Kate Moss Texas Pool Party Turkish Election George Osborne Greece Michael Gove
Katherine Parkinson interview: Sherlock actress on likeability and being \'intimidated\' by America
The Bafta winner stars in Channel 4\'s new drama Humans
Gerard Gilbert is a television writer and feature writer for The Independent.
Note: We do not store your email address(es) but your IP address will be logged to prevent abuse of this feature. Please read our Legal Terms & Policies
When a 27-year-old Katherine Parkinson, two years out of drama school and heavily in student debt, was offered the part of Jen Barber in
, creator and chief writer Graham Linehan told her that Jen – the sweetly ineffectual office manager in the Channel 4 sitcom – should be “likeable”.
“Likeable isn’t something you can actually play, so I struggled with that,” she says. “I know what he wanted now – he wanted her to be the more normal person people could relate to.”
But if Linehan thought he was employing a straight woman for her co-stars Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade, he couldn’t have been more mistaken, and Parkinson’s shoulder-padded klutz generated an equal share of laughter from the live-studio audience, winning her a British Comedy Award in 2009 and (last year) a Bafta.
But then, perhaps Parkinson, now 37, didn’t have to try too hard to be likeable. Clearly intelligent (she has a classics degree from Oxford) but warm and self-deprecating with it, she has just returned from a family holiday in Cornwall when we meet, the first break she’s been able to take with her six-month-old daughter Gwen, who was born just five weeks before her mother started filming the new Channel 4 drama
Katherine Parkinson photographed at Quo Vadis, Soho (Pal Hansen)
, the series imagines a parallel present where the latest must-have gadgets are hyper-realistic consumer-level robot servants known as “synths”, which take care of the cleaning, cooking and childcare; the show follows the effect on one typically time-poor middle-class modern family when they decide to buy a “female” synth called Anita. This android can not only knock up delicious suppers and read goodnight stories to the kids but is also a bit of a stunner (she’s played by former fashion model Gemma Chan) – a fact not lost on the teenage son.
Parkinson plays the mother, Laura, a bread-winning lawyer, who is understandably the most resistant to having this pliant synthetic hotty around the house – or, as the actress puts it: “A cuckoo-in-the-nest situation.
“Like Laura, I would be inclined to resist and resist and, inevitably, like with an iPad, I’d end up getting one,” she says. “I think Laura quickly realises she hasn’t got a leg to stand on with Joe [her husband] because she is absent with her work and can’t say, ‘We don’t need one.’”
With two infant daughters, Gwen and Dora, two, and with both Parkinson and her husband Harry Peacock in-demand actors, it sounds as though they could do with an Anita in their own lives. “I did think that when we were filming, because she is able to be a kind of synthetically affectionate presence with the children.” But would she buy one that looked like Gemma Chan? “If I did get one, I’d go for one that looked like Dame Edna Everage.” It’s a scary thought. As it is, Parkinson and Peacock have reluctantly hired a part-time (flesh-and-blood) nanny at home in Blackheath, south-east London; some of the rest of the childcare comes courtesy of her (now retired) parents. Her father is the Northern Irish historian Alan Parkinson. “I proof-read one of his books, about Chaplin [
], but he’s also written about Ulster loyalism. Whatever he writes about, he gets it round to Northern Ireland.”
Growing up with her two brothers (now a sports journalist and a civil servant) in the south-west London suburb of Tolworth, Parkinson can’t recall any early yearnings to be an actor. “I grew up thinking I was going to fly to the Moon or be a diplomat and other ridiculous ambitions,” she says.
She did, though, get to play Puck at her grammar school, and remembers thinking how “extremely comfortable” she felt on stage. “And I just had this absolute determination to go to Oxford,” she says. “I’m no intellectual – I don’t seem to have that lust for knowledge that the best Oxford students have – I just wanted to go to Oxford because I knew you could act there.”
Parkinson studied classics at St Hilda’s, but spent more of her time in the Oxford Revue, along with Jack Williams, who went on to write last year’s hit BBC1 mystery drama
, and Peter Harness, whose adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s
will compete with Humans for Sunday-night viewers. “I feel sort of proud to see them all doing now what they loved doing then,” she says.
