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'I certainly don't feel confident about my body and would never get my kit off on screen'

Actor Hermione Norris first found fame as Karen in ITV's Cold Feet series - one of a series of strong female roles. She tells Gabrielle Fagan she's nothing like the characters she plays and how, off-screen, family life is at the heart of her happiness.

She's played a host of tough women over the years, grappling with KGB agents in Spooks and hunting down criminals in Wire In The Blood, but actor Hermione Norris reveals it is "flawed" former alcoholic Karen Marsden, her character in Cold Feet, that she admires most.

"I'm nothing like Karen, but I'd like to be her because I think she's an impressive person. Clearly she's much more intelligent, much more together [than me] and her mind seems quite organised, which I rather envy," she says fondly.

The character shot Norris to fame in 1998, just as she was on the brink of quitting the profession, and, despite misgivings, reprised the role last year in the triumphant return of the ITV series after a 13-year break.

"Oddly, people always expect you to be like the roles you portray, and in my case, that's often been quite tough, ballsy characters - and Karen's pretty tough. In fact, I'm not at all like that - I'm introverted, quite shy and reserved."

She and the rest of the cast - including Robert Bathurst, who plays her buttoned-up ex-husband David, Fay Ripley and John Thomson (aka outspoken Jenny and hapless Pete), and James Nesbitt as loveable charmer Adam - are currently filming the seventh series of the show to be shown this year.

Norris, whose other roles have included Ros Myers in Spooks, DCI Carol Jordan in Wire In The Blood, and who last year was on screen as gutsy Roanna in parenting drama, In The Club, admits: "I had massive reservations about returning to Cold Feet because I didn't want to risk spoiling something millions of people had clearly loved. It was a lovely surprise that it was as good and well received as it was, and great to be working again with everyone. We have such a bond."

Cool, composed, middle-class mother-of-three Karen has emerged as a newly-liberated divorcee, who's already kicked two would-be suitors into touch. Norris jokes: "Karen and I have just said hello to each other again and now who knows where she'll go? I feel slightly horrified wondering what [writer, Mike Bullen] is going to do with her!

"I do like Karen though - you have to like a character to play them or at least have a certain compassion for them - because she's a mature, complicated, intelligent woman and it's brilliant that parts like that are being written for women. I think the public warm to her because she's a very well-rounded character, who's flawed, bright and quite a raw person."

By contrast, Norris (50), currently starring in new movie, Love Of My Life, with Anna Chancellor, John Hannah, James Fleet and Greg Wise, comes across as warm, witty, down-to-earth and clearly enjoys domestic contentment.

She and Wire In The Blood writer, Simon Wheeler, seven years her junior, married in 2002 and live in Dorset with their two children, Wilf (12) and Hero, nine.

"I've found my soulmate. Simon's an amazing partner and brilliant dad. It changes you completely being a mum because when you have children, you realise they're the be-all-and-end-all, but it's balancing a huge amount being an actor and having to work away as well as bring them up. I couldn't do it without him," she explains.

"I don't think the age difference between us matters or makes any difference. You wouldn't look at us and think, 'Gosh, she's much older than him', although maybe you will in a few years time! He's definitely the grown-up in our relationship, which was part of my attraction to him, because he's very solid, secure, and with his feet on the ground. I'm the more emotional one who cries and laughs easily."

Turning 50, a milestone birthday in December, held no qualms for Norris because, she says: "I've always looked forward to being a woman in my 50s because there's a certain liberation in getting older. You've gained enough confidence to care less about what other people think, and you hope you're older and wiser."

Surprisingly, despite her glamorous image, that confidence doesn't extend to her looks. She says candidly: "I certainly don't feel confident about my body and wouldn't ever get my kit off on screen. Believe me, if I loved my body, I'd be flashing it all over the place, but I honestly don't! If I look good, it's truly all an illusion. I don't have time to exercise and just walk a lot and try to eat healthily.

"At the end of the day, I'm sure I suffer the same insecurities as most women, and, on top of that, I also have the insecurity of being an actor. I always fear I'll never get another part once the last one's finished."

That unlikely worry aside, Norris is philosophical about the future. "Life's an ongoing journey and I just want a nice, gentle, easy life. I'm not into making it complicated, so I'm easing into my 50s. I feel very blessed to have the partner, children and career that I have," she says.

"I've learnt over the years that 'what will be will be' and it's best not to get your knickers in a knot about things. You just have to enjoy the ride, accept you're not in control, take whatever opportunities come your way, and find joy wherever you can. I want to see my children flourish - I'd regard that as my greatest achievement."

  • Love Of My Life is out in cinemas now and available on digital download

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