Angela Griffin is one of those actresses who has really only been off our screens for one year (2013) since her TV debut in 1992. What’s more, her face is synonymous with some of the nation’s best loved TV: Tina in Emmerdale (1992); Fiona Middleton in Coronation Street (1993-98): Jasmine Hopkins in Holby City (1999-2001): Marina Coleman in Waking The Dead (2001); Chantelle in Babyfather (2001-02): Darcey Henshall in Cutting It (2002-05); Frankie Brewer in Down To Earth (2003-04): the voice of Amy the Vet in Postman Pat (2006): Kim Campbell for 4/5 series of Waterloo Road (2006-07, 2009-10): Georgina Althorp in Hustle (2011): Shelley in Mount Pleasant (2011-12); Lizzie Maddox in Lewis (2014-15). In 2013, she was at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket as Dolly in One Man, Two Guvnors.
This Monday, she is back on ITV in the brand new Brief Encounters, a 6-part period drama set in 80’s Sheffield. The stories centre on four women who re-discover self-worth, ambition, friendship and love through taking a chance on the old concept of living room party plan sales pioneered by Tupperware and Avon and applying it to the new, untested market of sexy lingerie and sex toys.
We were given the unmissable opportunity of interviewing Griffin, just one of the critically acclaimed cast…
You’re playing this fantastic character, Nita. How did the role come to you?
I got sent these brilliant scripts, read them, and instantly wanted to be in it. Because it was about these women all gaining independence through taking control of their own lives. Which I just think [the more] of these stories that we can get on TV as possible, the better. Nita for me, is one of the very few characters that I finished filming and I miss her, I miss being her. I miss her strength and I miss her humour. I love who she is. She’s this lioness, this loyal, family-orientated, good mother. A good wife. Various things happen that challenge her, and she probably makes a few decisions that she shouldn’t, but it all comes from a really good place. I really enjoyed being her!
I was reading the press pack and, I have to admit that my heart sank a little bit when I saw the word ‘feisty’. But, having seen that pilot episode, actually, Nita is the well from which the other women – Steph (Sophie Rundle), Pauline (Dame Penelope Wilton) and Dawn (Sharon Rooney) draw strength; she’s the driving force propelling them into their future. It felt natural and really authentic, so thank you for that.
In the post-screening Q&A, you said you’re not wearing any make up in this series… But you looked great. How did it make you feel, being so exposed to the camera?
Bizarrely, it was quite freeing! Now I’ve read of other people saying that [laughs]. But it really was! You just didn’t have to care. You didn’t have to go through make up checks every few seconds. I had eyebrows on, coloured in and I grew them especially [laughs], I had mascara on and just a base foundation, because you kind of have to and that was it. Oh, and it was a wig! People who were on-set that I’d worked with for 3 months, when we got to the end said, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that’s not your hair!” It was a really brilliant wig!
So, you have this amazing other side to your career as a presenter – the midweek lottery in 1999, various documentaries, and your own chat show Angela and Friends on Sky 1 (2009-10). One of those documentaries was for Channel 4 in 2001 one of a 4-part series, which included How Racist Is Britain?, Love in Oldham and I’m Not Racist, But... and was screened in the run-up to Black History Month, after a summer of racial tension. The series included interviews with a large number of well-known mixed-race British people, like tailor Bruce Oldfield and writer Hanif Kureishi, as well as political figures such as Tony Benn. One review felt that the series came up with some interesting and progressive conclusions that question the whole idea of race.
I wondered how much did you draw upon from that and your own experience and pour into Nita?
Absolutely everything. Nita’s my mum! Those things [in the TV show] didn’t happen to her, but her rooted personality, her grounding came from my mum. My mum’s white, was in Leeds, bringing up 3 mixed race children. So she got it all! We lived on a white estate. SHE was mixed race as far as everyone else was concerned, because she has these 3 children that didn’t look like anybody else. I took my mum’s personality and poured her into Nita. Every mother loves their children, but that real lioness feeling, that protection that comes of knowing that your kids are just a little bit different to other people’s kids, but doesn’t make them any less important.
Well, however you feel about mixed relationships, there should be some acknowledgement of the debt owed to a whole community of white women and men who actually stepped out of that societal constraint for love to give us a new layer to our story, our Diaspora! But, you’re from Leeds, and Brief Encounters is set in Sheffield…
Yes. Which is about 27 miles apart. So there was so much of my childhood in it – the house where we lived – Nita’s house felt like my house, my memories. You know, from the pictures on the walls to the cornflakes. It just felt really, really familiar.
Growing up in the 90s, did you still feel that economic overhang from the 80s Government’s war on the Northern working man… that was depicted here?
No, I think Leeds was very different to Sheffield, because it’s a bigger city and wasn’t as dependent on one industry. Sheffield was very much about steel and when that collapsed, it wrecked the city – tore the heart out. Leeds was more textiles and was starting to get into telecommunications and so on, because of its geographical positioning to Newcastle, the M1, A1. I don’t remember everyone losing their jobs, the miners – none of that affected where I lived, or the estate I lived. Everybody worked in the rice factory or the toiletries factory putting labels on things.
I really liked those couple of scenes where you find out you’re pregnant and your husband – Kieren (Don Gilet) is overjoyed and you’re a little shocked. As an audience member, we’re not sure what you’re going to do and, as part of our discovery of Nita, we find out a little later on. What I really liked was the portrayal of that story of loyal, married love between you two. It’s different to what PC Johnny (Ben Bailey Smith) goes through, different to…
They’re in love! They met when they were 11, got together at 15, all four kids are his, and all borne out of love. The relationship between the two of them is of absolute and utter love, loyalty and respect, despite the various things that go on. When it comes to his dancing the line of the law, it’s getting by. I certainly know that where I grew up, on a white estate, everyone was dancing the line of the law, because you do what you can to get by. He’s not selling drugs; he’s not got a gun upstairs. There’s none of those stereotypes. This is what would be happening then. It’s something that I truly love about that character that made me go, I’d like to do this. There are two people who are married and they like each other, they love each other, they kiss each other and they still have sex with each other. They’ve not been unfaithful, they’re not ripping lumps out of each other, and it’s very rare to see married love like that.
Also, that he does have enough confidence in his manhood and masculinity to not be threatened by Nita’s impending adventure…
Of all the men, he’s the only one who goes, yeah, cool, great. He’s so fine with himself, so comfortable with him and his wife. It all adds to it.
I really enjoyed our very brief time with Ms. Griffin. She was in high spirits, even if I did have to begin with an apology… In a recent interview, I suggested that Nina Sosanya was the first black British female detective on British television – Laura Porter in all 8 episodes of ITV’s Marcella (ITV, 2016). Although, we did appeal for alternate suggestions…
[Laughs] Oh! Ohhhh, yes, you do need to correct that. Although, she could be credited as playing the first black female DCI (Detective Chief Inspector). I was a DS [laughs].
Griffin played DS Lizzie Maddox for 12/42 episodes of Lewis (ITV, 2006-) in 2014-15. But, I’m afraid we might both be wrong. Bella Enahoro played DS Sophia Cambridge in 17/40 episodes of Pie in The Sky (BBC1, 1994-96) in 1995-96! She was promoted after appearing as a WPC over 9 episodes in 1994.
Brief Encounters will be broadcast on ITV1 on Mondays 9pm.
Read TBB’s interview with Brief Encounters star Ben Bailey Smith here