Having crammed enough ancient Greek and Latin to pass her finals, Parkinson applied to just one drama school, Lamda, because its relatively short, two-year course meant she wouldn’t be “too ancient” when she graduated. In the event, having been cast in a play –
at the Donmar – she was invited to leave after four terms, having made friends with her future IT Crowd co-star Chris O’Dowd, and her BFF, the comedian Katy Brand.
Read more: TV Baftas 2014: Winners\' list in full
Katherine Parkinson wants a musical film for the IT Crowd
Parkinson spent three series playing Martin Clunes’s receptionist in
and says she is recognised far more often for that than for
– which isn’t entirely surprising, given the ITV show’s devoted audience. “Also, I think it’s my hair, because I’m a curly top in real life,” she says, referring to the fact that Jen in
has straight hair, while Pauline’s barnet in Doc Martin is of the less ruly persuasion. “I look like Ronald McDonald when I’ve been sleeping.”
co-star Richard Ayoade seems surprisingly spiky now that he has emerged from the socially inept character of Maurice Moss and gone on to enliven panel shows with his sardonic humour – but Parkinson is having none of it: “He’s actually very soft as a man, so I would say that’s more of a persona.”
, Parkinson doesn’t do much in the way of comedy panel shows. “I say no to them generally just because I think, as an actress, you don’t want to be a personality. And as for
, I don’t want to be exposed as somebody who knows very little about politics.”
In fact, Parkinson doesn’t think of herself primarily as a comic actress – even if that is how she is perceived thanks to
and her decidedly un-comic turn as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sister-in-law in
, not to mention playing Chekhov at the Royal Court alongside Kristin Scott Thomas.
Parkinson with Gemma Chan in \'Humans\' (Kudos/Channel 4)
As for her future, she says she has no interest in breaking America. “I had an opportunity to go to LA when I was about five weeks’ pregnant [with Dora] and I was delighted to have an excuse not to go,” she says. “I’m a bit wary of it… it’s childish of me, but I just find it all a bit intimidating. But I am going to America to do publicity for
[which is co-produced with AMC, which made
] and will probably bite the bullet at some point. I’m sure the money is life-changing, but tastewise I don’t think I’m quite motivated enough; I admire a show such as Friends without wanting to be in it. I aspire to something more like
,” she says, referring to the Carla Lane sitcom starring Wendy Craig as a dissatisfied suburban housewife that ran on BBC2 between 1978 and 1982.
As it happens, her latest project is set in that very 1970s suburbia.
is a multi-generational BBC1 drama based on the writer Emma Kennedy’s
, her memoir of growing up in the aspirational New Town of Stevenage. Parkinson plays the mother of the 10-year-old protagonist, while her real-life husband plays a lecherous, alpha-male neighbour. “He has to perv over my character, which is quite peculiar.”
The couple met in 2003 while workshopping Mikhail Bulgakov’s
at the National Theatre Studio. “It was for an old university friend, Nina Raine [poet Craig Raine’s theatre-director daughter]. I was going out with somebody she thought I shouldn’t be going out with, so she thought it might take my mind off him.”
Not that the course of their romance was entirely smooth. “Harry texted, ‘Do you want to go to the cinema tomorrow?’ but he put too many m’s in ‘tomorrow’, and I thought I could never go out with somebody who put too many m’s. But, then, I did…” she says, with the sort of coda that, I realise, is trademark Parkinson.
‘Humans’ airs on Channel 4 from Sunday 14 June
Stephen Mangan is tremendous but Birthday feels a tiny bit flimsy
Review: Frequently hilarious, but overall it\'s something of a one-trick pony
Helen Mirren and Richard McCabe win Tony Awards
FKA twigs and Patti Smith rock Field Day 2015
The 1975 leave social-media prompting break up fears
The Great Composers: fourteen of the giants of Western classical music
Bruce Robinson: I'm going after Jack the Ripper
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer\'s identity
Porridge at the palace: Sitcom writers return to TV with a frustrated, Charles-like monarch
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
They\'re knitted, pink, long-snouted mice-like aliens, who enjoy a diet of blue-string pudding and soup made by the Soup Dragon. For some reason, this set-up captured the hearts and minds of young viewers. The Clangers communicate through whistling, although there was a real script, in English, which was turned into Clanglish. Despite this, Auntie once objected to a script which read /Oh sod it!\' No swearing at the BBC please – not even if whistled.
