Sitting opposite Siobhan Finneran at ITV HQ on London’s Southbank it’s easy to see why, even at the height of Downton mania, she was rarely recognised as her character, O’Brien. She’s much smilier than the sour-faced, machiavellian lady’s maid – and then there’s the hair. Siobhan’s is a stylishly tousled blonde whereas O’Brien’s locks were dark brown and pulled back in a bun.
“I wasn’t fond of wearing O’Brien’s hairpieces,” she says, “Especially that curly one on the forehead!”
But while Siobhan disliked O’Brien’s wigs, she’d very much like to star in the eagerly anticipated Downton Abbey film – if it ever happens.
“I’d definitely be up for it but I honestly know nothing about it although everyone keeps talking about it. I enjoyed playing Sarah O’Brien. Yes she could be cruel and scheming but a lot of the time she felt she was acting in the interests of the house and for the good of the staff. I loved her because she was clever and witty, and not backwards at coming forwards – I admire that quality in real life, too.”
Siobhan is playing another no-nonsense character in The Loch – DCI Lauren Quigley.
“She is a very smart woman, a very good copper, rather a tough cookie and there’s certainly no messing with her,” Siobhan explains. “An ambitious Mancunian based in Glasgow, Lauren arrives in the picturesque, loch-side village of Lochnafoy in Scotland where a body has been found. She finds it all a bit inconvenient and thinks the case will be solved within a matter of hours – but it’s not.” Anything but...
More murders follow and practically everyone in the seemingly close-knit community is under suspicion. Tensions between the brought-in ‘city’ cops and the resident county force add to the conflict. Juxtaposed with this is the glorious location – Scotland’s lochs and mountains have never looked more beautiful.
“For the exterior scenes, we filmed on the banks of Loch Ness, Loch Lomond and also Glencoe,” says Siobhan. “I’d never really been up there before and thought it totally stunning – although it rained a lot. Most of the interiors were filmed in a studio near Glasgow and I fell in love with the place.
"I found Glasgow a really fabulous, friendly city to be in. The architecture is gorgeous, there are great museums and restaurants, the people are lovely and there’s a really vibrant feel. Glasgow reminded me of Manchester in many ways and I felt at home there.
"I also have many friends in the city – make-up ladies and crew members I’ve worked with over the years. When I worked on Benidorm we had a massive Scottish contingency on our crew, and many have become good friends. I had lovely lunch dates and things like that with people up there.”
Lauren Quigley makes no secret of the fact that she’s very much a city girl. How about Siobhan? “I live in the countryside, in a village on the moors between Leeds and Manchester, so I suppose you would say I am more of a country girl these days,” she replies.
“But I am within easy travelling distance of both cities. I wouldn’t like it if I wasn’t. I need to be close to indulge my passion – clothes shopping! I love living in a village with the countryside on my doorstep but certainly wouldn’t like to be in the middle of nowhere. Apart from anything else, having two teenage children means I need to live where there’s a bus service so I don’t spend all my time driving them around!”
Siobhan (51) wouldn’t like to be a police officer in real life, either. ”I couldn’t do it,” she says. “I don’t know how they manage – all that stuff they have to carry around in their heads; the upset, stress and tragedy. I know it’s not like that all the time but it is for a lot of it. I’m not particularly squeamish but I know I’d be rubbish!”
Siobhan, who was recently nominated for a BAFTA for playing Clare Cartwright in award-winning BBC drama Happy Valley, isn’t sure what’s next for her career-wise but she’d love to do a voiceover for a Disney or Pixar film.
“Yes really,” she smiles. “I think once you’ve done that, you don’t need to do anything else! Financially you’d really be doing all right. Not that money is everything at all but it is an ambition of mine to travel the world, which means lots of airfares to pay for. I’ve seen very little of it and long to see quite a lot – Mexico, Cuba, don’t start me on my wishlist of destinations or we’ll be here forever!”
But not before making the Downton movie, please... Here’s hoping that it does happen!
- The Loch is on Sundays, 9pm, ITV
- Interview and words by Alison James