Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory: 'We do find it easy to be anonymous where we live, no-one seems to have seen us in anything'
Peaky Blinders returns for a third series tomorrow and it's set to be as dramatic and gripping as ever. Leading lady Helen McCrory chats to Keeley Bolger about riches, cockapoos and why ambition is all about happiness.
Like Downton Abbey, Call The Midwife and Sherlock before it, Peaky Blinders has steadily picked up a string of Hollywood fans as the series has progressed.
Now back for a third run, the Birmingham-set gangster drama - which follows the much-feared gang led by the ruthless Thomas Shelby (played by Irish-born actor Cillian Murphy) - boasts Ron Howard, Chris Hemsworth, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts as devotees.
"There we go, Pretty Woman in (Birmingham's) Garrison Lane," says Helen McCrory with a laugh.
And after playing Polly, Thomas' tough aunty, since the first episode, London-born McCrory has a good inkling why the series has been such a hit for the BBC, with previous episodes streamed on Netflix.
"Steve Knight has done a fantastic job with it," says the 47-year-old of the show's creator and writer.
"It's one of the only things that I'm in, where you don't look at yourself when you watch it, because you're looking at the whole thing."
While the previous series were set in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, this one begins with Tommy's wedding in 1924.
Although the identity of the bride is being kept under wraps until the episode is shown, there will be significant changes in the way the working-class family lives, with Tommy lording it up in a country manor and mixing with a different, more affluent, crowd.
McCrory believes there are key differences in the way the Peaky characters perceive wealth, compared to how it's generally viewed today.
"We're now in a culture - not necessarily in my generation, but definitely my children's generation - where both wealth and glamour are greatly admired. But the complexity of these characters' relationships with the ruling classes is a much darker and more suspicious one," says the actress, who is married to Homeland's Damian Lewis.
She adds that it becomes clear there's "as much corruption" in the ruling classes as there is within the Peaky Blinders set - and this can affect life for the inhabitants of Garrison Lane.
Among the things people praise Peaky Blinders for - the stomping soundtrack, the breakneck dialogue and the distinct style - is the strength of the female characters.
Or, as Murphy puts it, that "bad stuff happens to the women and bad stuff happens to the men in equal proportion - as it does in life".
So does McCrory think female roles in TV are improving?
"Things are changing very quickly, but the reason that it's the female characters so noted in Peaky Blinders, is because they are in Peaky Blinders - that's why people pick it out.
"If things had changed, no one would bother to mention it. I'm lucky I get sent interesting stuff, but you just have to turn on the television to realise how many leads are being played by women and how many by men. They're still not on equal par," she adds.
After four months of filming, McCrory is pleased to return home to her "lovely family", and admits she feels fortunate to have "the best of both worlds", combining her acting career with home life in London's Tufnell Park with Lewis and their two children, daughter Manon (9) and son Gulliver (8).
"It's a bit like Enid Blyton in my house. It's an advert for Fifites housekeeping; my children are a delight at all times, obedient and quiet," McCrory deadpans, before quickly adding that in reality, most of the time, it involves watching their dog "s*** in the sitting room" and "my children not brushing their teeth when I've asked them to brush their teeth six times".
The family recently acquired their cockapoo, which McCrory says is an "aptly named" breed.
Despite their TV successes, she and her husband are very rarely approached in pubic, she notes.
"No one in Tufnell Park seems to have watched any of our stuff, very disappointedly," she says.
"Despite standing in the street doing Shakespearian monologues, no one's stopped us once.
"I'd like to address that and get our own billboard, because nobody's paying any attention."
But she would like to work with Lewis in the future.
"We'd love to, it's just waiting for the right projects," McCrory confirms.
As for Peaky Blinders, there's already talk of the drama continuing until the advent of the Second World War, which is some 15 years after the new episodes are set.
Hearing that Knight is keen to take the series up to 1939 is met with enthusiasm from McCrory, who replies with an assured "God yeah", when asked if she'd be keen to carry on with it.
"Genuinely, I feel so proud to be in it," she adds.
In the meantime, she recently finished filming Loving Vincent, alongside Saoirse Ronan and Aidan Turner, and is about to return to the stage as the lead in Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea.
She has mixed feelings about what it means to be "ambitious", though.
"Ambition is how you perceive it," she says. "For instance, I just tried to explain to my accountant that I am very thrilled to be going back to work at the National Theatre.
"He, as my accountant, can't believe my lack of ambition, but somebody else would see that as amazing. I, as an actress, want to play Rattigan on the main stage, or whatever it is, so it's all relative," says McCrory.
"As long as you have a sense of what satisfies you, it'll be all right."
- Peaky Blinders returns to BBC Two tomorrow at 9pm