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'I sound a bit like an old relic, but in my head I'm still 14'

Published 30/01/2016

Brenda Blethyn is back as Detective Vera for a new series
Brenda Blethyn is back as Detective Vera for a new series
Brenda Blethyn is back as Detective Vera for a new series
Brenda Blethyn is back as Detective Vera for a new series

National treasure Brenda Blethyn is back on screens as 'abrasive' detective Vera. She introduces Ella Walker to her new puppy and recalls the 'highlight' of her screen career - kissing Sir Michael Caine.

Brenda Blethyn is great fun. Cackling away at everything and swooning over her new puppy, she's just as you'd hope she would be: sweet, silly, engaging, and with a slight naughty streak.

Returning for the sixth series of much-loved ITV crime drama Vera, as the scraggly-dressed title character DCI Vera Stanhope, this season promises more intriguing cases, windswept moors and, this time around, a personal tragedy for the show's lead.

Blethyn's forthright female detective is one of many that have been dominating prime time telly in recent years, from Gillian Anderson in The Fall ("I know Gillian, she's a fine actress"), to Rosie Cavaliero in Prey and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch ("wonderful Olivia, she can't put a foot wrong as far as I'm concerned").

"Quite right too," says Blethyn, who puts Vera's success down to how "ordinary" the character is.

"She's not a fashionista, it's not a make-up competition, she's clever and she's organising a load of men. She's middle-aged and she's not a threat. You can relate to her. She's not asking for sympathy, she's not asking you to like her," says the actress.

"In fact, when we started, I think people didn't like her very much as she's so abrasive, but because they liked Joe Ashworth, her sidekick then, he thought the world of her [and won people over].

"As in life, you can meet someone who is fat and ugly and boring, and you get to know them a little bit and think, 'oh, aren't they nice? They're not 'orrible - actually they're not that ugly. She's not fat.' Haha.

"But the opposite can happen; you can think someone's just the most dazzling, wonderful person and you get to know them and think, 'God, they're horrible', and that dazzle soon goes, doesn't it?"

While she's very fond of Vera, it was playing Mrs Bennet in Joe Wright's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that Blethyn considers her ultimate "job made in heaven".

"I loved playing her," she buzzes. "When you look at it, it's written by a teenage girl, and who's not embarrassed by their mother at that age? But in my view, Mrs Bennet was the only one taking any notice of the situation. She needed to get something sorted out, so of course she's panicking because no one is listening to her, and as soon as dad pops his clogs, they're going to be out of house and home.

"She was the only one taking the problem seriously, and I don't think Lizzy's description of her was entirely accurate," she adds wryly.

Blethyn played mum to Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan in the 2005 film, big names in themselves, but it's no understatement to say she has worked with practically everyone over the years.

"Donald Sutherland was a joy to work with; Alfred Molina was wonderful, ooh Robert Redford was great. Nicolas Cage was great - oh bloomin' heck," she says, pausing to catch a breath. "I'll tell you who was adorable - Forest Whitaker. I made a film [Two Men In Town] in 2014, with him and Harvey Keitel in New Mexico, and he was lovely."

Most importantly, though, she got to kiss Sir Michael Caine in 1998's Little Voice.

"Oh I did, he was great to work with," she says, twinkling.

Was he great to kiss too?

"Yeah, yeah he was. I thought he would be starry, like everything's got to revolve around him, but not at all. He was the same as me, as any actor worth their salt, interested in the scene being right, not about, 'me, me, me'."

Of those she hasn't yet had the chance to work with, Kenneth Branagh is top of her wishlist. "Maybe there could be a thing where two detectives have to meet up in the middle somewhere?" she suggests for a collaboration with the Wallander actor.

Awards season is, of course, in full swing and Blethyn's received two Oscar and two Emmy nominations during her career, and won a Golden Globe and a Bafta for her performance in Mike Leigh's 1996 film Secrets & Lies.

"I think if you took my Golden Globe away from me, I wouldn't like it, but if I never saw another one, I'm not bothered. It's nice for your work to be celebrated, but there are many, many films that don't have the financial backing behind them to be promoted in the way that some films are," she muses.

"So there might be a wonderful little film somewhere that hardly sees the light of day, because they can't afford to send out screeners, or to send the cast to the film festivals to promote it."

Even without the rack of industry accolades, it's fair to say Blethyn would still be a national treasure.

"I sound like an old relic!" she screeches. "People say that, but it's just a turn of phrase. Though it's better than being asked, 'what's it like being a pain in the arse?'"

Blethyn turns 70 on February 20, but the number isn't something she's worried about. "In my head, I'm 14," she says with a chuckle.

However, she's hoping to celebrate in a slightly more luxurious and grown-up manner.

"Someone said to me, 'why don't you spend it on yourself?' So I thought about a trip to some spa, just to wash away a few years."

She's more interested in another major life change than a big birthday at the moment anyway: her brand new puppy, a cockapoo (cocker spaniel and poodle cross) called Jack.

"I've never had one before in my life. I work away from home quite a lot and I thought it'd be nice company for my husband [British art director Michael Mayhew]," she explains, scrolling through images of the fluffy dog on her phone.

"He's licking his arse there!" she shouts with a cackle. "Isn't he adorable? Oh look at his little face, he ate that football."

These days, when she does get time off, it's spent taking Jack for walks along the beaches and clifftops of Ramsgate, her home town.

The dream, of course, is to get him a starring role in Vera, but it's not looking likely.

"He's a bit 'designer' for Vera. It'd have to be a scruffy old mutt for her."

Vera returns to ITV tomorrow at 8pm

Belfast Telegraph

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