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Interview with Pauline McLynn for new E4 comedy GameFace

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You are in Roisin Conaty’s new sitcom GameFace. What can you tell us about the show, and who you play?

GameFace follows the adventures of Roisin’s character, Marcella, as she tries to make it as an actor – that’s familiar territory, obviously, for me, and indeed for Roisin – and it’s all about her life, and how she gets on with her flatmate, and with her family. I play her mother, a woman who has a cat called Orlando that really is just about as important to her as her son and her daughter. Her son is just a maggot. Marcella might be a bit of a mess, but he is a total maggot. Because they’re family, they say and do things to each other that you would never get away with with other people. Hell is your family, basically. It’s not other people, it’s just your family. Particularly in this show!

What attracted you to the role?

To be honest with you, they were good enough to ask me, that was the first thing! But I just think that Rosin Conaty is wonderful – I was thrilled to be asked to play her mother. I was in the pilot, a couple of years ago, and it was then that I realised “Oh yeah, this is a live one! I certainly want to be involved in this, if they’ll have me!” So I was thrilled when it was picked up and made into a series. And it’s got a cat in it as well! Who wouldn’t want that? It’s got everything! And it’s genuinely quality, such a good take on trying to get by in modern life. And it’s really funny! But by the end of the series, it also deals with some very serious subject matter. A lot of people speak from the heart. You get to squirm – and laugh – as people bare their souls. It’s really accurate. It packs a real emotional punch at the end.

Did you base your character on anyone?

As it happens, Roisin’s own mother is Irish, so it’s possible there are similarities there. And have an Irish mother myself, so I know how it goes! I am not an Irish mother myself, because I seem to have got out the other end child-free, but I have been involved with families all my life, so I know how it goes, and I know what Irish mammies are like. They’re a fabulous and particular brand of martyr/soothsayer who says “how can I have made such a disappointing human being?” while secretly being very proud of them. So it’s kind of based on every mum. I haven’t actually met Roisin’s mother in real life, but I’ve a feeling she might be just as daft and wonderful as the woman in the series. I look forward to meeting her – I think it’s nearly time to let us meet one another.

Your character in this is pretty dismissive of Marcella’s desire to make it as an actor. Was that your experience from your own family?

I’m sure there must have been moments when they thought “How did we produce one of those?” But my mother always said tyi me I was just the first person in the family to get paid for showing off. I came out of college in 1983 – I’d studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and there was a huge recession as I was coming out of college. There were no jobs. Nor was I trained to do anything practical. I had an arts degree. So I might as well have tried to make it in the arts. But I do have a very keen sense when there are moments when the family might go “How did that ever happen?” So I do understand her mother’s desire for Marcella to get a real job.

Marcella has real financial hardship, even resorting to stealing loo paper. Did you ever…?

I’ve done that, and I still feel the urge to. Thirtysomething years in the business and still, when I see a load of loo roll, I think “I should bring home a load of that, because I might be running low.” Free loo roll! Yeah! It’s always a danger for any actor, even if they’re working.

Pauline McLynn confesses to criminal past!

Yes. If your loo roll has gone missing while she’s been in your building, it was probably in her bag. Particularly if it was the good stuff – the quilted stuff, that you’d never buy for yourself. Oh my God! There are some expenses, when you’re living on a really tight budget. Toothpaste is really expensive when you have no money, shampoo is the same. That’s why I still bring home every single sachet of shampoo whenever I’ve been away on a job. Jeez! I was in a hotel near Picadilly Circus – just rented by the hour while I was making a movie recently – and they had the most beautiful Hermes toiletries. I was only in the room for about two hours – yep, they all ended up in my bag. It was terrible. I couldn’t leave them behind. But Roisin is brilliant on the hardship of choosing this path.

How did you enjoy filming your scenes with Roisin?

