Russell Tovey on working with Maxine Peake

Russell Tovey on working with Maxine Peake

Q: How did you find it working with Maxine Peake?

A: I loved it. Maxine is fantastic, and I really enjoyed our scenes together. Rebekah and Andy have this tremendous energy. They are two power-hungry people with huge egos. Within that world they are two gods. They can be so offensive and abusive to anyone under them, and they have to take it.

Read the rest of his interview here.

An Interview With Red Top Star Maxine Peake

An Interview With Red Top Star Maxine Peake

Q: What appealed to you about this film?

A: The fact that it was Comic Strip Presents. I can’t remember the last time I got this excited, before even reading the script. I just got an email saying, “Will you read this with a view to meeting the director?” I went, “Oh my God, this is Comic Strip Presents. Oh please let me like it”. I knew I would!

I’ve seen the majority of The Comic Strip Presents films, and the last one I saw was The Hunt For Tony Blair which I thought was absolutely brilliant. Without sounding too corny, it was a little bit of a dream come true when it came in the email. It’s a bit like when I did Dinner Ladies – these are my heroes.

Q: Were you also pleased to be coming back to comedy?

A: Yes. I’ve been stuck in the world of gritty drama for a while, so it was a lovely relief as well to think, “Someone does trust that I can do some comedy”. That’s to be seen – I might completely ruin it!

Q: Are you enjoying the return to comedy?

A: Yes. But it’s been about 10 years, and that does take its toll. I’ve been thinking, “I’m sure there’s a gag in here somewhere!” But it’s been great. For a long time I’ve been desperate to do some comedy, but it’s about the right script. You don’t want to do comedy for the sake of doing some comedy. But you don’t get better than Comic Strip Presents. It’s so iconic.

Q: How would you describe the tone of Red Top?

A: It’s very tongue in cheek, I’m not playing Rebekah Brooks – I’m on roller skates, for one! It’s a very high-octane version. As Brits, we are famous for being able to laugh at ourselves, and I think if people don’t have that outlet, it all gets very serious. It’s really exciting and brave because these people deserve to have the mickey taken out of them.

Q: How would you describe this Rebekah?

A: I don’t like to use the word caricature. But she’s canny, and she likes to use her feminine wiles. With the gentlemen, she plays on her vulnerability sometimes and wields her power quite strongly at other times.

Q: Is this Murdoch under her spell?

A: Yes, completely. That relationship is fascinating. When he was asked “What’s your number one priority”, he said, “This one”. I’ve spoken to people who’ve met her who said they didn’t want to like her, but then they came away and thought, “Wow, she does have that charisma.”

Q: Why is she so successful at creating these relationships with powerful men?

A: I listened to one of these profile programmes on Radio 4 and it was interviewing an old school friend of hers. She said Rebekah’s emotional intelligence was way ahead of other people’s. She had this way of being able to play people and understand them and get under their skin. Those kind of women are always a real mystery to me. There are quite a few of them about. Game players – I’m always fascinated by those sort of women.

Q: Could you tell us about this Rebekah’s relationship with Murdoch in this drama?

A: It’s a very close father and daughter relationship, and she’s very demure and little girl around Murdoch. Then obviously she has this stand-off relationship with Wendi.

Q: So there is a father-daughter thing going on?

A: Yes. It’s fascinating. Obviously he has daughters of his own, but maybe he sees something of himself in Rebekah. There’s something he responds to in her. It’s not a sexual thing. It just feels like two like minds. She’s obviously very devoted to him. She probably gives him a lot of attention that maybe he doesn’t get so much from his own family.

Q: How have you found the roller skating?

A: It’s been fun, although I did fall yesterday. Peter said, “Just get to the end and spin!” I thought I’d give it a go and I went down like a sack of spuds!

Q: Finally, what do you hope people will take away from watching this?

A: There is a serious issue here. But first and foremost, you hope that people will enjoy it and that they’ll have a laugh. I think people will laugh along with it, people who work for the Sun or the Guardian. Everyone gets it in the neck, every publication, every political leaning. Peter has done an amazing job. It’s very, very funny.


Maxine Peake interview: “The evil disease of capitalism has infected everything”

Maxine Peake on her role in The Skriker, the ‘business’ of acting – and government plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’

When he dropped his summer budget last week, Chancellor George Osborne made a point of renewing his vow to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. This despite admissions that nobody in government is sure yet where exactly the powerhouse is: will Liverpool be plugged in? Newcastle? One thing’s for certain; Manchester looks likely to be at the centre of this nebulous beast.

But it is precisely that sort of vague political language that makes Maxine Peake – former member of the Young Communist League, political firebrand, rock singer, Bafta-winning actor and Northern lass – deeply uneasy.

