by Mkuu Amani
AS BBC’S ‘ELIZABETH IS MISSING’ HITS THE SCREENS, CAST MEMBER LINDA HARGREAVES OPENS UP ABOUT HER CAREER AND HER LATEST ROLE.
Laughter is both a superb tonic and a glorious treat.
I, like most people, have known this for quite some time – but on a chilly winter’s evening in 2016, at a quaint little theatre pub in the heart of Birmingham, actress and comedienne, Linda Hargreaves, took pleasure in reminding not just me, but her entire audience.
And treated we were; to a selection of larger than life comedic characters into which Linda transformed.
Each character came embellished with a blend of humourous tales, quips, jokes and the unique magic of her oral and visual comedy which, with most every punch-line, sparked ripples of abundant laughter throughout.
Linda has that special something which makes her desire to entertain and her ability to be entertaining combine well enough to bear a sumptuous fruit.
Her glowing persona in front of an audience suggests that a lifetime of experience comes to the platform with her. Yet in 2012, only four years earlier, she had just completed her studies at the Birmingham School of Acting.
Soon after graduation the former school teacher, ready to embark upon her new career, wrote and began to perform her one-woman comedy show, Rice n Peas n Caviar.
I was way back in the slipstream when I enjoyed the show at the Old Joint Stock Pub & Theatre in the second city in 2016.
By then the show had already become a stand-out feature of the Birmingham, Edinburgh Fringe, Manchester and Wolverhampton Comedy Festivals.
Not only did Rice n Peas n Caviar showcase Linda’s wonderful talents as a writer and performer, but it also laid the foundation for the work in stage and theatre which followed.
There was a glowing 2017 appearance in the unique comedy production, The Lost Hancocks, at Light House, Wolverhampton and the British Library.
Then much more recently, her performance in the captivating and deeply moving drama, Prime Time, at the Birmingham REP.
Each time and with each performance she has only enhanced her growing repute as a talented, versatile and exceptional stage artiste.
In TV, after making her screen debut in a commercial Linda joined the cast of the BBC’s award winning drama series Doctors where she played the sticky solicitor, Stephanie Preston.
When the episode Land of Sunshine aired in May 2014 it marked the true beginning of a TV career that has since seen her return to the Doctors cast twice more.
She’s also appeared in ITV’s Vera (2016), Channel 4’s Raised By Wolves (2016) and most recently BBC’s Golden Globe Award winning drama series Bodyguard (2018).
In her latest picture Linda joins the Academy Award winning actress Glenda Jackson CBE (Hedda, A Touch of Class, Sunday Bloody Sunday), Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders, Dickensian) and Mark Stanley (Dark River, Hellboy) in the forthcoming BBC TV movie, Elizabeth Is Missing.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Emma Healy, the drama tells the story of Maud, an ageing grandmother who, whilst being affected by dementia, is searching for a friend she believes has gone missing.
I asked Linda to speak to me about her career, her role and her thoughts about the highly anticipated BBC production.
Q: Thank you for joining me. Would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Linda Hargreaves and I am an actress and comedy writer based in the West Midlands.
Q: You play Carla in Elizabeth is Missing. Can you tell me about the character and what in particular struck you about the story and made you want to take the role?
Carla is the carer for Maud, the main character, played by Glenda Jackson.
The script is a screen adaptation of the best selling novel, Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey.
I hadn’t read the book when I was cast in the role, but I was really pleased to play Carla as she’s a character with great warmth and wit. I’ve now read the book and would highly recommend it.
I think it’s an absorbing detective story which deals with the subject of dementia in a quite remarkable way.
I particularly liked the way the mental decline of the main character was so skilfully written, including elements of ‘dementia humour’.
Q: Can you tell me more about Carla and in what ways you developed the character?
Carla is a local authority carer who visits daily to prepare meals for Maud.
She’s constantly on the go with a limited amount of time to spend with Maud, although she tries to sit and have a chat with her most days. Although Maud is one of several clients on her over stretched round, Carla is fond of her.
Carla is very upbeat and cheery which I thought worked for the character, particularly as Maud is usually quite solemn and grumpy with her. I tried to bring out her ‘matter of fact’ humour, which was often lost on Maud.
