Character of many parts

`I have this absolute belief bred into me that I can do anything, including act'

Kerry Fox shone as Jane Campion's leading lady. So why isn't she more famous?

Nicholas Barber met her YOU may have seen Kerry Fox's astounding portrayal of the writer Janet Frame in Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table. You could have seen her as the moody ANC activist in Friends, as a drifter in The Last Days of Chez Nous or as the pensive Hannah in BBC2's Mr Wroe's Virgins. And as she was so convincing in each role, before you saw the picture on the right you probably had no idea what she looked like.

"Nobody recognises me," she complains, with an Antipodean accent that reveals itself most when she is animated. "Nobody knows it's the same person in all my films. Of course, that's a great compliment to me. The people who have given me work can see I'm not limited, and that I don't get stuck behind a few images on screen. But it's so frustrating! I'd like people to recognise me! I saw one of my films with my sister, and she was holding my arm - she really wanted me to be recognised . . . and nothing happened. We even had to pay for our seats. I hope Shallow Grave makes me more . . . accessible."

Shallow Grave is a new film directed by Danny Boyle, who worked with Fox on Mr Wroe's Virgins. It is a surreal, funny, gruesome thriller about three Edinburgh flatmates whose lives shatter when a stranger (Keith Allen) arrives at their door with a suitcase of money and a short life-expectancy. Fox plays the flat's temptress, as sly as the actress's namesake.

She specialises in "characters who are crinkled and creased", perhaps because she herself is not entirely crinkle-free. First, there is her tendency to contradict herself. She says: "I have this absolute belief that was bred into me that I can do anything, and that includes acting. I've never had any hesitation about it." But before getting the job in An Angel at My Table she had decided that she couldn't act after all, and was ready to find a job in advertising. And after Angel? "As soon as I finished it I thought that I'd never be able to act again." Then there are other neuroses. Choosing roles, she says, is "a huge, all-consuming dilemma". When I ask her what she's doing next, she replies: "I don't know, going through the usual anxieties."

We meet in her PR agent's office, near Victoria station. She is disconcerting: voluble, but distant and indifferent - until she snorts with laughter at some private joke. To wit: Why do casting directors pick her? "I don't think casting directors do pickme. HAHA! I don't get much work from casting directors. HAA!!"

And some of her statements seem, to a non-thespian, plain loopy: "Obviously a large part of what I do is drawing on my memory and my imagination in terms of people who are close to me, and so, you know, there are times when I've rung my parents in the middle of the night and cried, `I don't really want you to die! I don't really want you to die!' They're very understanding of it."

Fox, 28, was born "at home, by accident" in Wellington, New Zealand. She learnt to act as a child. Her drama teacher instigated her love of her country's literature, which developed into a deep understanding of "the psyche of a New Zealander". It is this, she says, that allows her to take on characters from around the world: "It makes me able to see what goes into creating races and generations of people, because I am so aware of where I'm coming from. I've never done two films in the same accent."

New Zealanders, she says, are "pedantic and highly moral and do everything they can to avoid confrontation". Austral-ians are "very blunt. The women are much harder, they're straightforward without any dilly-dallying". Shallow Grave was shot in Edinburghand Glasgow, and I'm Scottish, so how would she characterise the Scots? "Well, I've . . . HEE! HAA! The Scots are really tight, aren't they? Everything about them. It's because of the cold, every orifice is very tight. It took me a long time even to understand what they were saying. Also, I was aware of the crew holding back from me, waiting to see how I would behave before they would respond to me. It just drove me to distraction, not being able to delve into people's lives the way I normally like to.They seem to need to hold onto things very strongly."

Oh. We Scots always like to think of ourselves as a warm and hospitable race. Compared to the English, anyway.

"Yeah," she shrugs, "you probably are, compared to the English." She is not likely to be applying for British citizenship just yet, but admits to feeling "very much part of the British film and TV industry". She stars in The Village Affair, the latest Joanna Trollope adaptation, on ITV this Easter.

Fox went to university in Wellington for a year and a half, hated it, and left. After a stint in a coffee bar, she went to drama school: "It was fantastic. The idea was to create your own work, mainly in the theatre. I felt very strongly committed to that, to maintaining New Zealand culture and giving its theatre a sense of identity. That was very important to me. Then I auditioned for Angel, and I got that. Then of course I left the country. HAHAHAA! I've lived in Australia since." Would she return to New Zealand? "No. I couldn't live there. No way. There's no work."

An Angel at My Table has been a "security net" for Fox, "something I have which proves I can act". But she is frustrated that she is not on Hollywood's "A, B, C, D or even E lists". She plans to become sufficiently famous to get projects off the ground, to foster independent film-makers. "I hope that Shallow Grave will mean people will have a clearer image of me. The character in that is the one I'm closest to myself . . . "

What? You mean callous, manipulative and greedy?

" . . . And yet furthest away from as well! I think the character looks a bit like me! HA! HA! HA! Let's leave it at that."

ce 8 `Shallow Grave' (18) opens at cinemas in London on Fri, nationwide from 27 Jan.

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