Jo Hartley & Michael Smiley: 'We went to the house he has in France to work on a screenplay. We ended up just riding our bikes around and drinking red wine'

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Jo Hartley, 43

Born in Oldham, Hartley is an actress who has appeared in TV series including 'This is England' and 'Not Safe For Work' and will soon appear in the movie biopic 'Eddie the Eagle'. She lives in east London

I first met Michael in 2007 in Glasgow, on a short film called Terra Firma. We were playing lovers, and on our first day on set, we were in bed together, trying to look all intimate and romantic, trying to ignore the six hairy crew surrounding us. His character was a wannabe pop star who ended up playing the organ on a ferry, and I was a businesswoman. He asked me what I did for a living, and I explained that I worked for an automobile company. He said, "Ah, a blue-collar worker." And I responded: "No, I just wear me suit." Everybody cracked up at that, but I didn't get it. At that point, Michael just turned to me and said: "Oh, me and you are going to get on really well."

We do share a wicked sense of humour, and have similar backgrounds. He was also born on 29 January, which is my mum's birthday. Every year he sends her something. It was candles last year. She was really pleased about that. She keeps asking me about that nice actor friend of mine, the one off the telly.

We were a little bit wild back in the day. We used to hit Soho – the Groucho, the French House – getting up to all sorts of trouble. He is the kind of person who always brings humour to a situation. He often says I talk like an old lady, as I'm the only one who understands what I'm trying to say. Charming! He insults me, but in really lovely ways.

It's really nice to have such a strong friendship in a profession like ours, especially when you're not working. We'd meet up in the afternoon, go for a glass of wine, then another. Things never got too out of hand, nothing crazy; we didn't start fires. We're not so wild any more. These days we go to galleries, or we have afternoon tea. I go to see him and his wife Miranda and their kids. He cooks: pasta, stew. He likes a good stew, Michael.

He's always been really good with advice, telling me to keep positive, to keep going, to snap the wing mirrors off and just keep looking forward. You need people like that around when you are going through quiet periods. He's like a big brother to me, really. It means I don't have to do my hair before seeing him, nothing like that. I can tell him anything, as well. He's never told me what I wanted to hear; he's only told me the truth.

We had this idea of writing a film together, so we went to the house he and Miranda have in France to work on a screenplay recently. We ended up just riding our bikes around and drinking red wine. More of a holiday, really.

I like to think we've been brought together by the universe for a reason. I'm just not sure what that reason is yet…

Michael Smiley, 52

A Northern Irish comedian and actor, Smiley has worked on TV series including 'Luther', 'Doctor Who' and 'Spaced' and has appeared in films such as 'Kill List', 'A Field in England' and 'The World's End'. He is married to the journalist Miranda Sawyer, with whom he has two children. He lives in south London

I've always been comfortable in women's company. My mother, my sister, my granny: all strong characters, charismatic, straight-shooters, very loving. I've never differentiated between a man and a woman when it comes to qualities like that, which is why Jo is one of my very closest mates. She's got a lovely soul.

The year we met, 2007, was quite a big year for me. My father died in the June, I got married in the July, and met Jo in the August. One of the reasons I was so looking forward to working with her was because I was such a big fan of This is England. I'm a massive fan of Shane Meadows in general; A Room for Romeo Brass is one of my favourite films. For me, she was the standout actor in This Is England, and I wanted to see more of her on screen. She played someone so strong, so straight and honest, like all the women of my childhood.

I've been living in London since 1983, so when she came down from Manchester, I suppose I was a sort of big brother to her. I wanted to make sure she was OK, to keep an eye on her, and also to take her out and introduce her around. We would descend on Soho together, Bonnie and Clyde-style, going for drinks, meeting friends. She's very funny company, full of wonderful malapropisms. The things that come out of her mouth have me pissing myself with laughter.

I've had lots of crazy mates, and I suppose to some people she was Mad Jo and I was Mad Smiley, but when you look into her soul you see a beautiful woman who just tries the best she can. She has such an independent spirit and a real work ethic; she's done everything she can to make it as an actress. In the early days she would do a short film one day, and sell Curly Wurlys in a shopping centre in Stockport the next. She's never been afraid of hard work, and that's very commendable. I'm so proud she is doing so well now. She deserves to. She's a fantastic actress.

I'm glad we've kept so closely in touch over the years, because I often think it's harder making lasting friendships in our line of work. You are thrown together for an intense period of time, and you become really close, but then you go away on other jobs and often don't see each other for ages. When you do again, you're strangers. That's why I think we call each other "luvvy" and "darling" so much; we've forgotten everyone's names.

I could never forgot Jo's name. She's the kind of person who lights up any room she walks into, a firecracker. She has a charisma she doesn't even know she has, and she is brave and fearless. That, in a friendship, is important to me. 1

Jo Hartley stars in 'This Is England: 90' at 9pm on Sundays on Channel 4

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