Interview: Helen Baxendale: A good time to be a bad girl

TV channels fight over her, men gawp at her, women want to be her: meet the feminist icon with the 'phwoar' factor

A Louche wide boy reverses his sporty convertible carelessly into the path of a Mini driven by a woman. She storms out of the car to inspect the damage and rants at him: "You're a man with shit for brains. Tell me, were you starved of oxygen at birth?"

You can imagine the whoops of delight from front-room audiences at this classic scene of female revenge from Cold Feet, a new comedy drama to be screened on ITV next month. The woman doing the shouting is Helen Baxendale, a young actress who in three years has cornered the market in feisty female roles.

Baxendale herself reckons that she is landing plum parts because: "I suit high passions, and I can play women who have undercurrents going on. I look stern because I've got high cheekbones and a pointy nose, and a lot of my characters have been quite stubborn. Perhaps that comes from me - my mother would certainly call me a 'stubborn, stong-willed girl'. Must be coming from Yorkshire."

Baxendale is rapidly being cast as the toughest thing to come out of that county since Geoff Boycott. Since her first appearance on our screens in 1994 as the hard-nut Doctor Claire Maitland in Cardiac Arrest, Baxendale has chewed up and spat out a string of strong-woman parts: the tough-cookie lawyer in the BBC film, Truth or Dare; the scheming mistress in the BBC's political satire, Crossing the Floor; and an uncompromising Army officer examining allegations of lesbianism in forthcoming C4 drama, The Investigator. She's even gone 15 rounds with the hardest nut of them all, Lady Macbeth, in a recent film of the play.

Her entry in Spotlight might as well read "Dial M for Maneater", but Baxendale's not complaining: "If you're going to be pigeon-holed as anything as a woman," she observes, "it's good to be pigeon-holed as someone with an acid tongue who gets things done. I'd rather play parts like that than victims or people who show women to be lacking in self-esteem.

"People latch on to characters who are rude or naughty or bad," Baxendale argues. "Look at JR in Dallas or Angie in EastEnders. They're the best parts, the parts people want to be like."

She has become something of a feminist icon, but it is "mainly men I get letters from. Perhaps men write more letters," she adds with a mischievous smile.

Face to face, Baxendale is no ball-breaker, but people still have a habit of confusing the actress with the character. "People see the characters I play and don't take into account that I might have been acting a bit," says Baxendale. "A few times, I have met someone for the first time, and later they admit they were relieved that I didn't tell them they were idiots and had small penises."

Hunched over a cup of tea in the canteen at a TV studio on London's South Bank, she is sweetness personified, smiling bashfully if asked to assess herself. She plays down her new-found fame with plausible modesty. "I'm not in a position to spout off about politics and be Helen Mirren - 'yes, I believe whales should be saved'," she jokes. "I forget I'm on the cover of a magazine until I walk past a newspaper-stand and go, 'ooh, that's me'. I've got invited to a few more parties recently, but my social life hasn't improved because I don't always go. I get scared. I guess I'm not the new Christopher Biggins."

Sitting in the canteen she turns no heads - but only because she is half-buried in a rough black woolly jumper, loose grey trousers and the kind of baggy, fur-trimmed, hooded anorak Oasis have made trendy. She dresses down determinedly, and yet the "phwoar factor" has undoubtedly played a part in her rise and rise. Andy Harries, the executive producer of Cold Feet, tries to pinpoint her appeal: "She made Cardiac Arrest incredibly compelling. I used to hate it when the camera panned away from her - no disrespect to the other actors. You can't quite take your eyes off her. She's very beautiful, but she has a serene quality that I was fascinated by. I was obsessed by her - and I don't say that in an unhealthy way, I'm a terribly correct chap," he laughs. "She's sexy without being overt. She's mysterious, which is more alluring."

The London Evening Standard goes further, dubbing her "TV's most desirable actress", while the People got in a right old lather about a brief topless scene - "Doc Helen's revealing new role!" - in Truth or Dare. Even a female acquaintance of mine described her as "totty". The salivating attention of the tabloids is something Baxendale will have to learn to live with. "It goes with the job," she sighs. "It was the only thing about Truth or Dare that was picked up by the tabloids. What's the point if all they say is, 'look at her tits'? How anyone can be that interested I find hard to believe."

Baxendale goes on to dismiss the hullaballoo with a shrug. "Today's news is tomorrow's fish and chip paper. I'm amazed at how the publicity machine works and how an image is created. It's a relief to know that icons are made by the media and that they're normal people in reality. I did some photos for GQ. They looked lovely, but they didn't look like me.

"I'm quite happy to be called desirable - wouldn't you be?," she continues. At 26, she remains admirably mature about her hot-property status - Harries reckons movie stardom is only a phone-call away. "I'm very pleased," she admits, "but easy-going about it. I want projects I'm doing to be good. Being in successful things is addictive. Of course I think, 'I hope this doesn't end.' But if it does, I won't die. There are other things in life."

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum