Since the early 90s Angela Griffin has been a darling of the British small screen. From her big break at the tender age of 16, playing Fiona Middleton in Coronation Street, through dramas Holby City and Cutting It to Waterloo Road and Mount Pleasant, she seems to have been ever present on the nation’s TV screens.
It’s a touch surprising, then, to discover that screen stardom was never in Griffin’s plan and that the stage, instead, was where Leeds’ finest hoped to earn her living.
A couple of decades after that initial big break she’s getting her chance, joining the cast of hit comedy One Man, Two Guvnors for the show’s final six months and as we found, she could barely be more excited about the opportunity.
How are you feeling about making your West End debut in One Man, Two Guvnors?
Unbelievably excited, unbelievably daunted, incredibly lucky and a bit like I can’t quite believe that I’m going to do all this fun stuff in front of people who’ve paid quite a lot of money to come and see the show.
My love of acting came from when I was a kid. I started with a children’s theatre group when I was five. That’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. I had no idea about TV at that point. When I was 16 I got Corrie and that was it, no more theatre for another 14 years. So I feel so excited because this is why I got into it in the first place, and I feel so lucky that my West End debut is in the Theatre Royal Haymarket with its hundreds of years of history.
What was it about One Man, Two Guvnors that drew you back to the stage?
I didn’t have a job and the audition came up. I’d love to say I planned my career and made a lot of decisions, but I’ve been to theatre auditions over the years and not got them. I am a working actor and for me this is the perfect show. Dolly’s character is so far removed from me. She’s intrinsic to the play yet I’m not leading this show. She’s brilliant and it’s funny and I’m doing six months. I think six months of making people laugh every night as the first job you do professionally in the theatre is probably easier than six months committing suicide or divorcing your husband. I’m in a play that ends on a high, that makes everyone who’s in the theatre feel good and makes the cast feel good.
What do you look for when taking a role?
I look for something that makes me excited. I try really hard to take something that’s challenging because otherwise I get bored really easily. I want to be thinking about work when I’ve left work. But in this day and age you can’t be too picky because you just won’t work. There’s not enough work to go around for all the actors out there. Someone told me 15,000 people left drama school this year, which is unbelievable. There are lots of people out there at the moment, but the work isn’t as lucrative as it once was and there’s not as much of it.
What’s the finest performance you’ve ever seen?
I went to see King Lear with Warren Mitchell at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was the first Shakespeare I’d ever seen, which was pretty heavy for a first one. I thought he was extraordinary. I’d never seen anything like it before in my life.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in, what would it be?
I’d have Roy Williams write it. I love the idea of doing something modern with a full black cast. I want Adrian Lester. I want Cynthia Erivo. I want to get all the most amazing black talent in this country and I want to put everyone into a play.
Who’s inspired you?
My inspiration comes from my Mum. She’s not in the business, never wanted to be in the business, but I find her attitude, work ethic, view on life and her kindness inspiring. To me she is the most incredible human being.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Me and my Mum going shopping after I’d been to drama on a Saturday morning. She was so committed to me doing this hobby. She went everywhere with me. We had no car so we would bus everywhere. We’d go on a Saturday morning, I’d do my three hour session with the Leeds Children’s Theatre, then Mum would pick me up and we’d go out and walk around Leeds City Centre window shopping and have some lunch. They were the best days ever. As you get older and parents get older and life becomes more complicated, it’s the simplicity of that… I loved the fact that me and my mum shared that.
Have you made sacrifices for the sake of your career?
Yes, but I wouldn’t change any of them. When I went into Coronation Street I was 16 and I was at college. I had big dreams of going to drama school and having this fabulous time there. Because I went into Corrie I never got those years that everyone else did. From being 16 I’ve always had to be very careful about what pubs I’m going into and that I don’t fall over drunk. I couldn’t just randomly cop off with someone in the middle of town because potentially they could sell their story. I think for the sake of my career I’ve probably sacrificed a bit of freedom in those years when most people get to not worry and have no responsibilities. But I wouldn’t change it.
Having not been to drama school, are you learning new things now, then?
I do feel like I’m 16 on this show because I’m having to relearn everything. It’s coming back and I’m remembering it going “Of course I have to look at the audience otherwise they can’t hear me!” I feel brand new. I’m telling everyone to treat me like this is my first job out of drama school. Explain everything so that I know. I’m loving that experience.
What ambitions do you have?
I’d love to do a big film. I’d really love to do more theatre. I’ve loved coming into One Man, Two Guvnors, but because it’s a show that’s already going and it’s just a small cast change, the rehearsal period was much shorter. When we were rehearsing there were references to things that were cut in initial rehearsals. I’d love to have been there for that eight weeks where you pull the play apart and you bring it all back up. I’d love to do that right after I finish this job, do another play and start at the very beginning.
What will always make you smile?
The kids and my husband. Currently the funniest member of my family is probably my six- year-old daughter. She’s incredibly funny. She’s got brilliant timing.
What book, film or album would you recommend to a friend?
It would have to be a book. There’s a million. My ultimate favourite book is The Color Purple, but if someone is my age and they really want to identify with a book and have a laugh, I’d recommend One Day by David Nicholls.
What could you not be without?
My iPhone. I apologise for that. It’s really bad. I constantly tell my children to get off any kind of computer, then I spend my life on mine. I couldn’t live without it. I shop on it. I can bank on it. I send all my emails. My diary’s on it. Every single photo. It is me. We are one.
What would you choose as a last meal?
A 54-course tasting menu and I want wine pairing with every single course. There would be all of the things that I have loved but tried to limit for the sake of my figure, so I would be eating pasta, lobsters, banoffee pie, chocolate, chips with garlic mayonnaise, gallons of it. Then I’d throw it all up and carry on with the other courses. I’d go all Roman. I’d be hammered by the end.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions?
I’m not very superstitious. I remember when I was younger there was a boy in our theatre group called Robert Macbeth. We could never call him by his full name. I remember thinking then that superstition was a bit s**t.
Do you have any advice for young actors?
Find another job that you have some control over. I think it’s one of the most rewarding jobs ever, but it can also destroy you. If you’re lucky – and it is so much more to do with luck than you think -enough to work for 30% of your year, it’s great. But so many people don’t. So many people think that talent wins out and I’m not sure that it does having done this for so many years.
What’s your favourite joke?
I’m crap at jokes. Why they’ve put me in a comedy I’ve no idea. Maybe that’s the best joke!