How did you get involved in It’s a Sin?
Russell asked if I wanted to play Carol and I was doing theatre at the time, so I’d come off stage, head up to Manchester, get there for 6am then come back. I was only on it for a few days but it’s such an important piece of television, I had to be a part of it.
Why do you think this is an important story to tell, and why now?
Because people have forgotten what it was like. I remember plays like [Larry Kramer’s] The Normal Heart and so on. I wrote a play a few years ago, Rock and Doris and Elizabeth, about how Rock Hudson came out with having AIDS on Doris Day’s Christian Network show in 1985, covered in sarcomas. He gave a face to AIDS and changed how it was perceived. But it’s not a death sentence now, it’s more like a virus you can learn to live with. People may wonder what the drama was about [back then], people too young to remember, and Russell has taken this incredibly depressing subject and turned it into something life-affirming. It’s a legacy piece to honour these people.
How was it to be back working with Russell T Davies after you did Doctor Who together?
Heaven! He’s such a wonderful human being. We’ve been in touch a lot over the years and we laughed a lot about our happy memories from working on Doctor Who.
Tell us a little about your character, Carol.
Carol is an agent Russell knew, who was very supportive of her boys who were suffering. She’s an amalgam of a few agents but there’s one in particular who had been incredibly kind and protective of her young men.
Is your portrayal based on anyone you’ve come across in the industry?
Russell’s parts are so well written that all you really need to do is learn the lines, but I’ve based her a bit on an agent I knew as well, another good egg.
A lot of agents might have been nervous about taking on gay clients during the AIDS pandemic.
Carol was thriving with lots of gorgeous young clients whose sexuality wasn’t an issue, but when those young men couldn’t work any more because of AIDS, some agents were less supportive than others. In taking on someone like Ritchie, Carol wouldn’t have seen it as a risk – she just wants to look after him.
How does she regard Ritchie initially – does she see a star of the future?
Oh yes, everyone falls in love with Ritchie. She tells him that she doesn’t normally take on drama-school leavers like Ritchie, but makes an exception for him because his excitement, his passion and love of life is so infectious, so she takes a chance on him.
Will everyone fall in love with Olly as well?
Of course! Watching it, you want to be with Ritchie and the gang in the Pink Palace. I’d worked with Olly years ago when he was a child on a TV movie called Summerhill. We remembered each other, and he’s the most adorable, humble, multi-talented young man. He always had something, even when he was a child, and I love his music too.
What sort of memories did this bring back for you?
It speaks to me so strongly. I was at university and I remember the iceberg information film and the terror – I had a lot of gay friends and knew quite a few people who died from AIDS. No one really understood what it was about. I remember one friend who contracted HIV and then full-blown AIDS, he came to a friend’s parents’ house and after he left everything he ate from and slept in was burnt in the garden. The idea it was a gay plague, that it was a lifestyle choice… There was so much fear among everyone around intimacy. And there was a judgement – a sense that being gay was immoral and this was a sort of punishment. People were incredibly cruel in how they dealt with these young men. There was a lot of misinformation, but judgement as well.
Russell has spoken about how many memories of lost loved ones were shared on set.
Yes, for Russell it must have been extraordinary – these were his memories, but they were all our people. It’s so moving. The crew, these tough northerners, were sobbing sometimes. I think this is Russell’s Schindler’s List – if he was put on earth to do one thing, it’s to remind them of this time as the mothers and fathers die out. We have to remember what it was like.
What’s your favourite 80s…
Musician/Band – and song?
I liked Soft Cell, Flock of Seagulls and Hazel O’Connor, but Gary Kemp’s a mate, so let’s say Spandau Ballet! As for the song, Joe Jackson’s Is She Really Going Out With Him?
And favourite film?
Midnight Express. That was 1979, but can that count? I sneaked in to watch it aged 12. The Breakfast Club as well, obviously.
What about fashion trend?
The Princess Diana white frilly blouses and haircut, although that was very hard to pull off with frizzy hair like mine, but I gave it a damn good go.
And finally TV show?
Repeats of I Claudius, which I was far too young to watch. The Prisoner used to get repeated on Channel 4. Brideshead Revisited and Boys from the Black Stuff. Brookside too, I loved that.