“This Northern Powerhouse they keep talking about makes my stomach flip a bit. Everyone is talking about all the investment coming to Manchester. But we know that when it happens there are a lot of people that get forgotten and swept under the carpet,” she points out. “Yes, we’ve got [arts centre] Home. Yes, we’ve got the Factory coming. But you walk out of the Royal Exchange Theatre and there’s a homeless protest.”

Social inequality cuts Peake, 40, deeply. A passionate socialist, those protesters who have set up camp outside the city centre theatre, where she is appearing in an acclaimed new production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker (below) as part of the Manchester International Festival, are for her a constant reminder of what government funding cuts are doing to the most vulnerable in society.

“I’ve been chatting to people there and it’s been breaking my heart,” she says, expressing disgust that earlier this year the city’s Central Library employed security guards to stop protesters using its public toilets.

“Manchester used to pride itself as a progressive city. Now it doesn’t feel that we’re looking after our people. If this is going to be the price we pay for being some big industrial stronghold, I don’t know if that’s the Manchester I want to be in. London is going to become some sort of gated city soon where only the privileged can afford to live. I would hate Manchester to become the same.”

She feels there is a disconnect between the populace and politicians that’s eating at the heart of democracy: “I’m annoyed we voted not to have a mayor and then we get one thrown at us. Where’s the democracy in that? If it’s some sort of Tory experiment, I can’t say I’m happy about it.”

Do the arts have a role to play in fighting against that breach? Peake, who lives in Salford with her partner Pawlo Wintoniuk, says that when she was younger she would “get slightly annoyed” when people spoke of the theatre and arts being a force for change. “I used to think: ‘Oh, bog off.’ But now I’ve got older, I feel people are looking to culture to get some inspiration to be able to start a debate.”

However, she believes that theatre, TV and films made in the UK still fail to reflect reality. “We bang on about the female roles, but there are lots more issues that aren’t being tackled. We’re not representing England as the diverse place that it is.

“As I’ve got older the work has got better, but I’ve had the power in a way. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to have some input into creating some of my own work. The younger actors I meet have a different view. It’s a business now and they know that. America is on the list of things to do.

“When I started it was just the National Theatre and the RSC,” she continues. “We were told: ‘Get 10 years of decent work under your belt and that will be the start of your career.’ That’s what happened to me. I don’t think I’d be acting if I was a youngster today. The competition is a lot stiffer now.”

Playing a malevolent supernatural being in a variety of guises in The Skriker is, Peake admits, “harder than Hamlet”, in which she played the lead at the Manchester International Festival last year. “It’s very physical and there’s a lot of movement in it, which is something I’ve not really done before.”

Describing it as “a clarion call”, she explains that “it harks back to a time when life was simpler, when we were a country that was very pagan and the land was kind. We revered the land and now we don’t. We just seem to poison and punish it. So we reap what we sow.

“It’s a real theatrical experience,” she says. “I don’t think people will go away and go: ‘I got every moment of that play’. But it’s not meant to be like that. Maybe it will make people look at what we’re doing on a global scale and how wrong it is. But you can’t fight climate change until you tackle capitalism because money is king and this evil disease of capitalism has infected everything. We’re at crisis point and it won’t start getting better unless we do something now.”

It’s clear the Bolton-born actor is not one to avoid a tough road. That fearlessness is part of what makes her one of the most-loved actors – and now singer, with the Eccentronic Research Council – of our generation. “I think a lot of people would read the script for The Skriker and go: ‘I don’t know where to start.’ But if you worry about whether people are going to like it, you’re on a hiding to nothing. If it moves you there will always be a percentage of people who will come with you.”

The Skriker is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until August 1

Words: Richard Smirke


On my radar: Maxine Peake’s cultural highlights

On my radar: Maxine Peake’s cultural highlights

TheGuardian has published a new interview in which Maxine talks about her current cultural highlights featuring the categories art, gig, film, place, book, and theatre. The perfect Sunday reading 😉

The Salford actor on Cornelia Parker’s art, Palestinian theatre and the spirit of punk as revived by the Sleaford Mods

Maxine Peake was born in Bolton, where she joined the Octagon Youth Theatre aged 13. She studied at the University of Salford and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Peake has appeared in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies, Shameless and Silk, and portrayed Myra Hindley in See No Evil: The Moors Murders.
Her theatre work includes The Children’s Hour in 2008, Miss Julie in 2012, and Hamlet in September 2014.
She lives in Salford with her partner Pawlo Wintoniuk, an art director.
Maxine Peake stars in The Skriker at the Royal Exchange Theatre as part of the Manchester International Festival from 1 July to 1 August.

