Portrait: The face fits

Her striking features once made her consider cosmetic surgery. But after finding fame as Anna, the acerbic lawyer in the TV series `This Life', actress Daniela Nardini is finally starting to like how she looks

I really don't like thinking about what I look like. There's part of me that thinks, "Well, it's just vain." Since I've become an actress, since I've got older and got on, I've got vainer, and I don't like that. It's not my job just to look good, but it is a currency in the profession. I remember being really insulted when I was about 23 and somebody said to the director I was working with, "Daniela has got to grow into her face." At the time, I thought, "What on earth does he mean?" but I kind of know what he meant now. I'm not pretty. I've never had that girly, cute-baby quality and I think that can dictate the kind of parts you get.

It's a height thing too. I'm 5ft 9in, which isn't really tall, but a lot of actors tend to be quite short. There have been times when I've been up for jobs when I've thought "my height is going against me here", because the man they wanted me to play against was shorter. I personally prefer the man taller, but I can't really get cross about having to wear flat heels to look the same height. It's the conventional way of thinking, but my looks are not conventional.

It's a distinct Italian look, quite coarse-featured. I've got big teeth and a big nose - my brother jokes that I just look like a nose with legs, and sometimes I see myself on screen and think, "Oh my god, that is one hell of a bad angle." I always used to say I would get a nose job, but I remember when I was about 15 some friend of my aunt's saying, "No, no, you mustn't do that because your nose is you." I was quite vapid as a teenager. I was this tall, skinny thing in a vest and I absolutely wanted to look like Victoria Principal. Then I wanted to look like Farrah Fawcett in Charlie's Angels. But you always want the opposite of what you've got, don't you?

I've just been working on a film called Elephant Juice with Emanuelle Beart and she is this perfect, sculpted little thing. The way she smokes, the way she wears a scarf, it is all so chic, and there were times when I felt like a great cart horse gallumping along beside her. But in the film there is this bit where her boyfriend, a photographer, creates a composite image of our two faces and the minute we saw this composite Emanuelle and I both said, "Oh, I wish I looked like her!"

I think it's sad the way men can go on and on and their looks just improve and become "distinguished" while women are seen as "good for their age". I'm 32 and I think I look better now than I did when I was 20 because there's a bit more inside. If you had asked me a couple of years ago if would go for cosmetic surgery, I would probably have said yes. But I wouldn't really like someone else's face now, I've got used to this one. I would change my looks for the right part, though. I'm naturally thin with a working weight about a stone below my non-working weight, so it would be hard to say I'd put on two stone for a part. But I would shave my head and grow my moustache back.

I think I'm quite boyish-looking. When I'm in jeans and jumper with my hair scraped back I do get mistaken for a lad. I say "lad" because I hate being mistaken for a man. I'm not really into the whole glamour thing. I hate being heavily made-up, but at the back of my mind I always hear my mum saying, "Never trust a man who tells you look better without your make-up on."

Daniela Nardini appears in the fifth installment of the drama series `Love in the 21st Century', 18 Aug, 9pm, Channel 4. `Elephant Juice' is released later this year.

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