Brenda Blethyn

Brenda Blethyn: Absolute Beginner

Funny things always happened to Brenda Blethyn.
 She is, she says, just one of those people who seem to attract comedy to their lives.

Recently, for example, she was on the escalator in Marks & Spencer, Newcastle—where she films her title role in the hit ITV1 detective series Vera—when she was spotted by an elderly fan.

"She was so excited that she was turning round to look at me while running on the spot on the final stair," Brenda recalls. "I was thinking, Oh my Lord, she's going to go arse over tit, so I rushed forward to prop her up. I was trying to manhandle her to safety and the two of us were sort of wrestling on the stair.

"The woman was oblivious and was saying, 'Is it you, pet? Is it Vera? I love Vera. I LOVE her...always telling all those men what to do!' "

As anecdotes in celebrity interviews go, it's not one that portrays Brenda in the most glamorous of lights. But then it's not taking herself too seriously that has helped make her one of our best-loved character actors, starring in everything from Secrets & Lies to Pride & Prejudice. She's also quite content to take on frumpy but winningly down-to-earth characters like the jowly, scruffy Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope who, as Brenda admits, "any woman would feel beautiful next to".


In the flesh, though, the actress is actually fine-boned and pleasingly buxom. Dressed today for our interview at ITV's London HQ in a navy linen suit and floral blouse, she's also both stylish and, at 67, enduringly pretty. The hair, mind you, is a bit
of an issue. She's just returned from shooting new cop film Enemy Camp in New Mexico and still has the unflattering steel-grey hairdo needed for the role. But she has an appointment at Daniel Galvin to get the brunette reinstated the moment our interview's over.

Despite not quite sharing Vera's love of jumble-sale chic, Brenda's grown very fond of the character, who solves Northumbrian murders with dogged determination and intuition.

"I'd love her as a mate; to be able to call her up and go out for a drink," she says. "We have a similar sense of humour, and I hope that I share her kindness because I do think she has a very good heart."

There are times even now, after all these years, when I still feel I'm a total beginner. 

Brenda received an OBE for her acting in 2003, and Oscar nominations for Secrets & Lies and Little Voice, but doesn't have the same amount of confidence as the detective (whom colleagues call Mussolini).

"There are times even now, after all these years, when I still feel I'm a total beginner. But Michael [Mayhew, her husband] always says to me, 'Well, it's a lot better than thinking you know it all, isn't it?'

"I can get in a right mood sometimes," she adds. Those times coincide, perhaps, with being overtired or taking on the negative elements of a character she's playing.

"Michael will say, 'Come on. Would you like me to grill you some chicken or a bit of fish? It's only a film, you know. Ninety per cent of people in the world probably haven't even seen one. Lighten up!' He'll make me laugh and I instantly feel better."
It's just as well that making Vera, which returns for its third series this month, is such a happy experience. "It's got to the point now where it feels like family. The same cast and crew return each year."

It's enduringly popular too—Brenda finds it particularly satisfying that
police officers tell her they like its authenticity—and ITV has already commissioned a fourth series, which is filming this summer. It does, however, take five months to make, during which time Brenda stays in Newcastle. It's a long time to be separated from her real loved ones and, unlike Vera, who's "a complete loner, but never lonely", Brenda needs the company of others.

"So this time around, instead of staying in a hotel, I'm renting an apartment so that Michael and other members of my family can come and stay," she says. "I'm really looking forward to it."

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