1 | Art | Cornelia Parker at the Whitworth

I’ve only recently been to the refurbished Whitworth and I was in awe of the building: it feels really inviting as a space. I went to see Cornelia Parker’s exhibition and she did a lecture about her work, which was fascinating. I knew very little about her: as someone who’s not very genned up on art it was good listening to someone talk about it. It made me realise that it’s a process like anything else, like acting. We had a brief chat afterwards, and we got onto the environment and fracking and energy suppliers. The exhibition was wonderful: the exploded shed [Cold Dark Matter] was enchanting, and the War Room, where she took the leftover material from a poppy factory and draped it on the inside, was really affecting. It’s about the cost of war, obviously, and it looked like a medical military tent, with all these empty holes where the poppies had been.

2 | Gig | Sleaford Mods at the Manchester Academy

This is the most recent gig I saw and it was pretty special. It wasn’t long after the election results, so it felt much more potent. There were a lot of very angry and upset people – if you like Sleaford Mods, you know what ballpark people are in politically. In the lyrics they’re articulating what the audience feel – they’re anti-austerity and angry with the state of Britain, but there’s no preaching about who people should follow, it’s more of a mirror on to real people’s experiences. I was talking to older friends there who said it really felt like the spirit of punk again, which feels like it’s been lacking lately, except for bands like the Fat White Family. As an actor I found Jason [Williamson]’s performance inspiring – it feels as if he’s channelling this energy and anger. It pours out of him: his hands are scratching the back of his head and every song is like a real purge. There’s something “other” about the energy that musicians tap into that you don’t get a lot of in the theatre.

3 | Film | Excalibur (1981)

I re-watched this recently, in a tribute to Nigel Terry’s passing [in April]. I’d done an episode of Marple with him, though unfortunately I didn’t really get to talk to him. When we heard the news we said, let’s get Excalibur out. It was on a VHS tape – I hadn’t seen it in years. Fabulous film, beautiful performance from Terry as Arthur, and I’m a massive fan of Nicol Williamson (Merlin) as well. And then there’s a young Patrick Stewart, and obviously Helen Mirren. It was funny watching it years later: for all its brilliance, there are these little moments where you think “Monty Python’s Holy Grail must have taken some influence from this,” but it actually came out before Excalibur. It was good to revisit it – I was in my 20s the last time I saw it. But I think it still stands the test of time.

4 | Place | Bages, France

I’ve just come back from this little fishing village on a lagoon in the south of France. We had a week before rehearsals started to try and learn some lines and relax. It was very, very quiet. We went to a fantastic market in Narbonne, a 20-minute drive away, which had everything, and the best goat’s cheese I’ve eaten in my life. Growing up in the north, the market was a big thing for us – I remember doing the weekly trip with my mum – so I had a moment where I thought, “I need to learn French, and then come here to the market.” But it’s wonderful just wandering around even with my pidgin French. We had a lovely time: we cycled on the Canal du Midi, we visited Gruissan, where the film Betty Blue was shot, and went to Carcassonne, which is this old town with all these strange medieval knick-knacks, like something out of Disney.

5 | Book | Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything

I’m reading this at the moment, as research for The Skriker: when we started rehearsing Sarah Frankcom [the director] said I should read it. I got fascinated by it, and it was a bit of a light-bulb moment: “But of course, to fight climate change you’ve got to fight capitalism.” They’re intrinsically linked, but oddly I’d never made that connection before. We’re absolutely battering the Earth and its resources. I don’t know how anyone sees any sense in that, but obviously there’s a lot of people who do. Money, obviously, is king. It’s really heartbreaking. But the book does give you that little bit of hope. I’m usually more like “we’re just screwed”,and yes, there’s going to be massive implications and probably not in the not-too-distant future, but it made me think if we could put the brakes on there are still things we can do – although it’s all whether anyone actuallywill put the brakes on.

6 | Theatre | The Siege by the Freedom Theatre

This is a theatre company from Palestine who are on a nationwide tour at the moment: I saw them at the Lowry in Manchester. I heard about it from my friend Betty Tebbs, who is 97 and a peace activist. It’s an extraordinary group of young men led by a director called Nabil [Al-Raee] and a young English co-director called Zoe [Lafferty]. It was about a siege that took place in a church in Jerusalem in 2002, and about the relationship between the men who were taking part. I was fortunate to meet the actors a couple of days before the performance. They were saying that when they were rehearsing they could hear gunfire in the background. Many of them were 13 or 14 when this siege happened, and this is something that affected their lives. You can’t really start to comprehend what it must be like. It was a profound experience to see people who have come from that, when you think they’ve come from an occupied state . There were some very intense performances, but it also felt full of hope and joy.


