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Sheridan Smith: It was an absolute honour to play Lisa, I just hope I've done her justice

The Conversation

By Susan Griffin

The 33-year-old actress stars in a TV drama of Lisa Lynch's inspiring blog turned book The C Word, in which she describes the reality of cancer. Here, Sheridan reveals why she couldn’t refuse the job, no matter how tough it was going to be.

Q: Is it true Lisa Lynch  contacted you directly to ask if you'd play her?

A: Yeah, she got in touch with me through Twitter and said she'd written a book that had been made into a script and she said, "I only want you to play it". And I read this book and excuse my language but (thought) "Are you joking? You're incredible and funny and amazing and strong and everything I'm not" and she said, "Only you can play me" and I've saved the text. I think that's why I get emotional every time I watch it, because I think maybe she saw something in me that I don't see.

Q: How nervous were you about tackling the role?

A: It did take me a long time to decide to do it. I wanted to so badly, but I was wary of upsetting family members. And then I thought, no, she talks about it. And it is wrong that we have to go through it and we should talk about it and it's never on telly.

Q: The original ending was different wasn't it?

A: When we had the first draft, it ended with her making her book. For two years she hadn't had anything. Unfortunately, we had to rewrite the end, which Nicole (Taylor, the script writer) did with Pete her husband (after Lisa passed away). So she wasn't there to watch us make it. We would've loved her on set, but she'll be cartwheeling up there. She was amazing and it was an absolute honour to have played her. I just hope that I've done her justice.

Q: Have you become close with Lisa's family?

A: They've taken me in like one of their own. We watched it last night and I sat in front of them and we were high-fiving all the way through. Me and her brother call each other 'a*** face' through Twitter and various things. We've become so close.

Q: Do you hope that the drama will get people talking about the C word?

A: My favourite line written is when she goes, "I'm British, we just don't talk about things like that" and we don't and it's cancer and it touches one in three. And every single one of us, if we haven't experienced it, will know a friend who has. And it's not a taboo subject. It's a hideous disease, but we'll try and fight it.

Q: Was the scene in which she's too weak to get out of the bath tough to shoot?

A: We weren't sure until the last minute whether to put it in or not because it's so graphic and Lisa was so upbeat and light. But then if you're going to show it, then you've got to show it for real. I'm not really allowed to talk about my brother, but one thing I really remember about my brother passing from cancer was my mum and dad carrying him up and down the stairs. Lisa was funny and brilliant and her humour was what we all adored about her, but then you've got to show the real side to it, too. If we missed that bit out, it'd be like us going, "Oh isn't it fun".

Q: How about the therapy scenes in which she is coming to terms with the fact the cancer's terminal?

A: I found those hardest to deal with. Maybe I needed a bit of therapy and so it was cathartic, and it was the only time I was alone, without Paul (Nicholls who plays Pete). I couldn't get past this bloody line (where she says) "So many people get through it and survive" without crying, and I didn't want to be crying all the time because Lisa wouldn't.

Q: What are your thoughts on the drama, and Lisa's legacy, now it's about to be aired?

A: I just admire her and want to be her. I mean look at the state of me, sobbing into a snot rag here. I'm not as strong as her yet, but you can admire someone and go "wow". If you can go through that and write a book and I get to play you, then I've got some manning up to do. She's amazing and inspirational, and I hope for everyone who watches it, she will be. I'm so grateful I did play her, so pleased I did it, and if it makes one girl check her boobs, if we can carry on her legacy and I've done her any justice, then I'm happy.

  • The C Word, this Sunday, BBC1, 8.30pm

The plug

Sheridan Smith is an actress, singer and dancer, coming to prominence in TV roles such as Gavin and Stacey, and Benidorm. She recently won a BAFTA for Best Actress when she played Ronnie Biggs’ wife in Mrs Biggs. An accomplished musical theatre performer, she has won two Laurence Olivier Awards. She received an OBE in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to drama.

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