So who will be narrating The Clangers as it returns to British TV next month?
San Andreas is a disaster flick with clear fault lines
Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke turned down 50 Shades because of nudity
ASAP Rocky faces backlash after misogynistic lyrics about Rita Ora
David Duchovny 'started crying' when reading new X-Files script
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
Scottish Book Trust: Ask the Illustrator with Debi Gliori
Second Storey & Appleblim present ALSO
Mers outbreak: Don't drink potentially fatal camel urine, WHO warns
Stop the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China: Animal welfare campaigners restart petition amid distrust over government 'ban'
US prisoner to be released from jail after 43 years of 'torture' in solitary confinement
Journalist set on fire in India after Facebook post making allegations against local politician
Richard Branson grants new fathers at Virgin up to 12 months' paternity leave on full pay
Game of Thrones season 5: Showrunners confirm last episode's tragedy is future book spoiler, claim George RR Martin told them character dies
Inception ending: Christopher Nolan finally discusses the meaning behind that spinning top
Game of Thrones Shireen death: Showrunners explain why Stannis Baratheon had to sacrifice his daughter in season 5 episode 9
Top Gear return: James May and Richard Hammond expected to turn down multi-million BBC offer and join Jeremy Clarkson on Netflix
Game of Thrones: 10 most shocking moments from blood and beheadings to rape and incest
Patrick Stewart backs bakery after 'gay cake' court battle
Migrant crisis: HMS Bulwark sailing at top speed to rescue thousands of migrants near Libya
Portugal decriminalised drugs 14 years ago – and now hardly anyone dies from overdosing
Mediterranean migrant crisis: Millions of pounds of UK aid funding could be diverted to stop flow of people from Libya
4 things we know about the secretive Bilderberg Group and 1 thing we'll never know
Harriet Harman interview: Even Labour supporters were glad we didn't win the election, says interim leader
Storytelling is an integral part of Omani life and TV presenter
London Restaurant Awards: vote for the chance to win meal for two
Six restaurants are shortlisted for the award of Best New London Restaurant 2015 - help us select the winner!
From trinkets to treats, awaken your senses on Santander Cycles and cycle through a handful of London’s best Saturday markets. Learn more...
Win a First Great Western Rail Pass for a year
First Great Western are giving you the chance to explore some of England’s most picturesque landscapes with a year long rail pass. Enter now...
We show you how to follow in the footsteps of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Beyonce with the Seventies revival.
Academic research into digital games and learning content shows that the two can happily co-exist, to the benefit of students of all ages.
David Carter ditched a fine dining career to follow his passion – BBQ. He’s done it in style with street feast concept Smokestak. Read more...
What did you have planned tonight again? These are the 20 best films currently available to stream on Netflix (UK). You\'re welcome.
Win a 3 night trip to Istanbul thanks to Hilton Garden Inn
The multi-million pound industry that beat the recession
Be a part of the sexual revolution and help fund the next generation adult toy that has got people talking. Read more...
Find the best guesthouse for you; whether romantic honeymoon or family getaway, read our guide to Tobago\'s guesthouses.
Major sporting events naturally make a big impression on the lives – and pulse-rates – of fans.
Why Tikrit still remains a ghost town two months after it was liberated from Isis
Scientists extract blood cells from 75-million-year-old dinosaur fossil
The Apple revolution isn't merely about beautiful products
There are a host of services that don't function as well as they might. This is where we need developers' energy, says Hamish McRae
Patrick Marber has emerged from a midlife crisis with a new play about football
Once a broadcasting bigshot, Chris Evans is aiming for the top again
Family feud sees Wagner's great-granddaughter banned from classical festival... by her own sister
A cache of old accident-prevention posters is a caution to today’s advertising men
Whether he's a keen cyclist, whisky enthusiast, record collector, or barbecue geek, up your gifting game with our Dad-friendly guide
Rising numbers indicate a renaissance with an updated and classier holiday experience
Best actor winner was rejected by the UK's 'good drama schools'
Alex Sharp wins Tony for Curious Incident play
Music service stands out amid launch of Mac OS, iOS and watchOS updates
12 Years a Slave director to have artwork displayed in the UK for the first time