Q&A: Maxine Peake talks to The Guardian

Q&A: Maxine Peake talks to The Guardian

The actor plays the title role in a revival of Caryl Churchill’s electrifying play Skriker at this year’s Manchester international festival. Here she talks about her fears for the environment and a grand tradition of northern wordplay

Caryl Churchill’s play The Skriker, which you’re performing at this year’s Mif, is about an ancient, vengeful shapeshifting fairy, but there’s a lot of subtext – Churchill doesn’t talk about her plays, but people have identified it as being about ecology, madness or motherhood. What ideas jumped out at you?
The environment, really. Femininity, womanhood and motherhood being tied together by Mother Earth; I felt the Skriker was this sort of twisted Mother Earth character. It feels like a feminine clarion call for the abuse we’ve flung at this Earth. It feels to me as though, 20 years ago, it was a warning. Today, we’ve not heeded that warning and we’re in a position where it could be possibly be too late.

So you felt like it was a good play to do at this crisis point?
Yeah, I really do. I’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and that inspired me. I thought “we’re screwed” as far as the environment goes. In 20 years, London is going to be under water, and we’re all going to be scrambling to live as far up north as we can. But there’s hope in that book. It’s an issue we touch on, but people don’t take it seriously. In Britain, everyone is so up to their eyeballs in debt and fear and being completely run ragged by this government, that getting by day-to-day is the main issue. But the sooner we reconnect with the earth, the better. That’s what’s so fascinating about the folklore in the play. It’s about the time when we were pagan: the connection we’ve lost.

With that in mind, did you find the Skriker sympathetic even though she’s terrifying?
She feels like a vessel for the pain the Earth is going through. I never thought of her as being sympathetic or unsympathetic. I just felt that she’s a desperate woman. We created this character who, even if she doesn’t appear sympathetic immediately, is a result of what we’ve done to the Earth.

Have you had a longstanding interest in Caryl Churchill’s work?
I’ve read quite a lot of her stuff – Serious Money, Top Girls – but I’ve never performed it. Every time I’ve read them, I’ve thought what an immense challenge they are, but Skriker was all [director] Sarah Frankcom’s idea. And as soon as I read it, I couldn’t articulate what it was about. but I just said: “That’s the one, isn’t it?’” It felt like the perfect fit for Sarah and myself, and it felt very potent. After we did [Shelley poem] the Masque of Anarchy at Mif 2013, it was about doing another piece that spoke about the times we were living in.

In some ways, it seems like a big change from the Masque of Anarchy, the Shelley poem you performed at Mif 2013 was very overtly political, whereas The Skriker is very dreamlike and surreal …
Although, of course, the Masque of Anarchy was about Peterloo, it was also about a universal and continuing issue, just as the environment is. People said to me afterwards that, if a few names were changed to Cameron and the like, it would be a poem for today. There is something very spiritual and folkloric about it, such as this mythical character of Hope that runs through the piece.

The wordplay of the language in The Skriker is fascinating – the Skriker’s first long speech is like James Joyce. Is it a nightmare to memorise?
I’m just starting on the first speech – it has to be learned before we start rehearsal. It’s about four pages long and we timed it at about eight minutes reading it aloud. When a piece comes in at an hour-and-a-half, that’s quite a chunk. The first time I read it, I was like, “Oh, my goodness – what is this about?”, but once you sit and dissect it, every line has meaning. There are elements that are a bit John Cooper Clarke, for instance, in the word association he uses. There is that north-western tradition, which is also in other artists like in Hovis Presley, a brilliant poet from Bolton, who twisted the meanings of a lot of words and linked them in with other words. So in a strange way, it seems familiar.

How will the play be presented?
I don’t want to spoil it, but the configuration of the Royal Exchange will be very different than people have seen before. The audience will be in the action – they’re not going to be sat watching. It’s going to be a real experience, fingers crossed.

The Skriker grants a lot of wishes, which often turn out badly. If someone offered to grant you a wish, would you take them up?
Oh god. Yeah, I would. I’d wish for the Tories to lose the election.

This interview will be out after the votes come in.
Well, I wish for a socialist government!


Listen: Bolton actress Maxine Peake records track called Loathsome Dave to strongly oppose reinstatement of David Cameron as prime minister

BOLTON actress Maxine Peake is urging people unhappy with last week’s general election result to “start standing up, asking questions and causing trouble”.

The acclaimed stage and screen star, who grew up in Westhoughton, has teamed up with The Eccentronic Research Council to “strongly oppose the reinstatement” of David Cameron as Prime Minister.

