Words: Alison James Pic: REX
It’s a grey, mid-March morning when we meet Brenda Blethyn to chat about, among other things, the fifth series of ITV’s popular crime drama Vera, starting on Easter Sunday. But Brenda is like a breath of fresh spring air – and not just because she’s wearing a wonderfully vibrant coloured jacket. She’s funny, friendly, self-deprecating, refreshingly down-to-earth and honest about herself.
“I used to be such a scaredy-cat when I first started acting,” she recalls. “I’d think about how certain scenes should be played but I’d never dare say anything because I didn’t think my opinion was worth listening to. I remember on one occasion spending ages plucking up the courage to voice my thoughts on how the play I was appearing in should be staged, but when I eventually dared to say something the director announced sarcastically, ‘Oh, she speaks!’. He ended up doing what I’d suggested but never acknowledged it was my idea. I’m not like that any more, thank goodness. These days I say what’s on my mind but I do wish I’d been more confident early on.”
She breaks off and smiles. “But what’s the point in thinking like that and dwelling on stuff? What do regrets achieve? Absolutely nothing, so there’s not much point in having them, is there?”
Brenda (69) speaks a lot of sense. “I don’t like a lot of fuss,” she continues. “I’m very happy, for example, to live in a rented flat in Northumbria when we’re shooting Vera, rather than staying in a hotel. I like being able to make a boiled egg when I want to and prefer doing my own washing. I always have done. A few years back I was promoting something in Los Angeles and was staying at the Four Seasons Hotel. I sent a T-shirt to be washed and it came back gift-wrapped! It also cost $15. The film company was paying but I wasn’t having that – more than £10 to wash and dry one T-shirt! Madness!
“The next time I needed some washing doing, I decided to go to a launderette. I tracked one down but the only available hotel car was a stretch limo. It couldn’t get down the street where the launderette was and we had to do all these embarrassing three-point turns. It was worth it in the end, though. I got everything ‘washed, fluffed and folded’ for $10! Vera would have approved.”
Speaking of Vera, what’s new for DCI Stanhope this series? “Well, her DS, Joe Ashworth, has moved on so Vera’s got a new Detective Sergeant,” Brenda reveals. “He’s called Aiden Healy and is played by a lovely actor called Kenny Doughty. The relationship she has with DS Healy is completely different to the one she had with Joe for all those years. While Joe would look after Vera and make sure she remembered to eat and take her tablets, Aiden can’t seem to help but rub her up the wrong way. He thinks he’s funny – but he’s not.”
Each episode of Vera takes approximately four weeks to film. “There are four episodes in a series and when you factor in the few days off we have between each episode, it’s a five-month shoot in total,” Brenda explains. “It’s hard work and some days I’m on set for 12 hours, but I love it. After the last series, I was umming-and-ahhing about doing another one but my husband, Michael, said, ‘Of course you will. You love it when you’re up there. It’s all you think about and you forget about me!’ ”
“Of course I don’t forget about him but doing Vera is very full-on. Michael comes up sometimes but it’s not like I’m free so we can spend lots of time together. He says ‘I sit around all day, then you come back tired after a full day’s filming and go straight to bed!’ He’s right – that’s just the way it is! It’s fine though. We get on very well. Michael makes me laugh like nobody else does and I think he likes me for my honesty and my kindness.”
'My husband makes me laugh like nobody else'
When she’s not working, Brenda likes to relax by doing puzzles. “I’ve loved solving puzzles since I was a kid. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a TV or a wireless when we were little, so Dad would set us loads of puzzles. I grew up with nine siblings and we’d compete with each other. We still do. My brothers, sister and I challenge each other with The Times crossword on a daily basis. We’re online members, so we can see how each other is doing. I email one particular brother and we ‘Ner-ner-ner-ner-ner’ each other all the time!
“I also like watching quizzes on TV, but not that new one, 1000 Heartbeats. The way the contestants’ heartbeats are set to music makes me feel like my heart is beating too fast – and I like to relax when I’m watching TV.”
In early May, Brenda heads north again to start filming series six of Vera. “I believe there’ll be a seventh series, too,” she smiles. “It’s nice there’s such a demand for the show – it’s popular all over the world. The French and Spanish versions are dubbed and I was staggered when I saw them – Vera sounded just like me but speaking French and Spanish! I half believed I’d done them myself!”
- Vera is on Sundays on ITV1.
Psst… Brenda shares a secret
She’s a DIY plumber! “Some years ago, I needed my bathroom refitting so I did it myself – the plumbing and everything. I read how to do it, used my common sense and just had a go. I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty but I don’t know if I’d be able to do it now...”
There's more star chat in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday