Alison Steadman talks about age, her new series, husband and the glittering career she'd had in numerous movies and TV shows
Mouthy Joyce in Boomers, fun-loving, shot-swigging Pamela in Gavin and Stacey, farcical Mrs Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and of course the outrageous Beverley in Abigail’s Party… many of the characters Alison Steadman has played throughout her illustrious career have been larger than life.
Alison herself, however, is altogether more thoughtful and introspective than any of her alter egos. It’s clear as we talk to her on the set of Boomers that she’s happy to take stock.
“I’m 70 next birthday,” she says as she reveals her age. “Now how can that be? It just doesn’t seem possible. I’m not one of those people who say they feel like they’re still 16. I don’t. I’ve had too many life experiences to feel like a 16-year-old and I certainly don’t have the energy of one! I still love life, though, and count my blessings that, thank goodness, I still have my health, touch wood! I’ve lost many friends over the last few years and you never know when it’s going to be your turn. Nobody does. That’s the reality of life. But it’s the reason I make the most of every day and try to have fun.”
She’s been having lots of that, filming Boomers alongside co-stars Philip Jackson who plays Alison’s screen husband Alan, (her real-life husband is actor Michael Elwyn, best-known for his role as Sir Edward in the BBC seris Robin Hood) Russ Abbott and Stephanie Beacham who play John and Maureen, and James Smith and Paula Wilcox who play Trevor and Carol.
“We do laugh a lot,” Alison says. “In this series, it’s more about the couples doing stuff as a group, situations where we’re all together rather than just in our pairs, and there is a lot of potential for comedy. For instance, when the six decide to go camping. Joyce and Alan – we’re the hard-up couple – are crammed into this tiny tent, Carol and Trevor are in a small caravan, while the well-off John and Maureen are in the lap of luxury in a flash Winnebago! People seem to have really liked the first series. I’ve had lots of people coming up to me saying, ‘We love that Bloomers’ – they always call it ‘Bloomers’!”
The sitcom, which has been likened to classic TV show Friends for the baby-boomer generation, tends not to dwell on the aches and pains we all suffer as we get older but Alison reckons there’s a seam of comedy gold here, too.
“The first thing my real-life friends and I do when we get together is have a bit of a moan about our respective ailments,” she laughs. “We’ll then have a discussion about various new products and treatments one or another of us will have just ‘discovered’. One of my friends in particular is always up to date with the latest fads. They’re mind-boggling, though, aren’t they? Fads. For years you’re told not to eat butter but low-fat spreads then suddenly butter’s fine again and it’s the spreads we shouldn’t have. One year, you should drink milk, then you shouldn’t. When I was younger it was all ‘Go to work on an egg’, then we were told we should limit the amount we eat and now it’s supposed to be good to have lots of eggs again… Yes, there’s lots of comedy value here.”
There probably is with smart phone and tablet technology, too. “You’re right,” Alison agrees. “I know my phone does much more than I do with it but I can’t be bothered to sit down and work it all out. Occasionally I’ll press something by accident and discover a new function, and that’s quite fun. I’m able to do enough for me, though. I text, e-mail, do emojis, and take and send photos… and I have to say I love my phone. Now I wonder what I ever did without it, although we all managed, didn’t we?
“I think smart phones and iPads are quite amazing, although I’m definitely not one for taking selfies. When my partner Michael was working in New York for six months last year, we spoke to each other on FaceTime all the time, and he was able to show me around the apartment he was renting, even though I was thousands of miles away. When I was younger, people didn’t even phone each other that often because it was too expensive.”
Alison would love to make a third series of Boomers but it’s not something she likes to dwell on. “You take it as it comes,” she says. “These days, there’s no guarantee a series will be recommissioned. I’ve done shows in the past where you’re sure there’ll be another series but there hasn’t been. I really hope we get to continue with Boomers, though. It’s so nice that shows are being made that say something about, and are relevant to, our age group. It used to be said that an actress’s career was over at 40 because everything was written for 25-35 year-olds but happily that’s not the case any more. It’s all changed, thank goodness.” We’ll second that!
- The new series of Boomers is on BBC1 on Fridays
Did you know...?
- Alison won the 1991 National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress for the Mike Leigh film Life is Sweet and the 1993 Olivier Award for Best Actress for her role as Mari in the original production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
- In a 2007 Channel 4 poll, the "50 Greatest Actors" voted for by other actors, she was ranked No. 42
- She was was born in Liverpool, the youngest of three sisters born to Marjorie (née Evans) and George Percival Steadman
- Her current partner is Michael Elwyn and the couple live in Highgate, London
- Alison and other celebrities, including Tom Hiddleston, Jo Brand, E. L. James and Rachel Riley, designed and signed cards for the UK-based charity Thomas Coram Foundation for Children. The campaign was launched by crafting company Stampin’ Up! UK and the cards were auctioned off on eBay during May 2014