The Silk and Shameless actress said she was “heartbroken” after the Conservative Party swept to power in Britain’s parliamentary elections on Thursday.

She now fears a bleak five years with policies including the party further cutting benefits, the threat of privatisation of the NHS and negotiations through The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The 40-year-old had completed her postal vote and was holidaying in France when she heard the “devastating news” that Cameron had won the election and returned to Downing Street with an outright majority.

She contacted her musician pals, The Eccentronic Research Council, who penned the track Loathsome Dave within a matter of minutes and sent Maxine the words to record on her phone.

Lyrics of the eerie and unsettling spoken word track include “you are not food parcel and share a flat with a stranger Dave, you are 5 houses and my tax — Oh Witney Crab eyed & Bumble Dave”.

Maxine, who was given Bolton Socialist Club’s award for Outstanding Contribution to Socialism last year, said: “I was in shock and particularly heartbroken about what we had decided upon for this government.

“It was just about doing something immediate and just catching the mood we were feeling — come on, let’s get angry, and there’s a lot of humour in there as well.

“I just want people to mobilise really.

“We can’t let this happen, it’s going to be a very long and painful five years.

“We have got to start standing up, asking questions and causing trouble.

“It’s shocking and it’s tantamount to cruelty, forcing people into poverty.”

Loathsome Dave — The Eccentronic Research Council and Maxine Peake

Loathsome Dave

you have not won the battle

but dug deep the grave..

from your Westminster Death Circus

Smug Yee and Lonesome-

anti humanity, pro Selfish and Dave !

Your voice is not our voice but that of

A limp Witney Croak in the wind,

Spiteful humidity and asthma Dave

you are not like us,

you are not food parcel and share a flat with a stranger Dave,

you are 5 houses and my tax – Oh Witney Crab eyed & Bumble Dave,

High Teas and Snobbish Flea Brain

Ladies panties and flip flops Dave

a face that looks like it’s walked in to a hot Iron and ordered a half a lager Dave!

Yee – the blue tied toff dinky winky Dick Turpin dave

the thief dancing on all posterity and hostile to the disabled — rave!

Blast him Out

Anti Intelligence and negligent Dave

You are not Us,

Your Voice is not Ours,

Blast Him Out!

we are the eccentronic research council

and we are not Dave.


Maxine Peake interview: The actor on new film The Falling, being a teenage communist, and the great motherhood debate

Here’s a great Saturday read for you all – enjoy this new interview below:

Peake is a stage, film and television actor, who has starred in ‘Dinner Ladies’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘The Village’

You’re at home now in Salford – what are you up to?

I’m back after three months in London. I’m having a big spring clean and my boyfriend is sorting out the garden. He’s a production designer and has been away on a film. Now we’re both back, we can relax for a bit, have a holiday in the south of France, then at the end of May I’m starting a new play in Manchester, so I’ve got to start learning lines.

Your new film, The Falling, stars British actress Maisie Williams as a teenager in a rural girls’ school – what’s it about?

It’s a coming-of-age story in some respects, about a young girl who has quite a complicated relationship with her mother and her best friend, and is swept into a mass hysteria that takes hold of her school. It’s about teen sexuality and the energy of that time of life and the emotion it creates.

Your own teenage years sound quite different – you grew up in Bolton and joined the Communist Party. Tell us more.

I joined the Communist Party when I was 18. When I was 10, there was the miners’ strike, and the Cold War was going on; it was quite a potent time to get involved in politics. I got involved through my grandfather, who was a member. I moved in with him for five years when I was 15, after my parents divorced. My mum had another boyfriend and moved away with him and I didn’t fancy it.

What about now – who will you be voting for next month?

I’m still a socialist, but I left the party for practical reasons; I went to London to drama school and got swept up with that new life. I’m not a fan of Labour – I believe they’re the reason we’re in this mess in the first place, but we need to get the Tories out. I was never a fan of Tony Blair. I was at Rada in 1997; everyone there used to call me “Red Max”. I remember everyone cheering when New Labour got in. I went straight to the phone box and rang my granddad. He said: “Oh God, Maxine, it’s not good.” And it’s getting harder.

What worries you most on a personal level?

I didn’t think I’d be sat here at 40 and still have the same battles on my hands. Sometimes it feels like the feminist movement never happened. There are lots of new factions of young women getting involved, but still we have a huge battle. Lots of it is to do with my business, with women being objectified and sexualised. I’m shocked by friends who have teenagers and by what they have to deal with. There are huge battles for everyone in every walk of life right now – I’m a feminist, but I’m a socialist first. It’s about equality for everybody.

