What’s occurin’ with Ruth Jones?

After creating one of TV’s most feisty female characters in Barry Island arcade worker Nessa in Gavin & Stacey, actress Ruth Jones is returning to our screens as another formidable Welsh woman in a new Sky1 HD comedy drama.

Ruth plays the title role in Stella (Friday, 6 January, 9pm), a 10-part series about a single mother who lives in the fictional south Wales town of Pontyberry. With her eldest son in prison and her teenage daughter growing up quickly, Stella is forced to take in ironing to make ends meet and hasn’t had a relationship in two years.

Meanwhile, Pontyberry is populated by an array of eccentric characters, including Stella’s sex-mad sister-in-law Paula (Elizabeth Berrington), who runs the local funeral home, and lovelorn lollipop man Alan (Steve Speirs), who tries to woo Stella with gifts of tinned fish.

TV&Satellite Week magazine caught up with Jones, who also wrote the series, to find out more…

What’s Stella about?

“It’s about a 42-year-old single mother who was once young and in love. She was going to go off to technical college and then she got pregnant. I liked the idea of doing a story about someone who took a different journey in her life from the one she intended.”

Is she disappointed by the way her life has turned out?

“No, Stella’s a real lioness of a mother. She absolutely adores her three children. She stands by the decision she took to have them. Her life wasn’t what she expected, but she’s glad it happened as it did.”

How would you describe her?

“She’s pretty down to earth. She believes in the good of other people and she wants the best for her kids. She’s under-confident in a lot of ways because she hasn’t got a fella and she doesn’t think of herself as attractive. But she’s got a sense of optimism and I hope people will identify with that.”

Did you draw on any personal experiences?

“The friendship between Stella and Paula is similar to friendships I have. And Stella’s neighbours who keep a horse in their terraced house are based on a real couple I heard about.”

It’s billed as a comedy drama. Is it going to be laugh-out-loud funny?

“No, I can’t really write gags. But then I never really thought that Gavin & Stacey was full of gags either.”

How was it making the series with your husband David Peet as producer?

“It’s been full on. I joke that there are three people in our marriage: David, me and my character Stella. I’ve loved the chance to create something from scratch with my husband. It’s two years of our life that’s gone into this. If nobody else likes it, it won’t really matter to me because I know I’m very proud of it.”

Has it been a daunting prospect doing a 10-part series with hour-long episodes?

“We’ve just got on with it episode by episode. David says if you’re going to climb a mountain it’s best not to look at the whole mountain – just look at the little bit ahead of you. Actually, an hour on Sky is only 45 minutes long, and that’s not much more than the half-hours we did for the BBC for Gavin & Stacey.”

Are you ready for the idea that people will compare it to Gavin & Stacey?

“I have to expect people will, but for me the shows are very different and the character of Stella is nothing like Nessa. I’ll have to take it on the chin if people don’t like it as much. But I can’t sit back and say: ‘I’ve done something successful once, I’m never going to try anything else’.”

What comedies do you watch?

“I love Modern Family for its warmth. I love things that don’t have too much cynicism. What I liked most about Gavin & Stacey was that it showed people’s love for one another.”

Who were your role models when you were starting out?

“Dawn French is a huge icon for me. So is Julie Walters and it was a thrill when Alison Steadman agreed to play Pam in Gavin & Stacey.”

How have you coped with the fame since Gavin & Stacey?

“Not well. I’m not that good at being recognised and I wish I could do it better. I was out with James Corden the other night and watched how he copes with people coming up to him. He’s brilliant at it. I’m still like an awkward teenager.”