Sir Ian McKellen has just finished delivering a speech at the foot of a mountain in New Zealand, and actress Amanda Abbington is still a little bit starry-eyed.
Together with the distinguished cast of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, she was watching as Sir Ian took part in a ceremony to welcome the movie cast and crew onto native Maori soil.
“It was sacred ground, so before they could start filming we had this thing called a ‘powhiri' where the Maoris accept you into their family,” she says.
“Ian McKellen made a wonderful speech about how actors are a tribe of people as well, who don't recognise colour, creed or religion. They're just thrown together.
“That's what it's like over here. You've got loads of people from all over the world coming in and it's like a lovely family. We came back a few weeks ago and it's just like coming home.”
Abbington (37) has taken her two young children, Joe and Grace, to the other side of the world to watch their dad, actor Martin Freeman, take on the biggest role of his life to date as the lead hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.
But far from being in Freeman's shadow, Abbington — the star of Married, Single, Other — has plenty of acting roles to keep her busy.
In June, she starred alongside Jason Isaacs as Detective Constable Louise Munroe in an adaptation of Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, which was filmed in Edinburgh.
She'll be shooting another series in the New Year, but before then is back on TV in hard-hitting CBBC drama, Postcode, which shines a light on immigration.
Playing a lawyer whose son befriends a Somali boy whose family threatened by deportation, she relished the opportunity to explore serious issues for children.
“I liked it because it wasn't dumbing down for kids, it was actually telling them things they need to be told. I think it's something that's lacking on television at the moment,” she says.
While she admits her own two are still “more CBeebies”, she thinks Postcode will appeal to children over eight, and will definitely let hers see it when they're old enough.
“These heartbreaking stories about people seeking asylum are relevant in today's society more than ever before,” she says.
Postcode also gave her the opportunity to work with her Married, Single, Other co-star Shaun Dooley again.
He plays her husband, who's being investigated by the tax office. “I think he's one of our standout actors and he's a good friend as well, so it really was joyful.”
Abbington admits that while filming the first series of Case Histories, she was plagued with text messages from friends wanting to know if she and Isaacs, who plays private investigator Jackson Brodie, were going to kiss.
“He's a bit of heartthrob, and I kept getting texts saying, ‘Are you going to kiss him, do you kiss, are you kissing him?' I think the way we left it in the last episode, there is that capacity that maybe we could do,” she says, laughing.
“He's delightful. We're both very family-oriented and bonded over talking about our spouses and children a lot.”
The curly blonde actress met Sherlock star Freeman on the set of Channel 4 film Men Only in 2000 — and it was love at first sight. “I was sitting in the make-up bus thinking, ‘I really need a boyfriend' and said to the make-up artist, ‘I want a nice boy, I feel like I haven't met anyone for ages'.
“She said this guy had just been moaning about not having a girlfriend and she'd introduce us.
“He got on the bus and there was a thunderbolt. I looked at him and thought, ‘You're nice' and apparently he thought the same. He asked me out on a date and two months later, I moved in with him. We've been together ever since.”
As for marriage, Abbington admits they recently found somewhere they'd like to tie the knot in future. “We went to Sorrento on holiday for a week — it's the most wonderful place in the world.”
Postcode begins on BBC One on Tuesday
the would-be dancer turned actor
- Amanda Abbington was born in October 1974.
- She wanted to be a dancer from the age of five but, due to an injury when she was 18, turned to acting instead.
- From 2006, she starred in adverts for Maltesers alongside The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson.
- She has two children with fellow actor Martin Freeman: Joe and Grace.
- She will appear as a vampire in an episode of BBC Three's Being Human early in 2012.