From Friends to Cold Feet, Helen Baxendale has long been one of Britain’s most popular screen stars, cemented recently by her hilarious performance in the second series of the BBC’s quirky comedy Cuckoo. That’s why we were thrilled to hear last month that she would be returning to the stage after a five year absence to star in The Distance at the Orange Tree Theatre.
A world away from her comedic roles as Ross’ jilted British wife Emily in Friends or the much-loved warm-hearted Rachel Bradbury in ITV’s hugely successful rom-com Cold Feet, Deborah Bruce’s hard-hitting The Distance sees Baxendale play a mother who makes the life-changing – and hugely controversial – decision to leave her children.
To find out more about what drew Baxendale to the drama, which began previews earlier this week, we invited Baxendale to answer our probing Q&A and take a look back over her life so far. We discovered the actor’s surprisingly simple culinary passion, love for the NHS and respect for one of the most pragmatic bits of advice we’ve heard in a while…
What first sparked your interest in performing?
Doing ballet and loving everything about it.
Describe your character in The Distance in six words.
Honest, searching, lost, empty, trouble, troubled.
What was it about The Distance that tempted you back to the stage?
The character is very unlike anything I usually get asked to play.
As a mother, have you found the subject matter particularly interesting or challenging to grapple with?
Yes, very. In the play I leave my children – I couldn’t fathom leaving my children in real life!
Did you have to do any research for the show?
Only in my imagination.
What is the finest performance you have ever seen and why?
Nadia Comăneci at the 1976 Olympic Games. Have a watch, you’ll see why!
If you could create a fantasy stage production to star in, who would you cast and what would it be?
It’d be fun to have the butcher at the top of the road, and my mum and dad, and the dog and me all in a Pinter play or perhaps a Feydeau farce; that would be ace!
Who or what has inspired you?
Nye Bevan. The National Health Service is our country’s single greatest achievement. Unfortunately it’s currently being quietly dismantled.
What is it you most love about being on stage?
There’s nothing like the adrenalin that the theatre releases for reminding yourself that you are alive.
Did your role in Friends have a huge impact on your career and life?
At the time yes, but not for very long and now it’s a strange and distant memory.
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
What do you do when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
Drink tea, garden and clean up mainly.
What could you not be without and why?
A washing line, I love to see washing flapping on a windy day.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
What would you choose as a last meal?
What is your favourite city in the world and why?
I went to Toulouse recently; I was very impressed with Toulouse. Berlin is great too – we visited just after the wall came down and it was an incredibly exciting, creative place to be.
If you could only recommend one book, one film and one album, what would they be and why?
Book: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – it’s epic, moving and wise
Film: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid – funny, beautiful, Paul Newman and Robert Redford
Album: Kling Glöckchen – sounds of a German Christmas, lovely bells and snow falling
Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?
Not really, but I like to get there early and see the rest of the cast before the show.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
An archaeologist. I grew up near the Roman town of Letocetum and loved the idea of people from the past having lived where I lived. I would dig massive holes in our garden hoping to discover remains. I still scour the ground if I’m walking in a ploughed field.
The Distance plays at the Orange Tree Theatre until 8 November. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.