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My Bold move from Queen to Castle

Sunday Times- 5th September 2010

The time I wake up can vary enormously. If I’m home in London and not away filming, I like to stagger out of bed at around 8am. I have two dogs and a couple of cats, so the first job of the day is feeding the beasts. They have roaming rights all over the house and often spend the night on the bed with me. I’m an ambassador for The World Wildlife Fund and I take my responsibilities very seriously.

For breakfast I pretend I’m on a Mediterranean island rather than stuck in a bustling city: whether I’m home or on a film set I have a piece of wholemeal toast with sliced avocado and tomato on top. I try to start with hot water and lemon but succumb to coffee during the day. At home I’ll spend time emailing, then take my German pointers, Liv and Ivo, for a proper walk of about an hour and a half. I take them myself because that’s part of the deal. They’re not nannied out unless there is no other way.

I’m spoilt for choice dog-walking in west London; there are lots of places to get away from it all. And there is nothing wrong with a bit of walking on the street either; its good for socialising the dogs. I took them to puppy classes so they’re well behaved.

I was filming in New York for several months this year for a TV series called Rubicon, and while I was away I’d Skype the dogs - and the cats Emil and Inez - back in London to speak to them, I would arrange for them to be in front of the computer with a camera and microphone. It was so uplifting to see and hear on the screen, and they could see and hear me too.

Before that I was filming Made In Dagenham, about the woman involved in the equal pay dispute at the Ford car factory in 1968. John Sessions plays Harold Wilson and I’m Barbara Castle, which sounds like a bizarre combination, I know. It was a role I couldn’t resist - even though it meant very big hair. I read a few books and watched footage from the archives and I warmed to her enormously; she was absolutely marvellous. We spent a day in Dagenham and filmed in Ken Livingstone’s old office on the south bank, where he ran the GLC. Filming things like Made In Dagenham is so different from my earlier career, playing Queenie in Blackadder. There was a lot more time for everything back then. We’d have a sort of a rehearsal for a week - a period of discovery and playtime. It was a riot of fun, then we’d show the scenes to the crew before filming in front of a live audience. These days’ movies and TV seem to get made at great speed.

Lunch is often something standing up - usually when I discover I haven’t eaten for six hours and suddenly I’m starving. I’m largely vegetarian, but I’m very bad at cooking for myself. Usually when I get inspired it’ll be as an experiment, in case I decide to make it again for a dinner party with friends. I’d like to incorporate vegan food into my life. In New York I went to a vegan cookery class because I’m fascinated by vegan gourmet cooking - ways to make it so incredibly delicious that it’s irresistible to anyone, nowadays I feel stuffed when I eat meat. If you look in my fridge it’s a bit bare, but there are three types of goat’s cheese, tomatoes, grapefruit, stuff I buy at the market. I always have an avocado, lots of lemon, an onion or two. And usually crumpets in the freezer.

In the evening I’ll often collapse with a glass of wine and play some music. I’m slightly obsessed with Jonas Kaufmann singing Wagner at the moment, but I’m extremely eclectic. I put my laptop on “shuffle” and let it pick the songs. If I’m not emailing I might be researching my next job, a movie about boy soldiers called ‘A Place Of Only Sky’. Filming starts in November and I’m planning to fly to South Africa for a research trip.

I get a lot of email correspondence from the WWF and I like to keep abreast of what they’re doing - particularly getting children involved, we need to instil the right values at an early age.

I have burst of going to the theatre, then I see nothing for months until I feel a cultural drought coming on. I love small theatres - small is beautiful in my book. If I’m on my own at night and doing things around the house, I’ll snack as I go. Last thing I take the dogs around the block. I try not to get into the bad habit of watching late-night comedy on TV, but I love the IT Crowd, Black Books, and South Park.

I’m not a Horlicks girl - I’m one of those strange mortals who can drink a cup of coffee in the evening and fall asleep no problem.