TBB Talks To… Tanya Moodie About Her Career And Her New Role In Sky Atlantics Tin Star

Tin Star is a British-Canadian television crime drama created by Rowan Joffe. 

The series focuses on Jim Worth (Tim Roth), a former London Metropolitan Police Service detective who becomes chief of police of a Canadian town in the Rocky Mountains after fleeing England. In the third and final series Jack and his family return to Liverpool where their past catches up with them. Joining the cast is Tanya Moodie who plays Chief of Police Catherine Mckenzie.

Moodie is a Canadian-born British actress who has had an extensive career on screen and stage, roles include Intimate Apparel at the Park Theatre, The House Will Not Stand at the Tricycle Theatre, Fences opposite Leny Henry in The West End, and on screen, TV series’ Absentia (2017 – 2020) and Motherland (2019 – 2020), and films including Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker (2019).

Earlier this year Moodie won the RTS Breakthrough Award for her role in Motherland, she has also started a production company with colleague and friend Sarah Rutherford, she is a RADA council member and an Associate teacher and not by any means the least, she co-chair’s The Independent Commission for Race and Equality (ICRE) all while being a mother.

We sat down and spoke to the extraordinary talent to speak about her journey, her career, and everything in between…

Tanya thank you for joining us. You have had an extensive career on both stage and screen how do you feel about where your path has taken you?

The landscape has changed so much. When I was at college, after classes I would go to the Talawa theatre company they had a residency at a theatre in Holborn at the time, the Cochrane, and would do all sorts of plays such as Shakespeare, etc. I used to go and watch those actors who later became my heroes.  I came over from Canada to study and in Canada, there wasn’t really a black theatre scene there was just a theatre scene and the focus was Canadian culture and Canadian plays. So when I came to London and saw these guys I was amazed. My first job was with Paulette Randall at the Tricycle in Kilburn which was traditionally, quite a West Indian hub and I feel really grateful that I was taken into the bosom of the community even though I had to learn all of the cultural references everyone already had because I hadn’t grown up here. I felt immediately part of that community having Jamaican heritage, and meeting other actors of West Indian and African heritage was great for me. 

So what I’m trying to say in a roundabout way is that In the early ’90s the landscape for us was that you could scarcely imagine being in places like the National Theatre or anywhere that was mainstream. Of course, there were some actors who had broken through – Josette Simon and Josette Bushell-Mingo. But it has changed so much and the people that came before us like Norman Beaton; all the elders of the acting community who I’m still very much in touch with, they did all the groundwork to open the doors and just over the past three decades I see people who are my age and there is so much more there for them. There is an actual creative and artistic landscape that they can engage without being questioned as to what their place is.

Tanya Moodie as Chief of Police Catherine McKenzie in Tin Star: Liverpool

Do you think it’s easier now than it was back then?

I would be speaking out of turn if I said ‘easier‘ because if I spoke to young people who are coming up they wouldn’t necessarily agree. I have a fledgling production company with a colleague [and] now that there has been this groundswell of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Me Too movement, being two women creatives we don’t take it for granted that now suddenly we are producing. There is still a question of marketability and it’s still about our own narratives.  Writers have the creative right to write about what they know and write in their own voice so I don’t expect every writer to just write narratives for people of colour or LGBTQ people. But it really is about having access to new voices who want to tell a new narrative and make space for that. At my age, I still feel that there is time for me to play an active part in that.

Last year you played Meg, in Motherland and it was only then that you got a Royal Television Society Breakthrough Award yet even though you’ve been in the industry for 30+ years. Is the late recognition difficult for you or do you think that right now is the right time?

I’m a Buddhist and I have an extremely philosophical attitude towards these things so, if it’s happened now for me then it is the right time. I’ve also got to take 100 percent responsibility in that I never really focused on a TV career before now. 30 years ago the landscape was different so even if I wanted to focus on a TV career things were just totally different for someone who looked like me. You go where the love is, where the energy is and my first love was theatre and that’s where I was getting love back and so I really poured over two-decades of my career into the theatre. 

I actually made a conscious decision that I was going to give the theatre a break and I was going to focus on TV in 2016. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) was the first theatre job that actually paid me a wage I could live on with my daughter. I love theatre but you work extremely hard and get very little money in return. It’s fine when you’re a young actor on your own but then my daughter was getting to an age where I was finding it difficult to sustain.

