Karen Bryson Interview for Shameless
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A new year, a new series of Shameless, and a new family arriving on the Chatsworth estate. Karen Bryson plays Avril, the hard-living matriarch of the Powell family. Here, she reveals what we can expect over the next 22 episodes (the longest series yet) as we get to know the Powell family in all their chaotic glory.
You've landed a plum role in the new series of Shameless. Were you already a fan of the show?
I absolutely love it. You probably hear that from a lot of actors, but I've watched it since series one. I missed series four because I was doing theatre, but other than that, I've seen all of them. I love it.
Does that make it easier or more difficult to come into a show and do a job?
It was really scary, I have to be honest. When I first got here, the producers showed me round, to see all the iconic buildings - the Gallaghers' house, The Jockey - and I was absolutely terrified. It actually made me more scared. I'd watched it, I'd seen all these places so many times. But it also made me really, really excited.
You've got such an established cast, a lot of whom have been working together for years and years. What's it like coming into that sort of community?
They were absolutely wonderful. I'd met David before at the auditions, and he was really welcoming. I did a lot of my early stuff with Tina Malone, who plays Mimi. Tina was brilliant. I don't think I could have managed the first week without her. We become good mates in the show, and she was just brilliant. I couldn't have asked for a better company to be joining, to be honest.
You actually had a brief role in series 5 as a doctor, didn't you?
It was a brief role, which made it all the more sweet when they wanted to meet me for something bigger. It wasn't a hugely significant role, so it didn't effect me coming in to play this role. Getting a call, telling me they wanted me to come in to audition because they were bringing a new family into the series, you can imagine my excitement.
You play Avril Powell. What's she like?
She is feisty as anything. She's a part-time healthcare receptionist, she's married to the lovely Jackson, and has a daughter, Letitia. If anyone comes near her family she will knock them out, she's a feisty, feisty character who doesn't suffer fools gladly. She's also a real laugh, she's deeply into the community that she's now become part of. I think she's one of those solid people that you'd like to have around. If she cares for you she'll be loyal.
You say she's very, very feisty. Do you share that attribute?
Yes! Or so my partner tells me. Avril goes a bit further, she gets a bit slap-happy, but yes, I can't lie, I am a bit spicy.
Is it also true that Avril is fond of a bit of home brewing?
Yes, she is. She works hard, but she plays hard. I think that would best describe her.
Why have the Powells ended up on the Chatsworth Estate?
I don't want to give away too much, but it does come out in one of the early episodes why they've moved there.
But you think they'll be able to hold their own with the Gallaghers and the Maguires?
I most certainly hope so. The three of them are characterful, they're rich, wonderful characters. They're a lovely family.
This series is 22 episodes long. That must be a massively long shoot.
Yeah, it is, but it's great. There's always something different, every episode's written by a different writer, so you get a different aspect of who you are. And because I'm only seven months into it, I'm discovering new things about Avril. From a jobbing actor's point of view, being able to develop a character over that length of time, I can't tell you how exciting that is.
How have you found the experience of living and working in Manchester?
I absolutely adore it. But, to be honest with you, I actually commute. I stay in a hotel and I live in London. But I've spent a lot of time in Manchester before now, so I know the feeling and the culture. I'm from London, but Avril needed to be from up north, that's really part of who she is. She may be a woman of colour, but she's born and bred Manchester, and that's a big part of her identity. So it's been really useful to be able to go "Right, I'm up here - I'm Avril!" And then when I'm back home in London, I'm Karen. It's a really nice separation, it really works for me.
How method do you go? When you're off set in Manchester, do you talk with a Mancunian accent?
You know, I do! When I'm in shops, I absolutely do. If someone bumped into me in a queue I'd go "Sorreh!" It's also part of me testing my accent, with real Manchester people, in their city.
And have you been pulled up on it at all?
No, I haven't actually. And if there's anything I'm unsure of the sound of, which happened quite a bit in the beginning, I'd ask Manny [who plays Karen's onscreen husband, and is originally from Manchester] for advice.
The first five episodes of the new series are being stripped across five consecutive nights. Can we expect a pretty exciting start to the new run?
It's fabulous. I don't know if you remember where we left off, but there's lots of characters with lots of questions unanswered. You start to get the momentum of what's happened, and boy does it come in with a bang. That's Shameless.
And I think I'm right in saying we start with Frank's stag night?
Oh bless. There's a bit of a party, but I don't want to say too much and give anything away.
Episode 18 will mark the 100th ever episode. Will there be any surprises planned for that one?
Even if I did no, I certainly wouldn't say so in this interview! It's nice to keep the mystery, don't you think? People will just have to tune in. Not that I actually know if anything special is planned or not...
What does this role mean to you personally, in the context of your career?
Oh my gosh, there are so many things I could say about that. It's fantastic. Partly because of what I said earlier about being able to develop a character. But another thing that I became aware of as I was doing it, was that I don't know how many times I've seen a close family relationship portrayed with black people. I don't want to harp on about the black people thing, but apart from maybe a couple of characters in EastEnders, I've not seen two black people who fight hard, play hard, love hard, have sex, do you know what I mean? So that is exciting as hell. We're normal! On a lot of TV there's an issue involved. We're just normal folk who argue, do boring mundane things, have a snog, want to keep their relationship alive. And that is what I love about our family in Shameless - the normal things that go on. We get to show ourselves to the public as normal people who just happen to be black. That is incredibly exciting to me. And also I'm a woman who's not 25 and not a size six, and I'm shown being sexual with my husband. I love it for that. It's a show, as it always has been, about what's in the heart.
The new series of Shameless begins with five episodes over five consecutive nights, starting on Monday January 10th at 10pm.
By Benjie Goodhart