Jessica Hynes - The 'totally amazeballs' actress who won the Olympics
In Twenty Twelve, Jessica Hynes added another unforgettable character to her roster. So what's next? She talks to Gerard Gilbert
So here’s the thing. Now that 2012 is starting to wind down, there seems to me to be only one candidate for outstanding TV comedy character of the year – just one, who had fans gleefully parroting her baffling PR-speak to each other the morning after the night before (“guys, we are where we are with this, and that’s never a good place to be”) – and I refer of course to the totally amazeballs Siobhan Sharpe, Head of Brand at the Olympic Deliverance Commission in BBC4’s never-to-be repeated sitcom Twenty Twelve. Gone but not forgotten, and someone has even set up a Twitter page for Siobhan, with more than 10,000 followers.
“People said they knew people like her,” says Jessica Hynes, the actress who totally nailed Siobhan’s dead-eyed monotone. “I’d created quite a good type and that, I think, was the joy. ‘I know her’… ‘she’s in my office’… ‘I’ve been in a meeting with her’… ”
Siobhan is actually the third iconic comedy character created or embodied by Hynes, after Daisy Steiner in Channel 4’s cult classic Spaced and the overweight, perpetually grazing neighbour Cheryl in The Royle Family – although Hynes has chosen not to rejoin Caroline Aherne, Craig Cash and the cast as they prepare this year’s Christmas special. “I’ve hung up my fat suit now,” she says. “They’re doing more, but I’m not. It’s run its course for me.”
The truth is that Hynes, who turned 40 last month (“I think I had my mid-life crisis a long time ago”) hasn’t been so busy in years. Having concentrated on raising a young family – she has three children, aged 14, nine and six, with her husband Adam, a sculptor she’s been with since they were both 18 (they finally married in 2007, Hynes changing her name from Stevenson), she is currently on cinema screens in Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger. A sequel to the seasonal comedy, Nativity!, a tale of battling school choirs that didn’t impress critics in 2009 but made a tidy profit at the UK box office. The director is Debbie Isitt, with whom Hynes made Confetti, alongside Jimmy Carr and Martin Freeman, in 2007.
It also reunites Hynes with David Tennant, whose love-interest, Joan Redfern, she has played in two episodes of Doctor Who. In Nativity 2 she plays a Welsh songstress, a sort of cross between Charlotte Church and Katherine Jenkins.
“I think she’d like to be both of those but I don’t think she’s reached those dizzy heights,” says Hynes. It’s not the most demanding of material, but it is typical of Hynes that she makes the most her role. “I will put my heart and soul into every opportunity that comes my way,” she says. And there are some more interesting sounding opportunities coming her way.
The first of these is Up With Women, a self-penned sitcom about suffragettes. “It’s about a group of women who are in an embroidery circle and they then turn their attention to militant suffrage action,” she says. “It’s a kind of a character study and hopefully, on a good day, it will be a kind of female Dad’s Army.”
And then there is her action series for Sky Atlantic, Justine. “I’ve been commissioned to write an hour-long pilot episode, which I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed for,” she says. “It’s an action series based around a female superhero … it’s Buffy meets Kick-Ass.”
In the meantime, Hynes’s contribution to an ambitious new Sky “concept series” called Common People, which sounds like a comedy version of Jimmy McGovern’s drama The Street, begins in January. “It involves a lot of different comedy performers taking part in one idea – everyone’s connected because they live on the same high street.” What unites all Hynes’s future projects is that they are being made by Steve Coogan’s production company, Baby Cow – a connection made through her friend and comedy partner Julia Davis (Nighty Night, Hunderby). “Through Julia I met Baby Cow, because I was a bit without a production company, and Baby Cow have brought me into the fold.”
Hynes was already a friend and fan of Davis’s husband, the Mighty Boosh comedian Julian Barratt, having worked with Barratt in the Nineties sketch show Asylum, and having written the part of Brian, the slightly mad conceptual artist in Spaced for him. She met Davis in their local park in north London.
“I really love collaborating with Julia Davis,” she says. “There are very few people who I click with in the same way, and she was at a time in her life when she wasn’t sure how to find her way through the comedy world… and I was at the same point. I remember meeting her in a local park because she was renting Steve Coogan’s flat.
“So we started to improvise together and gradually we began to build up a little collection of characters who were quite strange but we loved performing ..”The culmination of their collaboration was a BBC2 pilot called Lizzie and Sarah, a bleakly funny tale of spousal abuse that was broadcast at 11.45pm and which, despite some heavyweight Twitter outrage led by Simon Pegg and a “commission Lizzie and Sarah” Facebook campaign, never went beyond the pilot stage.
And talk of Pegg brings us back to Spaced, created and written by Hynes and Pegg, who met on an earlier sketch show, Six Pairs of Pants. Pegg and Spaced’s director Edgar Wright – along with Pegg’s great friend Nick Frost – have since gone on to take the same comic formula on to the big screen, with the films Shaun of the Dead (in which Hynes had a small role) and Hot Fuzz. If Hynes’s massive contribution to Spaced sometimes feels to become a bit lost in this narrative, it doesn’t seem to rankle.
“I love that people love Spaced,” she says. “I’m so proud of that. I think we achieved what we set out to achieve. At the time I started to write Spaced I had lived in London from 18… I was 24 when I started to write it, sitting down with an electric typewriter, in a squat and just thinking, ‘right, what isn’t there on television?’ When I was 18 and living in some grotty place and having some shitty job, things just felt magical because when you’re young you see things through a different lens. I remember very clearly acknowledging to myself how lucky I was to be in a position that I was able to write about such a precious time, such an ephemeral time, having just come out of it. I feel a lot of the truth in Spaced is as a result of that.”
Hynes moved to London from Brighton, where she was raised by her mother after her parents separated. She shuttled between England and San Francisco before settling on the South Coast. “I had a hard-working mum who’s a great role model,” she says. “I don’t think it’s an accident that me and my sister have both ended up working hard at our careers and found success in them.” Hynes’s sister, Zoe, owns a fashion business.
Zoe recently moved to Folkestone in Kent, and Hynes and family recently followed her from London. “Playing’s so important, it was such a big part of my childhood that I value it so highly,” she says. In fact she sees her own performance style as an extension of play.
“That’s because I didn’t go to drama school and because I started so young without any formal training, and I played a lot as a child. I can’t help but see a link between what I do now and lining up some scraggy teddies and them all having voices and characters.
“I suppose I collect characters. With Siobhan there was somebody I observed in a local shop and I found the deadpan of her voice just fascinating... When I meet somebody, sometimes I walk away remembering lots of things about them – the way they talk, act and how that’s connected to who I think they might be. I’ve always enjoyed people.”
‘Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger’ is out now
This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of the Independent's Radar magazine
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