"I've always perceived myself as about 12 so to be 30 is really surreal," she says. "Other people perceive me as this mad person always jumping around and that was fine when I was younger but now I'm 30 I've got to stop doing that sort of thing."
I suggest gently that 30 is not the end of life but she is not convinced. "I don't do many British films. I look a bit common for period dramas and now I'm getting old to do hip and groovy stuff. So I don't know what I'm going to do."
What you can see her in this week is Different For Girls, written by Tony Marchant and directed by Richard Spence, the story of a dispatch rider who meets an old schoolfriend who has had a sex change. "Different For Girls is about a transsexual. I'm not in it that much but I play a real cow who works in the office with Miriam Margolyes and the two of us are just cows together."
She has just been seen on television in the warmly received sitcom by Simon Nye, How Do You Want Me?, in which she played a wife who persuades her husband to move to the country. "I seem to have played an awful lot of farm girls but I'm not at all country. I'm completely urban. I think it was nice if unusual casting in that respect."
When I talked to her she was half-asleep after night shoots for her current venture, Body Work, a film with Beth Winslet (sister of Kate) and Hans Mathieson. "It's my first hip part!" she said excitedly. "It's brilliant. I play a car thief and tattooist and I'm a cool person. I've never been a cool person before."
Her unconventional looks have brought her a wide variety of roles, from her days as a child star (she was Marmalade Atkins in Educating Marmalade) through her big success in the adaptation of Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit ("the director said it was the job of a lifetime but I was only 21 and I didn't understand how good it was") and Hugh Grant's flatmate in Four Weddings and a Funeral ("it was so successful I was quite embarrassed").
"I think I've been quite lucky," she said. "Even How Do You Want Me? might have sounded a boring part, playing a normal married woman, a normal sensible kind of person, but that was good. I've played such a lot of weird parts that it was nice to play someone normal. I'm very hard to place you see. I'm not conventionally pretty and I'm not conventionally ugly. I like not having the awful pressure, though, of having to be attractive - all that stuff like the director telling you to be sexy. Ugh!"
She says she was unaffected by her life as a child star. "But then I didn't know anything else. And also it wasn't that important to me - I didn't have any real ambition. I suppose I saw acting as a bit of an inconvenience in comparison to other people who got really screwed up.
"Like everyone else I'm always convinced that I'm never going to work again, I was so terrible in such and such. But I've been really lucky in that I've done good stuff and I can't afford to do bad stuff. It's easy to do well when you're in well-written parts with good people."
She is uncertain what she's going to do next: "People don't usually stretch the imagination when they cast and so you begin to feel past it. I've always played people younger than I am but now I've suddenly noticed that I'm not the youngest any more. I'm working with people younger than me.
"I'm still a bit bemused by life,which is ridiculous when you are 30, still to be so insecure, but I suppose I'll always have that, and people's expectations are higher."
She has considered turning to production rather than acting but feels she has to learn to settle down. "I've always hovered around. I've never put down any roots. I don't have any commitments, any ties, any mortgage. I'm not even sure if I've got a bank account. And when you're younger you think, 'That's great, I've got all this freedom - I can go anywhere'. But then you realise that it's not so great and you often end up doing nothing in particular. You keep hopping around while everyone else is settling down, having kids, buying a house. I'm getting a bit fed up with hopping around."
She hasn't completely quietened down, however: "Actually I do know what I want to do. I want to go to Barbados. It's the best place, it's fantastic. I'm very good at taking holidays."
ERSTWHILE founder of the Independent Stephen Glover has been recruited to the Daily Mail to write a political column. But Mail supremo Sir David English had one problem: Glover still writes his waspish media column for The Spectator, part of Conrad Black's Telegraph stable. Sir David felt it wasn't right that Glover should be writing for two newspaper groups. He suggested that Glover should write a similar column in the Mail's sister paper the London Evening Standard. As a result, the Standard's editor, Max Hastings, was instructed to offer Glover the column.
There is an interesting history behind this: Hastings has been one of Glover's favourite targets since Hastings summarily sacked him as the Standard's political columnist when he took over. (Before taking over formally, Hastings is supposed to have snarled: "I don't care how long [Glover] sits there, I'm not giving him anything to do!") Perhaps the principal virtue of Associated Newspapers' expensive purchase is that it will at least stop Glover writing nasty things about Hastings. He was in conciliatory mood yesterday: "It's a pleasant surprise. I'm prepared to let bygones be bygones."
Spot of bother for Damien
YOU KNOW the saying: never perform with children or animals. But several British artists took the plunge last week as they auctioned work they had done with their offspring for Save the Children at the Saatchi Gallery. In all it raised pounds 85,000. Amid the canapes and critics, several young Gormleys, Hirsts and Humes zoomed up and down. Jake Tilson explained that Hannah Sleeps, his 74-minute audio CD of his two-year-old daughter asleep meant that she had achieved success considerably earlier than most artists, having her own website since she was born and now a work at the Saatchi Gallery before her third birthday. "I thought it was a fantastic opportunity. It's a unique way of collaboration," he said. "It's interesting looking at the pieces how much collaboration there was."
Hannah was not present but other offspring were, with devastating honesty. Ten-year-old Joseph Hume, whose work Like Father Like Son with father Gary went for pounds 19,000, confided that he had "done it in about 10 minutes". Paloma Gormley, also 10, daughter of Turner Prize winner Antony, seemed unsure whether her work was the beginning of a glittering career. Asked if she wanted to be an artist, she screwed up her nose and said: "Well, maybe." Perhaps it was two-year-old Connor Hirst, son of enfant terrible Damien, who was most forceful. They had collaborated on a spot painting called Tixylix which sold for pounds 17,000. Dressed in a psychedelic shirt and cowboy hat, Connor sat on his father's shoulders, prepared to discuss world events. Damien proudly told of his son's efforts. "You like painting, don't you, Connor?" he asked. Connor thought about it. "No," he replied. "Yes you do, don't you, Connor?" said his father. Connor thought again. "No," he repeated. Out of the mouths of babes...
RAINBOW (PG), Bob Hoskins's eco-friendly children's picture, is about four kids and a dog finding the end of the rainbow. The Rainbow is D H Lawrence's tale of a young girl's spiritual and sexual awakening. Easy to tell apart, one would think. Unfortunately, not for the Connaught cinema in Worthing, where children on a school trip were treated to an eyeful of Lawrentian exuberance instead of Hoskins's schmaltz. A spokeswoman said the error had occurred because the film distributors had sent the wrong film and there had been no pre-screen test. "The beginning of the film is a family tea party with children in, so there was no reason to think it wasn't a children's film," she said. "However, as soon as the parents realised it wasn't, the film was switched off and everyone has had refunds."
Quite what made them realise it was the Lawrence version rather than Hoskins'sthey won't say.
Science plans very happy bunnies
YOU CAN always rely on the eccentric British inventor to come up with something bizarre. But a team at Sheffield University has gone further than most. They are trying to develop something which - not to put too fine a point on it - will let bunnies go at it like rabbits. It's true: the world's first contraceptive for rabbits is undergoing tests. "In the laboratory we are able to inhibit the fertility of rabbits with the vaccine. The challenge is to develop it that so that it can be used in the countryside and the wild," said Professor Harry Moore. Whatever next? Prozac for Eeyore? Assertiveness training for sheep? Ofgas offers a free information service for customers: telephone 0800 88 77 77.