Are you a fan of psychological thrillers?
Oh yeah, and this is a classic example of that genre. It’s very much my cup of tea. Jo is missing a year of her life that could be pieced together to be anything, so you’re going, ‘Oh, my God, where could this go?
What drew you to Close to Me?
The big draw was Connie Nielsen. I remember seeing her in Gladiator years ago and thinking: who is that? I’m a huge fan, I was right up for playing her friend and she was fantastic to work with. The friendship between Jo and Cathy is so important because it’s one of the only parts of Jo’s history that you see, although the irony is that when Jo comes out of hospital, they haven’t actually been friends for a while.
How long have they known each other?
Since they were at university together. We really wanted it to seem like they’ve gone through boyfriends together, all sorts of things before they settled in their lives. That sense of shared history was easy to play, because I felt like me and Connie connected quite quickly in rehearsal. We just bonded and then took it on set.
Why are they so tight?
They have – or used to have – a perspective on the world that’s quite similar. Connie had a little bit of a breakdown prior to her fall, so things have obviously been difficult from that point. There have been certain things that they disagree on, but I think that’s all quite recent. Cathy has always been someone who Jo would totally take the mickey out of and probably finds deeply irritating at times, because Cathy is constantly joking. That banter is probably how they first met and bonded.
How have things changed?
The friendship stayed the same for years, but things have become slightly more fraught and complex. Cathy constantly wants to bring it back to nostalgia and doesn’t want to talk about them falling out, she just really misses her friend. She really loves Jo and she’s incredibly loyal to her. She doesn’t always divulge things that maybe she should have divulged in the past, but Cathy has a habit of skimming over things at times.
What does Cathy’s life look like?
Her life is mainly taken up with her lovely daughter, who is autistic, and going to the gym to let off steam, which was reflected in my very bright clothing. She’s a hands-on mum and tries to keep that life as normal as possible. She takes it very seriously but has nights out where she lets her hair down.
Does the gym bunny persona come easily to you?
Yeah, it does, I try and do as many active classes as I can, although I’m not a fanatic like Cathy. But I really love characters like her: she makes the most of everything, has a lot of difficulties in our life but doesn’t bang on about them.
Does she get on with Rob?
You definitely get a sense that she doesn’t like Rob. When you first see her and she comes to visit Jo, she doesn’t even acknowledge him. I think she would have really got on with Rob but then she starts to find out more about him and has to draw the line.
If you lost the last year of your life but could pick one memory to retain, what would that be?
Just curled up on the sofa with my boy, watching The Mandalorian on a Saturday evening. We do it a lot, but it’s something I love.
Did you do any research for the role?
I did some research because of Cathy’s daughter, so I read A Normal Family [by Close to Me writer Angela Pell and her husband, Henry Normal], about living with a child with autism. It goes from very early in the child’s life until a lot a lot later. It was really touching and overwhelming, I read it from cover to cover and was literally in tears by the end. I had a conversation about it over email with Angela – I get the feeling there’s a lot of Cathy in Angela and vice versa. I only really had one scene with my daughter, where she’s on the trampoline and Jo’s trying to talk to Cathy about one of her dramas, but her main focus is her daughter.
What has been your personal highlight of working on Close to Me?
I genuinely loved working with Connie – it was quite easy to be her best friend. We had a wonderful director, Michael Samuels and we were lucky to have rehearsals, it was a really lovely vibe. I didn’t keep any of my gym gear, but I did keep a beautiful dress that I wear in the series. It’s a lovely memento. I might wear it just dancing around my house.
What will audiences take away from it?
I hope they think it’s a good psychological thriller that keeps them on the edge of their seats: jigsawing Jo’s life together through other people telling her what’s happened. Who can you really trust? It also shows a woman at a particular time in her life, which is really interesting to see on screen and a good twist in terms of what’s going on with her psychologically. It’s extraordinary that we don’t see more of the menopause in TV drama. Something that every woman goes through, yet we very rarely see it.