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Home Life Weekend

'It's great to be the age I am, playing this brilliant character'

Amanda Redman has had a long, successful career in TV. Here, she tells Georgia Humphreys why she won't let turning 60 hold her back

Amanda Redman as Dr Lydia Fonseca
Amanda Redman as Dr Lydia Fonseca
Amanda with the show cast

Picture the scene: You are lying outside a beachside villa at dusk. You are watching the sun going down over the sea. Swarms of bats soar down from the mountains and glide above your head. Yep, it's easy to understand why Amanda Redman found Sri Lanka an extraordinary place to film.

"There is something just spiritual about it and I can't put my finger on it," the 60-year-old star says of her time in Unawatuna. "I feel more peaceful in my life. I can't pinpoint why, or how, but I certainly think the place does something to you."

Brighton-born Redman spent four months in the south Asian country last year to reprise her role in ITV's sun-soaked medical drama The Good Karma Hospital (which is actually set in India).

She portrays Dr Lydia Fonseca, an eccentric and formidable Englishwoman who moved to Barco 30 years ago and is now head of the overworked and under-resourced cottage hospital at the centre of the drama.

Series one, which aired last year, followed disillusioned junior doctor Ruby Walker (played by Game of Thrones star Amrita Acharia) leaving the UK to join Lydia's team, in the hope of a fresh start.

And having women at the forefront of the TV show is something that Redman's co-star, Neil Morrissey, who plays Lydia's long-term lover, Greg McConnell, is really pleased to see.

"It's great to be in the back row of a scrum and all the ladies doing their big, powerful stuff," he explains, "and then being a cog within that machine, being someone who is aiding and helping that."

The show has been an "absolutely lovely experience" for Redman at this point in her TV career.

"I think what's great is to be the age I am, playing a woman who is so brilliant and a woman that's unstoppable," says the star.

But while Redman agrees she's hit the jackpot with The Good Karma Hospital, she thimks we have to be careful in saying that roles have got better for older women.

"It might be better for some people, but there are a lot of us out there," she argues. "The truth is that there's not enough roles and, therefore, the ratio is much more towards the males of age than it is towards the women."

There's no denying Redman has had some brilliant jobs over the years.

From 2000 to 2003, she played matriarch Alison in the massively popular At Home With The Braithwaites.

Most notable, perhaps, are her 10 series of BBC One's New Tricks, as the boss of a group of retired policemen drafted in to solve dark crimes.

When it comes to the draw of The Good Karma Hospital, which she reveals is "grittier" this time round, she likes how it covers some important social issues. "If it had been just warm and fuzzy Sunday night television, I wouldn't have been that enamoured with it," she says. "But it was the fact that it's not frightened of dealing with some pretty heavy stuff and for my money, everything always has to be rooted in truth. To start being untruthful and silly, it's not my scene at all."

Discussing the reaction to the show, it's the amount of men who loved watching each week which surprised the actress.

"Men go, 'That's a women's drama, I'm not going to watch that', but they didn't with us and that was amazing," she says.

"I'd go to the gym on a Monday and these big, hairy trainers would go, 'You're killing us Amanda, I was in bits last night.'"

Then, there's the intriguing relationship between Lydia and beach bar owner Greg, which Redman says moves on: "She's in love with him - she just won't tell him."

While filming in Sri Lanka has some downsides - there's the long days, the humidity and "making sure you're covered head to toe in mosquito repellent" - being away from home for filming was easier this year for Redman, who is married to mobile phone designer Damian Schnabel.

"I was sharing the villa with one of my oldest friends, the costume designer, so that was great," notes the mother-of-one (she has a 30-year-old daughter, Emily, with her ex-husband, actor Robert Glenister). "Also, I had tonnes of people come out to visit me."

And the sometimes challenging filming conditions are worth it, she says, as the chance to play someone like Lydia is second to none.

"When I first read the script, she struck a chord with me," she says fondly. "And then I was pleasantly surprised when other people said, 'I really like Lydia'.

"You think, 'Yes, there's something very good about her'. She's the sort of person you'd like in your life."

The Good Karma Hospital, ITV, Sunday, 9pm

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