Q: This movie explores friendship, single mindedness and a woman’s struggle with dementia. Who in its audience do you think will get the most out of this movie and what message does it convey?
I think that this film will appeal to a universal audience as, regrettably, dementia is becoming increasingly common, impacting on lives regardless of creed, colour or wealth.
Because of the subject matter of Elizabeth Is Missing and the excellent writing, I’m sure that this film will stimulate conversation and debate about dementia and associated conditions of mental decline.
Q: You’re very well known for your comedy but you’ve also played in some serious roles. How easy or difficult is it to adapt to the various genres and switch between the genre types?
Gosh…I don’t know how to answer that, really! I just, think about it…a lot, and then…do it! I’m not sure that I even consider genres, too much.
I am more focused on finding the character and making that character believable. I think acting is about being fearless and bold and having the courage to try out ideas for characters. If something doesn’t work, then you’ll know yourself or you’ll be told by a director.
Q: Tell me about your favourite genre? Or a genre that you prefer to perform within?
I’ve had some lovely straight acting opportunities on screen which I’ve really enjoyed but I would always have to concede that comedy is my ‘comfort zone’.
I can’t think of many things more satisfying than knowing that you’ve written and/or performed something that has made people laugh. And character comedy in particular is my forte.
As a performer, I think there’s something quite protective about putting outrageous and irreverent words into the mouth of a larger than life character.
I think I enjoy doing character acting because it’s an opportunity to play brash, brazen audacious people that are (hopefully) a million miles away from…me. These larger than life characters are fascinating, engaging, charismatic and often hilarious. I’m not any of these things!
Q: You’ve worked with a number of male directors including Thomas Vincent, Robert Mullen, Marek Losey and Vitaliy Shepelev. What was it like then working with Aisling Walsh and did having a female director bring anything new to your experience as an actor?
Well, I need to start by saying that all of the directors I’ve worked with have been great; very approachable and helpful.
Aisling Walsh was lovely to work with, we talked a lot about the character I was playing and she shared her thoughts with me on how she thought Carla should be played. I really enjoyed working with her.
Q: This is a production that will likely be known as much for Glenda Jackson’s return to TV as it will for the subject matter it explores. What was it like being a part of the production that marked her return?
Well, I was very excited just to get an audition for this project! I’d admired Glenda Jackson’s work for a long time. When I was given the part, I was thrilled to find out that I’d be playing opposite her in our scenes.
On set, Glenda Jackson was absolutely lovely and very, very funny. A real delight to work with.
There’s quite a bit of sitting and waiting on a film set and on more than one occasion when we were waiting for shots to be set up, so I couldn’t help thinking to myself that I was sitting in the sunshine and having a cup of tea with double Oscar winner, Glenda Jackson!
Q: What are your plans for the future and will we be seeing more of your comedic characters; Tish Tushington; Shyrell Torks and Mrs Kendrick?
Plans for the future? To carry on seeking good acting roles. This business is very tough and not for the faint hearted, but I’m here now, and I’m not going away!
And yes…there is much more to come from my comedy ladies Tish Tushington, Shyrell Torks and Mrs Kendrick. I’m busy writing new material at the moment.
I spend such a lot of time travelling, for work and auditions, that I often have to put my writing on the back burner. It’s purely a time thing.
Q: What has been your most memorable moment in your career?
Working on the movie MAD TO BE NORMAL was quite special, as I got to work with the likes of David Tennant and David Bamber amongst other notable actors that I admire.
However, being part of the cast for THE LOST HANCOCKS has been my most memorable moment to date. A superb comic script, a great cast…it was my dream gig.
“I think acting is about being fearless and bold and having the courage to try out ideas for characters. If something doesn’t work, then you’ll know yourself or you’ll be told by a director.”
Linda on stage during her performance in Prime Time at Birmingham Rep
Linda during rehearsals for Prime Time
Graeme Braidwood — Claire Grogan Photography
Elizabeth Is Missing aired on Sunday 8th Dec on BBC1 and is available on Acorn TV