Belfast Telegraph

Anne Reid: 'Don't sit around thinking 'that's not a big enough part', just do it!'

Anne Reid has starred in many period dramas over the years, but she's finally made it upstairs in ITV's Sanditon. Georgia Humphreys reports

Anne Reid as Lady Denham
Anne Reid as Lady Denham

By Georgia Humphreys

Anne Reid has some simple advice for up-and-coming actors: don't sit at home waiting for a leading part. It's a rule the Newcastle-born star (84) has followed throughout her six-decade career.

"I've always said to my agent, 'If it's interesting, if it's 10 lines, if it's something new that I've never done before, I'll do it'," she elaborates. "And it's worked, because I'm always saying, don't sit around thinking, 'That's not a big enough part'. Get out there and do it!"

This attitude has certainly paved a successful path in showbusiness for Reid, whose first pivotal TV role was in the Sixties, as Valerie Tatlock in Coronation Street.

She's gone on to star in some of our most beloved shows (Dinnerladies, Last Tango In Halifax), in several films, such as The Mother, as well as plenty of theatre.

And she's not about to slow down, either, it seems. Already this year we saw her in Russell T Davies's hit series Years And Years, while next up is ITV costume drama Sanditon.

Inspired by the Jane Austen novel of the same name - the writer died in 1817 before she could finish it - it follows Tom Parker (played by Kris Marshall), an entrepreneur trying to develop a sleepy fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort called Sanditon at a time of great social and economic change in the 19th century.

In the 70 pages Austen managed to write, she provided a spirited young heroine in Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams), who is invited to stay at Sanditon and falls in love with the whole enterprise. Among the eccentric characters she meets there is rich and domineering patroness Lady Denham, who "can't bear to part with money" and is played by Reid.

"The great joy of this is that I don't think I've ever had such a very clear description of any character I've played; Jane Austen does a couple of pages on Lady Denham," the actress details gleefully.

"She's not terribly bright, I don't think, but she's very instinctive and she was born quite well-off, which is strange really.

"Jane Austen is very, very clever and she says that she's very nice and very affable and very pleasant, but she has moments of real meanness. But we know people like that don't we? Those who run away when the bill comes. And that's what she's like."

Rose Williams as Charlotte in Sanditon
Rose Williams as Charlotte in Sanditon

She adds with a chuckle: "It's so unlike me, I can't begin to tell you. I spend money like it's going out of fashion - I'll end up in a cardboard box."

Reid is an absolute joy to listen to: witty, playful and outspoken. "I'm full of opinions. Oh boy, nobody's got more opinions than I do."

And she's so excited to be in a Jane Austen drama - something she says she's always wanted to do.

Having starred in other period dramas in the past, with Sanditon, "the glorious thing is I'm upstairs", she explains.

"I always want to be upstairs. What is it about my face that I look domesticated?" quips the star, who has one son, Mark (her husband, Peter Eckersley, died from cancer in 1981, aged 45).

"I'm the worst cook in England, my flat is a tip and I'm the least domesticated person you could ever meet."

She continues, smiling: "It was lovely meeting Adrian Scarborough, who is playing Dr Fuchs (in Sanditon) as we did Upstairs Downstairs together - we played butler and cook. It was great fun to work with him again. When he heard I was doing this, he sent me a text saying: 'I bet you are so glad to have got upstairs!'

"It is nice to be giving the orders for a change. And I get to wear the most beautiful costumes and hats."

As experienced as Reid is, her younger colleagues were surprised she still has some of the same problems on set they have.

"I can still be put off by a director, or I can be thrown by something," she confides. "Every job is different - it's not like theatre, where you know you are doing the same thing every night.

"Television is so immediate, because it's like the day of the first rehearsal and they are going to film it and it's going to be here for eternity - and that's quite scary.

"It only needs someone to say: 'I don't like the way you are doing that', or, 'Do you not think it a good idea if you do that?' and I immediately get very thrown, because I need to go away and think about it."

Does she also feel a big responsibility being part of a Jane Austen adaptation, knowing the writer has such devoted fans?

"Oh, yes. There will be people who say, 'You shouldn't have done it', but we're in the entertainment business and people love period dramas, don't they? There's plenty of stories and intrigue and love affairs.

"And you just keep your fingers crossed in this business. You can never predict how something will go, ever.

"We had no idea Last Tango would take off. A story of two old people falling in love? I mean, absolutely worked like a dream."

On the topic of Last Tango in Halifax, it was recently announced that the Sally Wainwright drama, which last aired on BBC One in 2016, will be returning to our screens next year.

Celia was a role that made Reid famous the world over and she's visibly delighted to be doing another series, a twinkle in her eye as she talks about it.

"We've got to make it good, because expectations are so high," she notes. "I can't believe it's really going to happen.

"Everywhere I went, all over the world, New Zealand, Canada, Tasmania, people running after me on the street in Port Hobart going, 'Ooh, it's Celia!'"

  • Sanditon, ITV, Sunday, 9pm

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