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'My family said they didn't watch Homeland after I was dropped'

 

By Ellen E Jones

It's a mystery more confounding than any number of Loch Ness Monster sightings: why has a woman as joyful as actress Laura Fraser been cast as so many cold and emotionally distant characters?

When we meet on the top floor of ITV's London headquarters to discuss her latest brooding crime thriller The Loch, Laura Fraser is studying the view with unfettered glee and talking about what she'll do with her daughter and husband on Saturday in a soft Glaswegian coo.

It sounds like she has a fun time planned, but then, as soon becomes apparent, Fraser approaches almost every topic with the sparkly-eyed enthusiasm of a children's TV presenter. Albeit one who swears more than most CBeebies shows would allow.

In Breaking Bad and the current series of prequel spin-off Better Call Saul, she plays Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, the highly-strung and homicidal Madrigal exec turned meth supplier.

And in the superior second series of BBC1's The Missing she was Sergeant Eve Stone, the military police officer who slept with other women's husbands and constantly thwarted Baptiste's attempts to find the missing girls.

Both roles, she says, were heavy going for different reasons. "The Missing had a really big impact on me in ways that I haven't fully understood yet. There was such dread about doing certain scenes that I thought: 'There's some unresolved trauma here that I'm connecting to'."

Despite some surface similarities her new role in crime drama The Loch, which continues tomorrow night, is different: "I know, I've played so many cops in a row," she giggles, sheepishly. "But this one, it's her first murder case and she's totally overwhelmed. I thought that might be interesting as well."

If you've been patiently waiting for a visually sumptuous British crime drama to fill the Broadchurch-shaped hole in your life, The Loch is it.

Set in the picturesque, but tourist-dependent community at Loch Ness, the six-part series co-stars Happy Valley's Siobhan Finneran, while Fraser plays local DS Annie Redford, the first officer on the scene when a dead body turns up.

While Nessie does have a small role to play, events in the first episode mean we can rule her out as a serious suspect. "It's not like Santa or the tooth fairy, where you believe it to a certain point," says Fraser. "Nobody in Scotland ever bought that s***."

Speaking of her home country, shooting in the Highlands also meant Fraser could go back to Glasgow in the evenings, where she's recently returned to live along with her husband and their 10-year-old daughter, Lila.

It was a major selling point. "There's no way I can possibly do all the jobs that are around at the moment and have any family life," she says. "My husband (Irish-American actor and novelist Karl Geary) said that if I'd taken that other one they'd just be gone. I'd come back and there'd be an empty house."

Despite working almost continuously since her late teens and appearing in big Hollywood movies with the likes of Tom Cruise and Anthony Hopkins, it's only now, as Fraser enters her forties, that she's noticing a new momentum. "It does feel very luxurious compared to other periods in my career, and I never thought I'd have this at this age.

"Any male actors I know work right through their forties and fifties, whereas with female actresses, a lot of them have to give it up, as there's just nothing."

It hasn't always been like this. She still cringes at the memory of being dropped from Homeland after appearing in the pilot episode as the wife of Damian Lewis's character. "Just ... it was so embarrassing." The role later went to Brazilian actress Morena Baccarin, but viewers never warmed to Jessica Brody, who was mocked in fan forums as "annoying" and she was effectively written out by series four. So perhaps Fraser had a lucky escape?

"Really?" she says, politely intrigued by this assessment. "Because I've only seen that first episode. My family boycotted it! Then my mum said to me last year: 'Just to let you know, dear, we did watch Homeland'."

Fraser's parents are off the hook, in any case, because it all worked out for the best in the end. "If I'd been doing that I would never have got to play Lydia in Breaking Bad. I should thank them, really."

So, Fraser is grateful for her current success, yet not entirely happy about it. "I feel like, at the moment, all I want to do is not work," she sighs. No wonder, when the family have upcoming trips planned to India, Italy's Amalfi coast and Iran.

She also loves hill walking in the countryside around Glasgow. "There's all these different bens you can climb or munros - which are just Scottish words for mountains and hills, but it makes it sound more interesting. I find being outdoors is the only way I can get time to slow down. I'm like: 'My God! It's still the same hour!'"

Fraser has now been sober for more than a decade, though she says there was no great drama surrounding her decision. "I was just an idiot when I drank alcohol. I was constantly apologising to people for stuff I said or did when I was drunk. I just thought: 'I don't need this s***.'"

Upbeat, outdoorsy and with a hard-won work-life balance, the real Fraser is nothing like her most famous characters. Still, a proven ability to come across as cold and calculating must be useful when calling out queue-jumpers, or negotiating pay. Does she have any tips for bossing it in everyday life, too?

"I just shut it down. Just shut. It. Down. You know that feeling, towards the end of the day, when you're just like: 'Nah, I'm not here'? You go inside yourself and it is a relief. In Scotland, it's called going into a dwam. My daughter pulls me out of them actually, because I can go into them a lot."

This technique does, however, come with a health warning: "It seems like an easier place to live, but it's not, because you're not actually interacting in real life. It's not good!"

Perhaps not. Maybe a stress-relieving hike round the bens is the answer, instead.

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