You spoke last year about having unsuccessfully tried for children, and the pressure on women to be mothers…

It’s not like I ever said, “I’m not having children”, but when I was young, having kids was never part of my big plan. It was about my career and trying to do well. Then I met the right person and I did think about it and we discussed it and we tried, but it just didn’t happen for us. I don’t feel distraught about it. The flip side is women who do have children get pigeon-holed into being mothers and wives, and can’t get up the ladder. Whatever you choose, it’s just another way of putting women in boxes. I do get upset when people ask, “Have you got children?” I would never ask because I think you don’t really know what’s going on with people.


Maxine Peake was born in Bolton in 1974. The daughter of a lorry driver and part-time care worker, she won a scholarship to Rada and has starred in ‘Dinner Ladies’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘The Village’. A stage, film and television actor, she lives in Salford with her partner, Pawlo Wintoniuk. Her new film, ‘The Falling’, is in cinemas now


Video Update: Maxine Peake interview at ‘The Falling’ Screening – 20 April 2015

Maxine was interviewed at last night’s ‘The Falling‘ London gala screening and you can watch the interview below… enjoy:

Cassam Looch from HeyUGuys interviews Maxine Peake and cast-member Maxine Peakefor their movie The Falling which also stars Maisie Williams and Florence Pugh.

Photos will be up in the gallery at a later time too. For now, see a couple of pictures of Maxine and the rest of the cast on here. Love her outfit!

Maxine Peake: on leaving London, being old-fashioned and playing Hamlet published a really good and interesting interview with Maxine you can read below.
It’s the perfect Sunday reading 🙂 Enjoy:

From the comedy of Dinnerladies to the lead role in Hamlet, the Bolton-born Maxine Peake is impossible to pigeon-hole. And as Bernadette McNulty finds, that is just how she likes it

“I’m old fashioned. I don’t like modern life.” Maxine Peake Photo: Jon Gorrigan

Maxine Peake has just finished playing Hamlet, one of the toughest parts any actor can take on, and she is one of the very few British actresses to have done so (Frances de la Tour did it in 1979), yet all she says anyone wants to talk to her about is her hair. “Every review mentioned me having short hair. It’s 2015 – women can have short hair, you know!” she says, chuckling in that still-doughty Lancastrian accent.

It isn’t the first time Peake has experimented with her looks. The 40-year-old actress has passed through many incarnations during her 16-year career, most often on primetime television. From the lanky mouse mop of her snarky character Twinkle in Victoria Wood’s comedy Dinnerladies to the bleached blond beehive of Myra Hindley in Speak No Evil and the stiff barrister’s wig of Martha Costello in Silk, Peake hasn’t been particularly precious about her looks. The first time she appeared in Hamlet, cast as Ophelia in the 2002 production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse with Christopher Eccleston, she ended up shaving her head at a local barber’s during the run, in an attempt to get rid of the bad black dye job that she had been hiding underneath a wig. “I felt more feminine having no hair. It was really liberating.”

I meet Peake downstairs in the bar at the Royal Court theatre in London, where she is in Zinnie Harris’s dystopian new play How to Hold Your Breath, turning in another tour-de-force lead as a sassy “customer relations” executive losing her naivety as the European economy unravels. Bravery and a willingness to take on the unexpected has become the hallmark of Peake’s career. Hamlet is the calling card for many male actors proving their acting chops, and of late there has been a profusion of interpretations from the likes of Jude Law, Michael Sheen and David Tennant, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the role this year.

Even so, when it was announced that Peake would be taking on the challenge last autumn at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, the run near instantly sold out, with queues around the block to see the local actress in Shakespeare’s most famous play, making it the fastest-selling show at the theatre for a decade.

Critics raved about Peake’s “emotional ferocity”, and now those who missed out on tickets will be able to see a filmed version of the play (shot over three performances by the director Margaret Williams) when it is released in cinemas this month. This intense production is as compellingly taut as a Scandinavian thriller. Peake tempers Hamlet’s rage and despair with vulnerability, sly humour and nerve-racking internal turmoil. “I just thought Hamlet has really been through it. His dad has died and then weeks later his mum has remarried.”

Peake photographed for Stella magazine (JON GORRIGAN)

Peake suggested taking on the role to the play’s director, Sarah Frankcom, shortly after the two had finished working together at the Royal Exchange on a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie in 2012. “I mentioned it in jest at first. I felt why, as a woman, can’t I do it? I had always been attracted to it because there aren’t many female warrior roles. Hamlet is fearless.”

