Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

'I've always looked forward to being in my 50s ... you're more comfortable in your own skin'

Hermione Norris talks to Gerard Gilbert about why she likes growing older, being cast as an Ice Maiden and her concerns about returning to Cold Feet

Hermione Norris is up in the capital for the day. London born-and-bred, home now is deepest Somerset, where she lives with husband Simon Wheeler, a screenwriter she met while starring in his ITV crime drama Wire in the Blood, and their two children, Wilf, aged 13, and 11-year-old Hero.

"It's taken me a while to get used to it", she says, sat in a corner office of the ITV tower block on the South Bank, a panoramic view of the capital laid out below. "London's my home and I find it difficult not being here but there are plus sides to it.

"I've got lots of children at home this week, for example, because my husband puts on a play every year, and we've got hundreds of children staying or coming in and out during the day. We've done A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Three Musketeers and now we're doing Romeo and Juliet. My son's playing Romeo..."

The picture of cosy, self-sufficient thespian creativity is further embellished when, referring to the unseasonable cold earlier this spring, she wonders if it might snow. "I want to get snowed in... a perfect excuse not to go anywhere."

But, of course, Norris is not by profession a homebody. Indeed, after we finish she is off to a read-through for the new series of Cold Feet, which films in Manchester all summer, while all this week she has been starring in new ITV thriller, Innocent, which is now available to watch on catch-up.

Written by Chris Lang, who created ITV's hit cold-case crime drama Unforgotten, Innocent tells the story of David (Lee Ingleby), who, seven years after being convicted of murdering his wife, Tara, is released after a second re-trial raised concerns over the forensic evidence.

David has always protested his innocence, but in the meantime, he has lost his two children - Tara's childless sister Alice (Norris) having become their legal guardian - and his home, the proceeds of which have bought Alice and her husband Rob (Adrian Rawlins) the sort of lifestyle they couldn't afford before the conviction.

Both Alice and the police still believe that David is responsible for murdering Tara, and they both now have a powerful motivation for proving him guilty - Alice in order to keep the kids, the police because they have been made to look incompetent. "I think though for Alice it's the threat of losing the children because she's tried having children herself - she's been through rounds and rounds of IVF. These children are her life and they are literally all that she lives for."

Norris had worked with the writer Chris Lang before, on the 2012 drama A Mother's Son, in which her character began to suspect that her teenage son had murdered a local schoolgirl.

"I like the way his characters relate psychologically and emotionally to one another, which is what interests me as an actor really," she says. "I loved the character of Alice, that's she's complicated, quite emotionally fractured. And the stakes that are involved. Who did it... is he innocent?"

Was she told beforehand whether David was innocent, or, in the modern manner of TV whodunits, was the information withheld from her? "I had episode one and two and I said to my agent 'Am I the red herring?'" Needless to say, she's not letting on.

At first sight, Norris would appear to have a solid professional middle-class background. Born in London in 1967, her father, Michael, was a businessman and her mother, Helen, a health visitor. Two of her sisters are teachers, one brother was a lawyer and is now a vicar, and her two half-sisters are a lawyer and a vet.

And yet the existence of half-sisters points to a less straightforward upbringing: her parents divorcing when Norris was four, with her mother being left alone to bring up four children under the age of five. Norris failed her 11-plus but won a scholarship to a dance academy and, eventually, to drama school at LAMDA - her final year coinciding with the sudden death of her father, who she describes as "funny and charismatic and naughty".

Cold Feet saved Norris from becoming a solicitor, a career move she was considering after a string of small television roles in the early 1990s dried up and she became bored of making ends meet by working on the checkout at Sainsburys and selling double glazing.

It's ironic that Cold Feet creator Mike Bullen originally said that he had difficulty imagining Norris' character, publishing editor Karen Marsden, outside of the home because she is arguably the character who most defines herself in terms of her job. This thought inspires an exchange about whether female roles in TV were becoming broader.

"Historically it's true that women's stories have not been told in the same way as men's," she says. "We haven't recorded our stories and nowadays people are very aware of that, and we're beginning to tell our stories.

"That's why I wanted to work with Kay Mellor (Norris played older mother Roanna in Mellor's In the Club). I think she's a fantastic ambassador for ordinary women of all ages. That's what we want to see. I don't want to see women who look all neat and tidy and perfect."

Norris arguably has a different kind of typecasting problem, that of repeated roles as a fraught, rather aloof and snippy upper-class women - an 'ice maiden' tag she says she is aware of. It's why making Kingdom, the 2007 comedy drama created by her husband in which she played the mentally ill half-sister of Stephen Fry's eponymous Norfolk solicitor, was so refreshing, she says. "I'd do 16 hours-a-day six days a week on Spooks and then I'd got to play somebody completely mad in Norfolk!"

Not that Spooks, in which she played M15 section chief Ros Myers for three series before being killed off in an explosion, wasn't without its moments of levity - her scenes with Peter Firth, who played her boss Sir Harry Pearce, often descending into uncontrollable hilarity. "I used to have to look at his ear quite a lot", she says. "There's lots of scenes with Ros looking slightly askew because if I look at his eyes... he's a bugger."

Norris had no shortage of work after Spooks, but it is the reboot of Cold Feet that has given her the highest exposure, returning as Karen Marsden - a decision she didn't take lightly.

"The odds were on that it wouldn't work," she says. "For something that had been so successful and so loved, I was nervous about undoing all that - that would have been really awful. So, I'm hugely relieved. It was extraordinary... humbling actually, people saying 'Oh we loved having it back on the television, we loved those characters'. It's as much about the audience as it is about Cold Feet - it's about where they were in their lives the first time round."

Being reunited with fellow cast members James Nesbitt, Fay Ripley, John Thomson and Robert Bathurst (Helen Baxendale's character was of course written out in 2003) after a 14-year hiatus was "slightly surreal", Norris says, likening it to "a school reunion that never ends. "It's always nice to see everybody. It's rare in this career that you work together for 20 years with the same actors. It's quite something."

Norris readily admits that she doesn't have a close-knit social-circle like Karen's ("all my friends are so dispersed... a lot of them are actors and quite nomadic") and it's unclear how long Mike Bullen can maintain the realism of chums in their 40s being in each other's lives to this extent. But in the meantime, Cold Feet is one of television's more successful revivals.

"Honestly, we never know from one series to the next whether it will go again," says Norris. "It would be an interesting thing to see them in their seventies one day - that would be hilarious."

Norris celebrated her own landmark birthday last year as she turned 50. "I've always looked forward to being in my 50s. I don't know why", she says. "I might report in 10 years' time that it was utter sh*t.

"But I like being older - you're more comfortable in your own skin, I think. It is what it is. You've married who you've married, you've had the career that you've had, you are where you are - and that's quite nice."

All four episodes of Innocent are now available to watch on the ITV Hub

Hermione Norris talks to Gerard Gilbert about why she likes growing older, being cast as an Ice Maiden and her concerns about returning to Cold Feet

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