Sussex Screen A Film and TV Location Guide

The star of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil talks about going through a long audition process, her thoughts on the film and having a tumble with a Time Lord.

How did you get the part?

There was a magazine at the time called Campaign for Equal Opportunity in the Arts and it was for anyone Black, Indian, big short, small – anyone who was very ‘something’, to give them a lift-up to get jobs. It was just after the Positive Discrimination Act had come in.

My mate told me that they wanted this character who was six foot with two hairy moles. She thought I’d be just right. So I wrote off one of my mad letters that I’m renowned for, along with several photographs of me as the characters the book described. It took a year – I did workshops, screen tests and then I got the part.

What did you think about the book?

The book is very dirty. There are a couple of chapters that are so dirty we couldn’t put them in the adaptation, but I already had cast them in my mind and had been thinking dirty things about several well-known leading actors.

So who did you cast?

I couldn’t possibly tell you!

Did you find it daunting working with Patricia Hodge and Dennis Waterman?

I know other people had been offered the part [of Ruth], a couple of well known actresses, that luckily were too busy and had to drop out. So, I was just in there and having been auditioned and screen tested for almost a year I knew that I could do it.

It was very hard, but surreal, like most of my career has been – I did Last of the Summer Wine then Fifth Element with Bruce Willis. You’re working with Dennis Waterman, who was excellent in Minder and The Sweeney, and there I was working with him and having a pretend sex scene with him. It’s just mad and then I’m screwing Doctor Who – Tom Baker and Bernard Hepton from Colditz. It was brilliant and very enjoyable.

Talking of Tom Baker – what are your memories of the filming of that scene?

He’s the best person to have screen sex with, he’s wonderful – I don’t know what he’s like not to have screen sex with. I was 23, an unknown. I had nothing to lose so I just went for it. If I’d been ‘fame-arse’, as I call it, I may have been scared and I wouldn’t have taken so many chances. I went for it – I said, “I eat Ambrosia Creamed Rice Pudding straight from of a tin, so I think Ruth should do that”.

Did you enjoy creating the various different guises that Ruth adopts? Which was your favourite?

I loved playing Polly Patch, who was the nanny if I remember correctly.

Do you have any particular memories from the filming?

The soup episode, where I get angry with [Bobbo] and spill the soup and collapse on the floor. I was doing this marvellous, emotive acting and my false choppers fell out! It’s never got onto a Dennis Norden or Auntie’s Bloomers – I’m very upset about that. Everything to do with Tom Baker was brilliant. I was just desperate to get to work because it was just fun.

Ruth goes to extreme lengths to wreak her revenge – How far would you go?

To seek revenge? I wouldn’t. I believe in karma, what goes around comes around. I have this saying “If you sit by the river long enough, you will see the bodies of your enemies float by”. I’m not one to brood.

Did you watch the film version with Meryl Streep and Roseanne? What did you think?

My lovely friend Brian Burton at Rank thought it would be good for me to be interviewed reviewing the film. At first, I just said it was a slightly different interpretation, but then by the end of it I said no, it was terrible!

You can let Woody Allen do black comedy, but don’t let anyone else in America, because they can’t do it. I was annoyed – why did they let Roseanne Barr do it? Why didn’t they give it to an unknown? I was auditioned for it, but I didn’t get it, which is fair enough because I’m not American.

She-Devil was quite fantastical. Is there another fantasy programme you’d like to be in? I was thinking you’d be great in Doctor Who.

My mate’s playing Doctor Who so why aren’t I [expletive deleted] in it? Whose the man in it? The Master – I should be The Mistress. I would have loved to have worked on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and, hey EastEnders that’s fantasy too!

Is there any programme you’re secretly a fan of?

Not secretly – I’m a devout Coronation Street fan. I was at drama school with the guy who plays Dev.

What are you working on?

I’ve just done Mum’s the Word, six months touring. I’m having some time off. But as soon as I come off this phone I’m going to get on to my agent and ask about Doctor Who.

This interview (conducted by Sussex Scene Editor Daniel Judd) was published on the BBC Cult website around 2005.

Watch The Life and Loves of a She-Devil on Britbox.