Peake admits that despite her initial bravado she had anxiety about taking on the role. “I did worry, ‘What have I let myself into?’” Researching the role included watching YouTube interviews with the actor Rory Kinnear, who played Hamlet at the National Theatre in 2010. “He was really interesting. He said he learnt the soliloquies before starting rehearsals but that he didn’t really learn the whole play until he actually started interacting with the other actors. It was the same with me. It’s between you and the other characters and you don’t know how you are going to respond until you get on the stage with them.”

Frankcom sets her Hamlet in the gloomy round of the Royal Exchange, swapping over not only Hamlet’s sex but also those of other characters such as Polonius and Rosencrantz. Peake envisaged her Hamlet as a man trapped in a woman’s body in order to question our ideals of gender. “What is male and what is female? I don’t always feel female.” She cites training at Rada in the 1990s, when she remembers feeling “like a bit of a tomboy. They always said to me that I needed to be more feminine. I think it’s so wrong. Being boisterous doesn’t mean you are not feminine. When I was growing up, because I was a bit overweight and boyish, I thought I wasn’t attractive to the opposite sex, but I have since met lads from my school who said I just seemed unapproachable.”

Long since slimmed-down from her youth after Victoria Wood advised her to lose weight or risk being typecast as the jolly Northern girl in comedies, Peake is now a poster-girl for a very modern, androgynous take on femininity.In a chartreuse-yellow top and navy dungarees with a spotted neckerchief, Peake looks gorgeously cool, like Tilda Swinton ready to join the band Dexys Midnight Runners. Peake admits in Hamlet she found the daily performances of more than three hours gruelling, to the extent that she felt as though she were running a marathon every night. “I got really sick in the middle of the run and the doctor had to give me vitamin injections. Often when I am playing difficult roles I have a problem sleeping because I can’t leave the character behind. But with Hamlet I was out like a light every night because you do all the psychological processing on stage.”

Peake with the cast of Dinner Ladies (REX)

None the less she says the exhilaration of the challenge sustained her, and that she relished the chance to physically express herself, grappling with Gertrude and sword-fighting with Laertes. “I loved it when I got on stage. It was really liberating. You rarely get that with a female part and it felt so physically free.”

Sarah Frankcom, who also worked with Peake at the 2013 Manchester International Festival on Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy, told me it was this feeling for the character that made her Hamlet so compelling. “She invests in the cause and effect of behaviour. There are moments where her Hamlet shocks us. She reminds us that Hamlet is grappling with murder, which is something that has often been lost.” She adds, “Her great gift is that she makes you feel like she is going through something. She helps an audience makes sense of what is happening between people.”

If the audience in Manchester loved her, it was an appreciation born out of what Frankcom says is the sense that “she is one of them”. Born in Bolton to Brian, a lorry-driver, and Glynis, a part-time care-worker, and with an older sister, Lisa (who is a police officer), Peake was inspired to act by women such as Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, but it took her until she was 21 to win a place at Rada. After working with both Wood and Walters on Dinnerladies in 1998 it was her three-year turn as the brassy Veronica in Channel 4’s 2004 series Shameless, along with James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff, that made her name. “I was desperate to get a foothold in a career. I never really understood what it meant to be an actor. I was attracted to the freedom but I was crippled by self-consciousness.”

She returned to the North West six years ago after 13 years in London, to free herself of the financial constraints of trying to buy a house in London. Living in Salford with her art director partner Pawlo Wintoniuk, she says, gave her the freedom to choose more risky roles and lower-paying jobs in theatre. “For the last few years I have been lucky enough to choose what I want to do. Living in Salford gives me the confidence to do that because I don’t have a massive mortgage.”

Peake as Myra Hindley in See No Evil (REX)

You feel, though, that there is a spiritual and political sustenance Peake also gets from the North. As a teenager, Peake moved in with her Communist Party-supporting grandfather in Bolton after her parents divorced, and she joined the party herself at 18. Peake talks vividly and enthusiastically about her beliefs, something she says the theatre allows her to do in a way that television does not. “People are petrified of politics on TV.”

She says she signed up for BBC One’s 2013 series The Village because “it was a drama about the social history of the working classes through the years. I thought this is what we need. But it lost its way and people lost nerve with it.” She says the reactions to her Hamlet and the work Vicky Featherstone is bringing to the Royal Court as artistic director prove that audiences are receptive to more difficult work. “People are crying out for something more interesting, so we need to be braver about what we make.”

If there is one time I have seen Peake look a little bit daunted it was two years ago in a small east London nightclub, when she was singing with the band The Eccentronic Research Council, a group she describes as “her freaks”. She joined them “for a laugh” to make a concept album about the 17th-century Pendle witches. “I always wanted to be in a band but never as the lead person. It is nerve-racking when you aren’t hiding behind anything. But really it is just another way for me to be creative.”

