Belfast Telegraph

BBC's The Split: Nicola Walker: Dad said I had found overnight success... at age of 46!

Nicola Walker's latest venture centres on the complex world of divorce, but it's much more than just another legal drama, says Gemma Dunn

Turning 40 has been somewhat of a revelation for Nicola Walker. While the seasoned actress - an alumna of Cambridge Footlights - has been "jobbing" for the best part of two decades, it's undeniably the last six or seven years that have seen her career soar.

A long way from her questionable rendition of Can't Smile Without You in 1994 film Four Weddings And A Funeral (yes, that's her), Walker memorably won a cult following in the long-running spy drama Spooks. Not to mention an Olivier Award for her formidable portrayal of Judy Boone in the 2013 adaptation of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.

Back on the small screen, she went from wrongly underrated to primetime queen, showing her prowess in such hits as Last Tango In Halifax, River, Unforgotten and, most recently, Collateral.

Next she can be found leading the cast of new BBC One divorce drama The Split.

The six-part series promises an authentic and witty exploration of modern marriage and the legacy of divorce through the lens of the Defoes - a family of female lawyers at the heart of London's fast-paced and emotionally charged divorce circuit.

For Walker, it simply felt unlike anything else on TV.

"I think the main difference for me, when I read the script, was that it wasn't so much a legal drama. It was about love and family and relationships, and the drama comes through that," says the 47-year-old.

"This feels very real, even though it's dealing with a part of society that's very moneyed. When you get the (family) on their own in the kitchen, throwing things at each other, their problems are exactly the same as ours."

Swapping out her police badge for a paper-laden briefcase, Walker plays esteemed divorce lawyer Hannah, who quits the family firm when her mother, Ruth (Deborah Findlay), refuses her a promotion.

Landing at a rival firm, Hannah finds herself navigating scandalous affairs, big-figure settlements and fraught relationship battles - all the while juggling home life with her husband Nathan (Stephen Mangan) and kids, and a relationship with sisters Nina (Annabel Scholey) and Rose (Fiona Button).

"It's very different from the characters I've played before," says Walker. "It's a different profession, different world and, as a result, a very different wardrobe and look.

"What was interesting was trying to make it effortless, because that's how it looks. They are supremely professional, first and foremost, but they also look incredibly capable."

Heels and high-octane world aside, the London-born star credits writer Abi Morgan (whose previous hits for the BBC include The Hour and River), plus Bafta-winning duo Jane Featherstone and Jessica Hobbs, for bringing her on board.

"It's a bit of a dream job, really," she says, chirpily. "It's Abi Morgan's writing - she lays it out there and peels it back from the beginning."

But it's not about making a statement on divorce, as such.

"Abi doesn't write like that," Walker insists. "She just got interested in the subject and it's a world that many of us don't get to look at very often. She looks at how, if you scratch it, you find that there's still a huge amount of love there between these clients - that makes it very complicated and emotionally ugly at points."

The fact it's so female-centric drama must also be a draw?

"It's great - and there are lots of women behind the camera, too," says the mother-of-one, who shares a son with her actor husband Barnaby Kay.

"What's great is that they all have very clear stories; very long and complicated journeys to go on during the six episodes. This series is not orchestrated to put four women at the front. It just happens in that environment. It's a female-driven career."

If anyone is qualified to talk successful, empowered females, it's surely Walker, who is brilliant proof that women over 40 need to be on the screen - and with that, enjoy a flourishing career.

"I'll never forget the moment last year when my dad phoned and said, 'Nic, you're an overnight success at the age of 46'.

"Two of my dramas - Unforgotten and River - were airing at the same time and dad had read about my success in a newspaper. He thought it was brilliant.

"I was thinking, 'Does this mean I'm going to be put in a box for a bit now?' In this industry, people like to look at different faces on their screens - even I do.

"I'm still hoping nobody's bored of me yet."

The Split, BBC One, Tuesday, 9pm

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