‘Everyone should be given a chance’: The Big Interview with Vicky McClure
Talk to Vicky McClure for any length of time and you will soon become aware of a host of things.
That she is funny, down-to-earth, closely attached to her home city of Nottingham and her close-knit family who live there, particularly her older sister, Jenny, her fairly new nephews and her very new fiancé, actor and director, Jonny Owen (‘We’ve not named the date, but we’re not far off,’ she says).
That she is striking in the flesh, with piercing eyes, capable of conveying an androgynous otherness, femininity and most points inbetween.
That she speaks her mind and is never lost for a word.
And that she does not take her current success or indeed her career – dominated by outstanding performances in acclaimed dramas such as Line Of Duty, The Replacement and the This Is England trilogy – for granted. Not for one minute.
‘I think people have got this illusion about me,’ she explains over a mug of tea. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m at a stage where I feel very content.
‘But it’s not like the door is constantly being banged down. Nobody’s saying “Please come and work for us” and I like to admit that, for everybody out there who’s really f*cking trying and who thinks we’re all having the best time and it’s all working out perfectly, it isn’t. Just because you’re on Graham Norton doesn’t mean you’ve got nine jobs backed up.’
Even that chat show is seen more as a responsibility than a perk. ‘It’s a frightening prospect, to know you’re entertaining the masses and this is what their Friday night is about, because I’m that audience member too. I don’t want somebody sat there looking afraid. It’s not attractive.’
Did she enjoy it, though?
‘I had a great time,’ she laughs. ‘I was on with Rob Brydon, Brendan O’Carroll and Harry Styles, so it was a nice crowd, a best-case scenario.’ She pauses to take a sip of tea. ‘If I’d been on with Tom Cruise I think I might have shat myself.’
‘I was young and naïve and I thought I wanted all of that’
Vicky McClure, 34, grew up on an estate in Nottingham where the streets are named after the local ice-skating heroes – Torvill Drive and Dean Close.
She remembers watching a documentary with her mum about The Carpenters and became obsessed with both their music and the tragic demise of singer, Karen. She was determined to perform and, in particular to dance – she insists dancing remains her only form of exercise.
She auditioned unsuccessfully for the Royal Ballet (weak ankles) and successfully for the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London, but her parents couldn’t afford the fees so she stayed in Nottingham and ended up at the city’s Television Workshop.
By now her musical tastes ran to Missy Elliott and TLC and she enjoyed a typical 90s teenager existence until local director, Shane Meadows offered her a part in his breakthrough feature A Room For Romeo Brass. She was 15.
‘I thought that was it,’ she recalls. ‘I was going to be massive. I was young and naïve and I thought I wanted all of that. I got a good agent, I didn’t know where it was heading, but ultimately it was heading nowhere.’
‘I might come back, it might not work out”
Fast forward seven years, she’s working in a local property valuation office and Meadows returns to offer her the role of Lol in his skinhead drama, This Is England.
This time something does come from it – Madonna asks for her by name. No audition, no self-taping. Get on a plane and appear in the music icon’s directorial debut Filth And Wisdom. She still doesn’t give up the day job, even though the premieres and parties have started.
‘There was one screening, I can’t quite remember where,’ she smiles. ‘But we had to get there on Madonna’s private jet. So I went there and came back and the next day I was back at work with someone going, “Vicky, I just pressed to get a mocha and it gave me a cappuccino” and I was like, “Yeah, ok. I’ll sort that”.’
It took a third visit from Meadows four years later to kickstart the phase of her career in which she currently finds herself. He was planning to spin off a TV series from his earlier film, called This Is England 86, her character, Lol would be centre stage, playing out her relationship with her abusive father.
The series culminated in harrowing, unforgettable TV, winning her a Bafta and spawning two further series. It finally convinced her to give up the day job.
‘I left, but I did say “I might come back, it might not work out”,’ she admits.
‘I wish I had a f*cking cleavage!”
Like most actors, Vicky says she’s not bothered about fame, it just comes with the territory of being in this business. But in this case, you believe her.
‘I can’t help the fact that I love acting,’ she reasons, ‘but unfortunately that comes with that door where you have to open your world to a certain amount of people.’
In this context, I wonder what she makes of the Mail Online and the sex-pest lexicon it has developed for describing women. A recent red-carpet event she attended prompted the website to speak of her ‘stunning cleavage’.
‘I wish I had a f*cking cleavage!” she laughs. ‘I’ve got no tits! I must, I must, I must improve my bust! It’s horrible, it’s horrific. The Mail Online is trash – we all know that. I’d never speak to them out of choice, a bit like The Sun. I’ve got no control over what they write but I ain’t going to buy it and I’m not going to read it. It’s got f*ck all to do with my career.’
For the moment, though, she feels she largely exists below that particular radar. ‘I don’t see myself as an interesting story,’ she says. ‘I think I’ve only been papped once and I was buying a casserole pot from TK Maxx. The only time anybody cared what I was doing on my day off, I was buying a discount pot.’
‘Going all the way to LA to stand at a party by myself?’
The obvious question remains. What about Hollywood? Turns out she’s tried it. Got an agent, but it didn’t work out. In fact she’s never even set foot in LA. How many Bafta-winning actresses can you say that about?
‘After I won the Bafta, they offered for me to go to LA to go to a party,’ she recalls. ‘So I was “Oh my God, I’d love to. Who can I bring with me?” And they said “No, you can only come on your own.” So I said, “Well I’m not coming then.” Going all the way to LA to stand at a party by myself? It would be horrible.’
‘Equal pay, equal rights, equality. Because everybody should be given a chance’
One of the greatest ever British films, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, was shot in Nottingham (McClure’s grandad appeared in it as an extra, as he worked at the local Raleigh factory).
It features the line, used by the Arctic Monkeys for the title of their debut LP: ‘Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not’. There’s a bit of that about Vicky McClure. Not that she’s truculent or bolshie, but she’s certainly only going to do things on her own terms. But what would she fight for?
‘Equality and that goes right across the board,’ she says. ‘Equal pay, equal rights, equality. Because everybody should be given a chance. If you can’t afford something it doesn’t mean you haven’t got the same amount of talent or drive as the person who can.
‘I have got to a stage, a healthy stage’
‘Everyone’s got to have a chance because everyone’s f*cked in some way. If you look at the NHS, what do you do if you can’t afford private health care? Die? That’s where we are heading.’
She continues: ‘I have got to a stage, a healthy stage, that if acting finishes tomorrow, I’ll be all right. I’ve got an amazing family and I’ll just have to find a way of earning money elsewhere. For me it’s my fiancé, my family, my life that will continue for as long as time, not “when’s the next job?”
‘But I’ve had an amazing time and if that was my body of work and that was my career, then I’d look back on it and feel proud.’
Vicky McClure can currently be seen in the spy spoof Action Team on ITV2 on Mondays at 10pm.