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Interview Maxine Peake

Ali Schofield meets with the Bolton-born actress to talk 'Shameless', the West Yorkshire Playhouse and why she has only just come to terms with leopard print

Interview: Maxine Peake

"I think we need more female-based dramas, but more intelligent female-based dramas and stuff with a social conscience really, especially with what's going on now"

“You get, ‘Are you that bird out of ‘Shameless’? What you doing now, are you still working?’ And you say ‘Yeah’ and feel terrible like they expect you to go ‘No, I’ve got a copy of my CV in my bag. Do you want to have a look?’”

Despite leaving ‘Shameless’ some four years ago, Maxine Peake – who’s other stand-out roles include Myra Hindley, local lesbian diarist Anne Lister, Prescott’s lover Tracey Temple and ‘Dinnerladies’’ Twinkle – is still most usually remembered for her role as brash, lovable Veronica in the long-running Channel 4 series.

Today, taking time out of rehearsals for The Deep Blue Sea – the West Yorkshire Playhouse production which runs parallel this month with her leading role in BBC 1 drama ‘Silk’ – the Bolton actor clearly doesn’t need to wander around with her CV.

Director Sarah Esdaile approached Peake with the script for Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play, to take on the role of Hester, who leaves her comfortable but dull relationship for unpredictable ex-fighter pilot Freddie.

“I read it and I thought, why does she want me, that’s a bit weird, but looking at the part, I wouldn’t initially have thought of this casting, but it’s brilliant. I had a quick meeting with Sarah and after about two minutes I was like, yeah, I like her, she’s great!”

The role is, like most Peake undertakes, pretty heavy, opening with a failed suicide attempt. She has shunned the idea of method acting in the past, but admits, almost apologetically as she dissects the teabag tag in her cardboard cup, that emotional scenes are wearing.

“It’s like anything, your hangovers get worse as you get older and without sounding corny you’re putting yourself through a lot of emotions, and alright you’re not really putting yourself through it, but it is quite exhausting if you’re going on night after night.”

Peake – her dad a retired lorry driver, sister a police officer and late mum a careworker – says she never considered any other job for herself but acting. Having applied for all the acting courses in the area and beyond, she tried London’s biggest, RADA, for a ‘joke’.

“I was lifeguarding at a leisure centre in Bolton. I’d been for the recall audition and a call came through to the staff room. I was cleaning the squash courts at the time – 20 minutes on shallow, 20 minutes deep end, 20 minutes off – and it came over the tannoy saying ‘Phone call for Maxine in the staff room’ and I got there and they said, ‘there’s a posh woman on the phone for you’ so I picked up and said ‘Hello’ and they said ‘Hello, this is RADA just calling to offer you a conditional place’ and I was like, are they taking the mickey in here or what?”

Peake is unreservedly down to earth. She moved back up north to Salford from London recently – “I can’t be arsed, it’s about quality of life” – and spends much of her spare time topping up her vintage wardrobe and sniffing out retro tea sets and furniture in charity shops.

She insists she doesn’t get recognised that often but did think twice about a recent purchase.

“I have a leopard print coat which took me years to buy ‘cause I did worry, well, it’s a bit Veronica! That’s my sort of thing, 30s, 40s, 50s, but I thought, will people just think I’m Veronica if I wear leopard print? It’s obviously fake, I’d never wear the real thing, but I kept away from that for a while just in case people got a bit confused!”

I wonder if she watches ‘Shameless’ and finds herself missing it?

“Every now and again I catch little clips of it and it’s weird because you watch it and go ‘Oh, ‘Shameless’, yeah this is on. Oh I used to be in that!’ It does seem another life-time.

“I think it’s a different show now but it’s still so popular – it’s great. Ideally I’d have liked it to run for one or two series just ‘cause I think those are always the best ones, you know like Fawlty Towers did a few series and that’s it, but there’s money to be made. But then look at Coronation Street, it evolves and it changes.”

Really, there is no reason for Peake to dwell on ‘Shameless’. She is using any spare time to co-write a film; a necessary endeavour for the actor since she believes much of today’s programming doesn’t reflect the people watching.

“I think we need more female-based dramas, but more intelligent female-based dramas and stuff with a social conscience really, especially with what’s going on now; good dramas but with a bit of an educational message. It’s interesting because in the 80s you’d have these creative outbursts when things got really bad and I wonder again whether the period we go into now might fire people up. It’s the same with minorities, people don’t write for the actual demographic of this country. I think we’re very white centric in this country, we should really look at how this country’s changing and accepting it and making dramas about it.”

For now though, she is pleased to be at the Playhou

Posted on Wednesday 16th February 2011

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Comments on Interview: Maxine Peake

Comment by Victor Ireland

Posted on Sat 16th Jul 11 5:59 pm

Unorthodox I know, but how can I contact Maxine Peake to present her with a topical idea for a play/film social drama a la:
“I think we need more female-based dramas, but more intelligent female-based dramas and stuff with a social conscience really, especially with what’s going on now; good dramas but with a bit of an educational message. 
My email address is:

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