The brilliant Brenda Blethyn is back as dowdy Northumbrian detective DCI Vera Stanhope as ITV’s Vera returns for a new series of investigations (Sunday, April 27, ITV), starting with a murder case in which the daughter of her right-hand man Joe Ashworth (David Leon) is a key witness.
To set the crime scene, we called her in for questioning…
What gives you job satisfaction as an actress?
“I’m a working class girl and I am really happy if I feel the directors and producers are pleased with what I’m doing. I’m not one of these people who thinks: ‘Oh, I’m the star of this, of course it’s good.’ I’m getting paid wages at the end of the week so I have to do my very very best. That’s a working-class upbringing.”
You’ve worked with Mike Leigh, who likes his cast to improvise. Is that something you bring to Vera?
“I do improvise a lot and bring extra bits to the show. It’s just a matter of thinking about it, knowing where the person’s come from and trying to stay in that zone. On the trailers for Vera last year, the line they kept trailing was one I made up: ‘Three days dead and we’re more in the dark than he is.’ That was quite flattering.”
Are you glad you came to acting relatively late?
“I am. If you’ve not interacted with people, how can you play them? Some actors are just naturally brilliant, but I just needed that extra bit of knowing people and trying to understand them. It’s just storing things up, isn’t it? Remembering and understanding certain situations you’ve been in or the way certain people have reacted. I’m a people watcher and I’m fascinated by embarrassment – what would embarrass one person and not another.”
What embarrasses you?
“If I don’t do my job properly or I’ve failed in some way I would find it embarrassing. It happens to everyone, doesn’t it? I sometimes do a scene and think I could have done it better, but you don’t have time to do it again. Then you see it and you think it’s all right, so you can worry too much about these things.”
Is it easy to slip back into Vera’s accent?
“I did loads of work on it when I first started. Of all the jobs I’ve ever done, this is the only one where I’m asked about the accent, I suppose because it’s notoriously difficult. I hear extremes of opinion on it – there’s never anything down the middle. A taxi driver in Newcastle told me I looked like Vera, and when I revealed that I played her, he said: ‘But you sound southern – I thought you were local.’ I was really pleased about that, although maybe he was just after a tip!”
Is Vera a positive role model?
“I think she is. I woman in Newcastle said to me: ‘We all love Vera. It’s lovely having a woman telling all those men what to do.’ I get that reaction ever such a lot. Women who are a bit like Vera who are punching the air with joy that there’s someone they can identify in authority who doesn’t wear lipstick or look like she’s come off a catwalk.”
Is she a lonely person?
“She’s her own person and she’s not lonely, she’s a loner. She’s happiest when she’s working on a case. She grew up on her own really – with her dad, but he couldn’t care less. So she’s really been the one who ran the house when she was a kid. She only looks to herself when the case is finished, but she’s not one to wallow in self-pity.”
Do you relate to Vera?
“I’m very like Vera, but my wardrobe is slightly different, although I did buy her that hat. I go shopping sometimes and think: ‘Ooh, that would be nice for Vera.’”
You have a very infectious giggle. How important is humour in your life?
“For me it’s vital. Mum and Dad fought like cat and dog, but they also laughed a lot and rows never lasted a long time. That’s something all my family share. If you can see the absurdity in yourself you can get through a lot of things.”