley plays Jean in The Mimic.

You play Jean in The Mimic. What’s her story?

She’s kind of the heart of the series. She’s the light, compared to Neil’s darkness, around the lead character Martin. She’s known Martin since she was at college. There’s a little bit of co-dependency between them. He lives with her in her house. Funnily enough, I’ve got a friend like Martin, and Terry’s got a friend like Jean. It’s one of those people you can sit with and do nothing and say nothing and feel completely comfortable. I suppose there’s a slight ‘will they/won’t they’ element to their relationship as well, but I don’t think they know that themselves.

She’s searching for love. She follows her heart. She’s a little bit dippy, but she’s also quite emotionally intelligent. She looks after people, she’s very protective. In this series, she’s driving the narrative a lot more as well. There’s a lot of change for Jean in this series, and she has lots of stuff to deal with.

Do you indentify with her a lot?

Yeah. Jean’s kind of a caricature of me. People who know me tell me I’m quite comical, sort of easy-going, a bit dippy sometimes. But I have a darker, more profound side as well. I think we all have that.

Was it the character of Jean that attracted you to the project?

Actually, more than anything it was the people. My family and friends had been saying to me for ages “Jo, why don’t you do some comedy?” But nothing really came up that I wanted to do. But then I saw a tester with Terry and Neil Maskell, and I found Terry’s face rally intriguing. I went and met [writer] Matt Morgan, [director] Kieron Hawkes and Terry, and I basically told them my life story in the first ten minutes, and Matt just went “You’re Jean.” And I just fell in love with them. I knew it was coming from the right place, I knew it was going to be an intelligent comedy drama. And it was an opportunity to show another side of me.

Do you feel like performing comedy is a different skill to doing drama?

Yeah, it is. You need to know your lines perfectly, especially with something like this, because Matt Morgan has written his lines so brilliantly that if you miss the timing or anything like that, you miss the joke. There’s a knack to it. You can’t play for comedy, you’ve almost got to underplay it, to keep it really dry. I find comedy a lot harder to do, to be in the moment and pull a joke off.

Do you like the fact that the show is also quite sad, that there’s a real bittersweet element to the comedy?

I really like that, yeah. I’m really drawn to comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm, or Shane Meadows’ stuff, which is hilarious in parts. But in real life, one minute we’re all laughing, the next something’s happened and we all have to deal with that. I didn’t want to get involved with something that was a big cheeseball of fun, I wanted to go through some real emotions as a character. I wanted to have fun and bring light to it as well. There’s a depth to Jean, and that’s really important to me.

Does Terry do impressions for you off-screen and fool around a lot?

Not really on set, because we had a lot to film, and it’s quite stressful for him. He’s got an unbelievable skill. Terry’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. We’re really close, we get on so well, it’s just intuitive. But he’s got this great skill, and for him to switch from doing the voices to performing as Martin is really tough. He’s not been acting for that long, and when I first met him he was frightened to death. But when he turned up on set, he was completely ready. His talent is extraordinary though. I remember seeing him on YouTube for the first time, and just thinking how amazing he was.

Do you have a favourite impression that he does?

I like his Alan Carr. I always laugh at it. Sometimes on set, in spite of being the consummate professional, I’ll just burst out laughing at him.

You’ve also mentioned working with Neil Maskell. Outside of The Mimic, he seems to play rather terrifying characters. Is it hard to reconcile his hitman from Utopia with the neurotic newsagent he plays in The Mimic?

Don’t you think his character is quite terrifying in The Mimic? There’s something really dark going on there! But Neil is one of my dearest friends – I only met him when I started doing The Mimic, and I probably speak to him weekly, if not daily. We’ve become extremely close friends. He’s a phenomenal actor, and extremely versatile and chameleonic. I think this is one of his best roles to date, I love his character.

A lot of people will know you from Shane Meadows’ work. How much of an influence has he been on your career?

He’s been a massive influence – probably the catalyst to most people’s lives in that series. I acted when I was little, and I stopped when I was 17 because my dad passed away, and I just went off travelling. I used to watch De Niro and Streep, I used to watch the Oscars and think “I’d love to be in films.” But I thought it was a dream, and I went off to be an air hostess. And in my mid-20s, I realised I loved acting, it was deep in my gut, so I pursued it. Shane was at a commercial casting, and we were having a chat about what people were wearing at the Oscars, and having a laugh, and he said to me that he thought I had a natural ability to perform, and it needed nurturing. He gave me the confidence to go for it. He gave me a lot of opportunities as well, and This Is England was probably a turning point in my career and my life. So he’s been massively influential, and still is to this day, and I love him.

So you’ve forgiven him for putting you in the worst perm-and-specs combination in TV history?

Well, I have, because it’s helped my career. And actually, I quite like that look! Some fellas do as well! But my mum’s not forgiven him. I actually thought I was going to look like someone out of Flashdance, but I ended up more like Nigel out of EastEnders. I was quite upset for a while. Shane and I often laugh, because he said the day I had my hair permed, I took the rollers out, and I think I started crying. I drove the wrong way up a one day street, crying. Everyone was saying “Somebody go and get Jo, she’s having a nervous breakdown.” In did subsequently get some weird biker guys saying they thought Cynthia was really fit. Who knows? Some people like that kind of shit.

Which roles have meant the most to you over the years?

Cynthia and Jean. We’re coming up to doing the last section of This Is England ’90, and I already feel sad before we’re going to do it, because it’s the last one. It feels like the end of an era, and we’ve all become so close, it’s like a family. And Jean is now completely the new side of my life. Jean and Cynth are the two characters out of my whole career that have changed my life and who I will love forever.

The Mimic episode one, Wednesday 16th July, 10pm on Channel 4

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