‘I can’t make anything edible’: Katherine Parkinson photographed by Suki Dhanda for the Observer New Review.
Last modified on Wednesday 23 September 2015 05.03 EDT
atherine Parkinson is an actor who works across comedy and drama, on stage, film and TV. A stalwart of
but I wouldn’t say I’m a student of sitcoms in the way that many people who work in comedy are. Some people have an extraordinary knowledge, almost geeky. But I’ve never been geeky about anything. It’s not in my nature. That said, growing up, sitcoms were what we watched together as a family:
doesn’t have a laughter track on it. Where do you stand on the laughter track?
Graham Linehan said he always wanted to work with a laughter track. He’s since done a sitcom where he didn’t have one and that was brilliant, so I wonder if he’s changed his mind. I think it depends on the comedy. When it’s quite gaggy and broad it feels really peculiar not to have a laughter track. I’m glad we don’t have one on
because we have so so much wonderful music. I find it irritating as a viewer when producers get anxious and want laughter after every joke.
. How do you think you would have fitted into the 1970s?
first piqued my interest in acting. I couldn’t believe how funny it was. I grew up myself in suburban hell, so it really struck a chord. I think the first episode does make you think of
because it’s a dinner party and I’m in a sort of Beverly dress. But I’m happy to feel moments of Beverly. I did even think of doing a sibilance, which sits quite naturally with me. I think that might have been too much. But I love the 70s clothes. The food not so much.
You read classics at Oxford. Who’s your favourite classical character?
TV mag doesn’t ask you that. I think probably Dido, although my favourite writer was Euripides. I’m so delighted there’s this resurgence of classical theatre suddenly. My God, there’s good parts for women, seeing Kristin Scott Thomas and Helen McCrory doing these fantastic productions. With British classical theatre you think there are the parts but then you look at Gertrude and realise she hasn’t got anything to say.
I played Puck in the school play and felt extremely comfortable and happy on stage. I think I felt quite noticed
When were you first bitten by the acting bug? You hear some actors say that they wanted to act from the age of four. I find the specificity of that so strange because I can’t remember anything when I was four. Whereas I played Puck in the school play when I was 13 and remember feeling extremely comfortable and happy on stage and I also remember my dad being really chuffed. I think I felt quite noticed.
So going to Oxford, did you already know that you wanted to be an actor?
I think I had a desire to act but didn’t think it could be possible in a family of teachers and people who worked in shipyards. I used to read about people like Thandie Newton and Rachel Weisz in the Sunday papers and think, Oh, they went to Oxford and they acted from there, so maybe my parents would let me – because they were all about education. And that became a legitimate route. I thought if I got to Oxford those frivolous things wouldn’t be frowned upon by my parents. I’m afraid it wasn’t any profound intellectual need.
You’re quite a protean actor who changes her appearances a lot. Do you ever fear that without a more fixed identity people will think “who’s that?”
It can backfire sometimes. I went through this phase when I was younger wanting to look really different in every part. I remember I played Marion in
, the frumpy daughter of Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth, and I went to the premiere. Nobody knew that I’d been in it and I thought, Oh what’s the point of it! And an actor said to me, don’t work too hard at that, because they want you to be a thing. So then I thought it’s more about genre, that’s how I can interest myself. For instance I finished
the next and the difference between those two shows was so profound. So the superficial things, like appearance are not so important.
I think probably at the moment, because I’ve got two small children, I do a lot of stuff with clay. And I’m not very talented artistically but I love doing it anyway. So I make pots that people assume my children have made. My other favourite thing to do is go running but I’m finding it hard to get out at the moment.
This won’t show me in a good light but it will show I’m like the character I play in
: I’ve never successfully boiled an egg. I think I have an undiagnosed syndrome which is that I can make a mess in the kitchen but I can’t make anything edible.
To see Helen McCrory in Medea and then on TV in Peaky Blinders, that’s what excites me
Is there an actor whose career you particularly admire? There’s a few. People like Lesley Sharp, Lesley Manville. Anyone called Lesley. Anna Chancellor and Imelda Staunton obviously. The thing I admire about all those actresses is the way that they do lots of theatre. So to see Helen McCrory in
and managing the rigorous demands of different media as well as different characters, that’s what excites me. I feel inspired by those sorts of actresses more than Meryl Streep.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently. There’s a great feeling of control in comedy. And I think it’s really instinctive as well, so you don’t have to do any homework. Whereas I think with drama everyone has an emotional truth and it’s about accessing it. Some actors can access it more easily but you have to put the work in. You can’t do a play about someone with depression, for example, without thinking that through. It’s not to say comedy is easier – I think the talent is rarer – but I find it easier. For me the most satisfying thing is to do both in the same play or programme, which is frustratingly rare. That’s what I’m always on the hunt for. And that’s why I love
The Kennedys starts on Friday 2 October, BBC1 at 9.30pm
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