I had a heart to heart with friend/actor Cyril Nri who has been like a brother to me, [he] said “Tanya you just have to start saying no to theatre” which was a really difficult thing to consider because as a single mum you feel you have to say yes to everything you’re offered. The notion of someone saying “would you like a job?” and you say ”no thank you” was just weird for me.  I trust him [Cyril] 100 percent and following my faith, I said to myself I have to make a decision and go for it. So in all fairness, I get the whole breakthrough thing at nearly 50.

And four years later you are taking your next role in the third series of Tin Star…

Yes the third and final series.

Can you tell us a little about your character Catherine Mckenzie?

She is Chief of Police in Liverpool. So the idea is that my character and Tim Roth’s character have a history and I have a connection, somehow, with the reason he and his family had moved to Canada. For those who haven’t seen it, for the first two series Jim Worth (Roth) is in Canada on the run with his family, at the end of the second series (without spoiling anything), there are people after them and it all comes to a head and you realise the family is in big trouble. They decide at the end of the second series ‘it’s them or us’. So the third series is this big reckoning that happens in Liverpool because this is where their family had actually fled from. You meet my character and my chickens have to come home to roost, like Tim’s character and his family as well.

Ian Hart & Tanya Moodie in Tin Star: Liverpool

Did you have to have to use a Liverpudlian accent?

No thank God!  I don’t mean that in any kind of a derogatory way it’s just that I fell in love with Liverpool entirely, the city, the people and because of that and they have a very specific culture, they have a very specific accent and I couldn’t fake that. I could learn it but even then I would feel fraudulent. 

In Tin Star, Percelle Ascott plays your son and he has also done some amazing work off behind the camera (writer, producer). You have been in other movies such as Star Wars with John Boyega. It’s extremely exciting to see young Black actors in all genres of film doing big things and making a name for themselves …

Yes, it really is! I happened to watch The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and there are so many Black British actors in [it]! It’s like what I was saying before, that the landscape has really changed and we are everywhere now and it’s amazing, I’ve always believed that each generation has to go further than the one before so any time I’ve taught at RADA I let them know you have to do better than what I’ve done, you have to go further, you have to be more successful. That’s the whole point, you can’t go retrograde, why else were we working so hard trying to bang down doors? So when I see British talent doing all this stuff like James Bond (Lashana Lynch) or Doctor Who (Jo Martin) I say ‘yeah that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s the point’.

You’re quite a vocal person, with strong beliefs about women’s rights to gender and equality rights and you often speak out about it, how do you find the confidence to speak out whilst being a part of the industry?

I learned a lesson about this some years ago, I mentioned something in an interview, and the interview wasn’t actually about what I just said in passing, my naivety didn’t wake me up to the fact that it would get picked up on. It was to a director at a theatre who had an entirely monoculture crew and cast and he made comments about it saying that it was historically [correct]. I took offence to that because, no, this is what we are taught, the whitewash of British history. It’s not the case and actually, it was about choice, what you want to do and how you want to portray things.

We don’t need the smoke and mirrors about what Britain looked like in whatever century because we know it’s not true, the proof is there.  So I said this without thinking. The next morning my phone was blowing up and it was on Twitter ‘Tanya Moodie attacks…’ it wasn’t like that. I talked to my agent and she was mortified and wanted to find a way for me to get out of it, I talked to a friend and they said if that’s how you feel then that’s how you feel don’t hide from that.  That was the first time I realised I just need to be braver but less naive. I am more certain about the things I want to comment on. I just base what I say on my faith and my beliefs.

Does this mean you have the same sentiment when you co-chair the Independent Commission for Race and Equality which addresses discrimination in the arts?

Yes, I do, everything is based on my faith and so in that spirit, I have to listen to everybody with an open heart, and sometimes we’ll be interviewing people as our role is to gather evidence. I listen to people and I might personally have a totally different perspective but it’s not my place to be like ‘I can’t believe they said that!’ and even then I couldn’t think that way because why wouldn’t I believe that someone has a different perspective than me, we are all different people. So it’s been really important for me that people know that when we are gathering evidence we make it clear that there are no right answers, we are not there to judge. The most important thing for us is for you to say why you feel the way you do so that we understand the dynamics of what is going on. 

As a woman of faith, what virtue do you see as the most important?

I would say perseverance because that really is about fundamentally the engine room to true happiness. The meaning of happiness isn’t always about being jolly and in a good mood, because it’s impossible to be upbeat constantly. It is the difference between feeling sad and run down and feeling defeated. If you feel defeated you’ve lost hope but perseverance is that thing that helps you get back up again and again and keep going. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have stuck at this for thirty years. Perseverance means that you won’t fall prey to feeling defeated.

Tin Star: Liverpool airs at 9pm on 10th December on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV and all episodes available as a box-set


Latest articles

Related articles