Green Wing Interviews - Tamsin Greig
There was a time early in Tamsin Greig's career when she would have found it difficult to be recognised in her own home without opening her mouth. As a regular on that radio tale of ordinary farming folk, The Archers, she was known entirely for her voice. In recent years, thanks to lead roles in Black Books, Love Soup and Green Wing, that has all changed. Now, Greig is big business: BAFTA-nominated and an RTS-winner for Green Wing, she is now sufficiently A-list to present gongs at prestigious shows such as the Q Music Awards and the Brits. If that doesn't tell you that Greig has made it, try this on for size: Bono has got down on his hands and knees in front of her and kissed her pregnant belly. It seems that the days of anonymity are a thing of the past.
After negotiating a seven-figure fee through a phalanx of agents, Greig finally agreed to a carefully-controlled interview provided she was given a bath in caviar eggs. Below, she discusses sheep's bottoms, her habit of corpsing, and, of course, that Bono moment.
What initially drew you to acting?
I was an attention-seeking middle child. I suppose it was the only way of channelling that rather unpleasant trait. I basically couldn't do anything else except show off. So I ended up studying drama at University.
How did your career pan out after that?
About a year after I got my Equity card, I got my job on The Archers, so it's been my mainstay throughout my career, which has been extraordinarily lucky, to have that continuity.
Is Debbie Aldridge [her Archers character] now part of your life?
[laughs] In as much as any invisible, unbelievable, unknowable fictional character is, yes. I suppose more real in my life is the odd train trip up to Birmingham, where the show's recorded - that's become a significant feature of my life. I'm very happy to do a bit of lambing, and spend an afternoon with my hand up the back end of a sheep: It's what I've come to know and love.
You are aware The Archers is a radio show? Don't you think spending an afternoon with your hand up a sheep's backside might be taking method acting a little too far?
How dare you!
In recent years your career has also developed rapidly in television. Is it difficult to combine TV series like Green Wing with the radio stuff?
It can get quite tricky, yeah. For most of last year I didn't do any radio because it was too tricky - having to go up and down to Birmingham as well as filming two TV shows at the same time was just impossible. The beauty of the radio is that you can say you're going to be unavailable for a while, and they often work the storyline around your availability.
So they had you go off to run a farm in Hungary for a while, didn't they?
Yes, that's right. And they've just gone on air now where Debbie is going to have two jobs, where she runs the farm in Hungary , but she also manages the estate farm as well, so there's a storyline that's been built around my itinerant, annoying behaviour.
You did Dr Who recently. Was that fun to be part of?
It was great! I loved it. I was very excited to see the inside of the Tardis. And also to know that it all happened in Cardiff ! I wouldn't have put the two together. I was slightly mad, because my baby was only six weeks old when I did that, and it was my first bit of work after this one was born. So I was a little bit mad and crying a lot, and not speaking much, and a bit afraid of words that I had to remember.
So you'll probably never be welcome in Cardiff again?
I don't think the doctor will be running after me, put it that way.
You now have three young kids. Is it difficult to balance work and family?
It can get tricky, yes, when things all happen at the same time. I'm doing a full time job now, which means I see them less than I want to. But I suppose that's the cost of working. I have a lot of support and a lot of encouragement, and very forgiving children.
You said in the past that you loved Smack the Pony when it was on. Is that one of the reasons you wanted to work on Green Wing? [Victoria Pile was the creative visionary behind both]
Yeah, definitely. I thought Victoria Pile's vision for that was just beautiful, and seeing that playfulness of characters, particularly women, was brilliant. They weren't stereotypes, and they weren't getting their breasts out all of the time, and it just showed you can get female clowns. I just thought that was fantastic. So when Green Wing came along, nobody could say what it was, because there was nothing on paper, so it was just going on trust that Victoria Pile was a visionary.
Julian Rhind-Tutt says you're quite bad about corpsing.
[laughs] Is that what he said? Is that what he said? He can talk! No, it's true. I'm terrible. Do you know what? I've got quite an easy job. I've just got to look at people, say lines and not laugh. And two of those I do okay-ish. But basically I'm just shit at quite an ordinary job, namely not laughing. It's not that hard not to laugh. The guy who sold me my travel card, he didn't wet himself laughing. You just don't do it!
What can we expect from the new series? Will the sexual tension between Mac and Caroline be resolved?
I don't think there is ever resolution in sexual tension. I think climax is a misnomer, and it's simply about the playing of the tension. Does that help?
Well, it's not exactly given much away. You were nominated for a BAFTA and won an RTS award for your role in Green Wing. Does that mean a lot to you, or do you take it all in your stride?
I feel very privileged to have work recognised. I feel it's a little bit of an odd one, given that it was for Green Wing, which is such an ensemble piece. I find it a little bit peculiar that you can say "Which is the best colour in the rainbow? Which one shall we give an award to?" And you pick one out of it, and it's not a rainbow any more. You're just pulling the threads apart. But I suppose it's human nature to ask what your favourite colour is, or who's you're favourite character. As such, it's about people relating to a character rather than giving marks for a performance.
In the past, you've said that you've been recognised for your voice an awful lot. With your increasing TV profile, that must have changed.
It's a little intriguing, in a way. It's normally a sort of non-exchange. People go 'Oh that's you off the telly, isn't it?' and you go 'Yes' and then they walk away. So sometimes a little like being in the Coney Island Freak Show, so it's quite peculiar. But then again, I'm on the tube every day now, and I'm completely anonymous. So when it does happen again, I'll get startled by it again.
Is it true you've been mistaken for both Sharleen Spiteri and Ronnie Ancona?
[laughs] Yes. That's wonderful. And also Sue Perkins off Mel and Sue. Someone rushed up to me and said 'It's you, it's you, it's you!' And I said 'Um, sorry?' And she said 'It's you. You're in the Kingsmill ad!' So a lot of people think I'm really famous because I'm someone else.
I also read that Bono kissed your belly. Is that true, or did you make that up?
[laughs] I had to give an award at the Q awards. And I was nine months pregnant, so when I was giving the award, I said 'If I give birth here, can I call it Bono?' And I heard a voice go 'Yep!' And I was backstage having my photo done with the guys who had won the award, and he came through. I went to get out of his way, and he got down on his knees in front of me and kissed my huge belly.
There's no topping that, really, is there?
It was particularly exciting for my husband, who thinks U2 are God's gift to the entire universe. But then last week I hear he does it to some Radio 1 DJ who's also pregnant. Was it Jo Whiley? He kissed her belly as well! So I used to feel special. Now I just feel cheap. He does it to any bird. It's like the Pope kissing babies, only he gets to them before they're out.
And next you're off to do some Shakespeare on the stage in April. That must be a little different from Green Wing.
Yes. I'm getting really, really picked upon my lazy consonants in rehearsals. I used to do theatre all the time, but I haven't done any for ten years. I've had ten years off, standing around looking surprised on the telly and having three children, and so I'm very, very slack in certain areas.
So when you're walking out for the first time in ten years in front of a theatre audience, will you be really nervous?
As nervous as I was at the Brit awards last week, when I had to give an award in front of 8,000 people! I presented the award to the Best British Rock Act, to Kaiser Chiefs
Did they kiss your belly?
They didn't kiss my belly, but one of them had a bit of a fumble. Cheeky rock star! I would've been a bit shocked if he had kissed my belly, because I think it's empty now, and if he thinks it's full, that would not look good, would it?