Nicola Walker interview: ‘There’s more pressure in feeling rated’

Nicola Walker is one of the great unsung heros of British acting

If we were to make a list of the country’s most underrated actors, it’s a fair bet that Nicola Walker would end up in a medal position. She may have won a cult following in the BBC’s long-running spy drama Spooks – and an Olivier Award in 2013 for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – but the pleasantly self-deprecating Walker still remains stubbornly under too many radars. “There’s more pressure in feeling rated”, she says cheerfully.

Her latest role is bound to attract attention, however, as she stars opposite Mark Strong in a revival of the Arthur Miller classic A View from the Bridge by experimental Belgian director Ivo van Hove. In the production at London’s Young Vic Theatre, she plays Beatrice, wife to Strong’s tragic Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone, who develops an unhealthy obsession with his teenage niece, but this Beatrice is not going to be the long-suffering wife of umpteen other portrayals.

“I said in the audition, ‘She always looks to me like a little scrawny bird in a brown cardigan’, but Ivo’s not interested in that at all. So he’s sexualised her again. Reading the play again now, as a 43-year-old woman, I could see that she’s absolutely fighting for her right to stand there as a sexually alive body opposite this man she loves passionately.”

When we meet during rehearsals, Walker is full of enthusiasm for the prop- and set-free production that van Hove has planned. “By taking away those domestic niceties, it makes you listen to the play in a different way”, she says.

The “ticking clock” of Miller’s tragedy is a far cry from her current TV gig Last Tango in Halifax, whose second series finished at Christmas. The BBC1 hit stars Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as teenage sweethearts reunited decades later, thus bringing their respective adult daughters, Walker and Sarah Lancashire, into contact and conflict with each other. As well as being a rollicking good family story, it’s also quietly subversive for primetime: three out of the four leads are women, none under 40; there’s a prominent lesbian storyline, and Walker’s character Gillian displays a refreshingly liberal sexual attitude. “I think it taps into something about grown-up stories”, says Walker. “I’ve never come across a character like Gillian before and definitely not on television. She has never done anything that I’ve thought, ‘I don’t believe that’. Often with telly you go, ‘Oh, I don’t think…’” She pauses. “Also, you have all these amazing female parts.”

Which brings us neatly to the ever-vexed issue of the under-representation of older women on our screens. Is this something that Walker has noticed in her own career? “The generation before me certainly told me that there would come a point when there were fewer parts, telling me to make hay while the sun shone. There was a time in my late thirties when I thought that it was something I had to get myself ready for, that things were going to slow down as I hit 40. But that hasn’t been my experience and I’m fortunate enough to be around working when the ground is shifting.” She hesitates. “It [gender representation on screen] is not evenly balanced and maybe it never will be, but I think it’s much better.”

The rumours of a US remake for Last Tango (“I really can’t imagine it, but I’m fascinated”, says Walker) lead me to wonder if she was ever tempted to try her luck across the Atlantic. “It’s a big thing now. It’s sort of crept up. You look around and go, ‘Where is everyone? Oh. They’re all in LA!’ That’s great. I want them to stay in LA and then I can get their work in this country. I’ve always been clear that I wouldn’t want to go unless someone asked me. I don’t think I have the right personality to go out and sell myself like that. But if Joss Whedon registered any interest in me, I’d be out there like a shot!”

The daughter of an East End scrap-metal dealer who moved to the Essex countryside, Walker has been forging her own path all along. After going to Cambridge, she turned down a place at RADA in favour of paid acting work. “I look back now and think ‘Wow’’’, she says, as if  surprised by her own youthful chutzpah. She took the lead opposite Robson Green in ITV thriller Touching Evil and then came Spooks, where her senior agent Ruth Evershed provided a calm, thoughtful centre in an increasingly frenzied world. When Walker left the series for a couple of years to have a baby with actor husband Barnaby Kay, her presence was much missed. By the end, it was the quiet dignity of her relationship with boss Harry (Peter Firth), rather than any high-falutin’ espionage, that had viewers gripped. One of the pleasures of Spooks, she says, was its “bright, really interesting fans. They would sidle up to you on the tube and say [she adopts a mysterious voice], ‘Hallo, Ruth. Are you following me or am I following you?’.’’

Marianne Elliott, who directed Walker in Curious Incident, is full of admiration for her. “Nicola gives her characters a rare mixture of incredible heart, acute sensitivity and street toughness. She seems very real when she acts, like someone you know, and that’s very arresting.” I ask Walker how she would describe her own acting style. “It’s probably dangerous to think about it too much”, she says. “But I think the risk, if you move from job to job [without a break] is that you start repeating yourself and you start to see little tics”. She smiles. “There’s a delicate balance between refreshing oneself and never working again!” The latter seems mighty unlikely, with the third batch of Last Tango and a full series of the Danny Boyle co-created police comedy-drama Babylon up next. Her primary interest remains new writing. “I love being the first person to play a part. I really get a big thrill out of it.” 

What would be her life maxim? “It’s tough in the middle”, she replies without hesitation. “That really makes me laugh. My Dad always jokes that if I ever write an autobiography, which I’m not going to, it’ll be called It’s Tough in the Middle.” As connoisseurs of theatre and television would agree, the middle is not Nicola Walker’s rightful position.

‘A View from the Bridge’ is at the Young Vic, London SE1 until 7 June (020-7922 2922, youngvic.org)

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?