It is this willingness to stick her neck out in the guarded world of acting that makes Peake so beloved, a feeling that she appreciates. “I was walking down the road the other day when a mother and daughter passed me in the street and the daughter shouted out, ‘I love you, Maxine.’ I was so choked up by that.”

Living in Salford has clearly given Peake a sense of family. “I’m old-fashioned. I don’t like modern life. I pine for the simplicity of the past and the connections people had.” She adds, “I am back with my friends who I went to school with. Nobody is really interested in what I do – they don’t make a fuss – but they are still really supportive. I love the community spirit that is there. I know everyone on our street and people look after you, they bring your bin in or look after your dog.”

Peake in her acclaimed role as Hamlet (CAMERA PRESS)

Film is the one area in which Peake would like to work more. She says that she struggles to do the “still, not moving” style of acting in fashion on screen but is quietly magnetic playing an agoraphobic mother in the forthcoming Carol Morley feature The Falling. Even in her small role in The Theory of Everything, playing Stephen Hawking’s nurse Elaine Mason, who would go on to be his second wife, she invests the character with a magnetic sexiness combined with a sliver of steel. “I wasn’t going to take the role at first because it was so small, but then I read more about her and I thought, this could be really interesting.”

While many actresses complain of roles drying up when they are 40, Peake is forging her own brilliantly creative path through this stage in her life to impressive effect. She made her debut at the West Yorkshire Playhouse as a writer and also took the starring role last year in a play about the 1960s Leeds bicycling world champion Beryl Burton. This summer she returns to the Manchester International Festival in Caryl Churchill’s 1994 play The Skriker, about an ancient shape-shifting fairy who speaks in a made-up language. It will be directed by Frankcom, who describes the play as “even more challenging than Hamlet”.

She says of Peake’s future, “She is part of a generation who are having to shape their work and opportunities in a different way, and that is about taking control rather than serving an industry. Whatever happens, I don’t think we can predict what she will do and that is exciting.” Peake herself says, “I think this has probably been the best year of my work.” She reflects, “I love to entertain and tell stories”, before stating what must be her mantra in life, “Just be honest, be interesting, be alive.”

Hamlet’ is released on 23 March


Maxine Peake ‘traumatised’ by watching herself play Hamlet ahead of cinema release

Maxine Peake has described watching herself playing Hamlet as “completely traumatic” and said it took her a couple of days to get over it.

The Bafta-nominated actress, who played Stephen Hawking’s nurse in Oscar-winning film The Theory of Everything, performed the title role in Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

A filmed version of Sarah Frankcom’s critically-acclaimed theatre production is set to hit cinemas in just over a week’s time.

But, having watched a preview screening, Peake admits to finding the transition from stage to screen in this instance “difficult”.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think the production and the other performances are brilliant,” she told The Independent.

“But it was just difficult to watch it. Of course people will know that acting on stage is a completely different process to acting for a camera. But when you’re doing something the camera picks it up and it is totally different.”

“Sometimes it can really knock your confidence. In general it’s very strange seeing yourself. That funny thing I do with my mouth. But I’m over it now. It took a day or two, but I’m fine.”

Peake follows the likes of Sarah Bernhardt and Frances de la Tour in taking on the male role of Hamlet, generally acknowledged as a make-or-break part.

In contrast to the all-male (The Globe’s Twelfth Night and Richard III starring Mark Rylance) and all-female (Phyllida Lloyd’s Julius Caesar and Henry IV) productions of late, Peake’s Hamlet exists in a production of both men and women. But there are gender-bending surprises such as the female gravediggers and Jodie McNee as Rosencrantz.

Hamlet is trans in this contemporary production, Peake’s Prince of Denmark having been born female but identifying as a boy.

“Hamlet was born a girl but very quickly didn’t feel that fitted,” she said. “He very quickly took on a male mantle. Of course everyone in the court was shocked and divided.

“Everyone to accept it whatever they thought [because he is royalty] and that unspoken feeling serves as a backdrop for the production.”

The actress, who many will recognise from TV’s Silk, Shameless and The Village, received rave reviews for the production -“delicately ferocious” raved the Guardian, The Times gave it five stars and called it a “fabulous, feminised production”, Manchester Evening News hailed it a “milestone” Hamlet, and the Independent lauded her “emotional ferocity” – but Peake is uncomfortable with the praise.

“But it’s none of my business what I think of myself, I always say. If someone comes up and praises your performance it can be quite rude if you disagree with them.”

Opens on 23 March in 300 cinemas nationwide.