It was great. What I love about how she writes is it’s not just snappy one-liners and then you move on – people have genuine conversations, and mix-ups and everything, which is a total joy to do. There were sometimes big long tranches of words, but all so brilliant, you just wanted to do it absolutely perfectly for Roisin. And because she’s there as well, on the set, she’s intensely involved in it all. She just so wants it to be exactly how she heard it when she wrote it. Sometimes that can be a huge problem, but not in this case. He was so helpful, if there was anything that wasn’t chiming right, she could just explain it – it was enormously helpful to have her along. And she’s also, of course, just a brilliant woman to be around. Her workload was huge, but when she was sitting around, chewing the cud, she was really, really funny. The last time I was that in love with a woman on the set was in Jam and Jerusalem, where I got to be with Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Maggie Steed, Sally Phillips, Rosie Cavaliero, Joanna Lumley – a collection of women you would remortgage your house just to meet, let alone to go out working with them. And that’s how it felt going in to work with Miss Roisin Conaty every day. She’s the real deal.

You know more than a little about writing yourself – you have written ten novels.

You’ve mentioned exactly what I should be doing. I’m looking at the desk right now, but I’m also looking at a bit of knitting and thinking “Could I not do a bit of knitting while I’m thinking about it?” I’ve written eight novels for grown-ups – I never know what to call them, you can’t call them adult novels, or people think you’ve written another 50 Shades of Grey book – and then two for 10-13-year-olds, which were every bit as much work, I have to say, but greatly enjoyable. But I kind of got burnt out, I ran out of stories. So there’s been a little hiatus, but I have a story to tell again, and I’m working away at it. But I really need a deadline. I need to be beholden to someone. I need someone to say “You have a month!” But when it comes to Roisin writing, she can write for TV, I don’t think I can. I can take part, and improvise with people, but I’ve never sat down and written a TV show.

What about adapting one of your books for TV?

That would probably be a good thing for me to be made to do, but maybe someone else should come along with a fresh view of them. To me, the more natural fit is a novel form. I’m so fussy about what I think is good TV, it’s almost like I’ve failed before I’ve begun. So I think I’ll just continue failing with my novels.

You were on EastEnders two or three years back – how did you enjoy that experience?

I loved it! I would go back in the morning. It’s my favourite soap – I love the misery! And it’s so iconic. I was Nick Cotton’s wife. Come on! He’s still the greatest baddie ever. I loved it, getting my tube and train up to Elstree every day.

Did you find your profile was raised a lot, being on such a high profile show?

Funnily enough, I’m not sure I did that much. When I’m recognised on the street, I always think it’s going to be a Father Ted moment. Now, over the years, I’ve had loads of book moments. And now, with parents of kids, I’m having loads of Bing moments, because there’s a brilliant series called Bing on children’s television – I play Jilly the ice cream woman, I’m not in every episode. So there are different moments. But I was getting off a bus down by Waterloo one day, and I assumed it was a Ted moment. That’s never a great compliment, because Mrs Doyle was really rather old, and had a moustache. And just as she got off the bus, she said to me “I don’t like what you’re doing to Dot Cotton!” Which was great. And now I’m hoping that one day people will look at me and say “Ooh, weren’t you the mum in GameFace?” I think it’s a really good show. How lucky am I?

You’ve alluded to her, but for many viewers, you are and will always be Mrs Doyle. Is that a source of pride or frustration?

You could not complain about that. It was one of the finest things that was ever written, it’s one of the best series, if you like a comedy. It’s just so brilliantly written and so stupid. And it’s perennial – there’s no current affairs, it doesn’t need to occur in a certain time to exist. It was so well written, it was word perfect. And it was an enormous compliment to be in it. People stop me on the street or shout at me, because once you have a catchphrase, that’s it: You’re cursed. And Mrs Doyle had a few! But if you were to start complaining about that, you’d be not only the most stupid abnd curmudgeonly person in the world, but I’d wonder what planet you were on. But the worry is you’ve peaked too early – will you ever e in something as funny again? And then something with the heart and soul of GameFace comes along, and you think “Well, there you go!”

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