RedOnline – new Maxine Peake interview

Don’t miss out on this impressive, honest interview – you can read it right below:

To thine own self be true…

From her exciting new gender-swapping role as Hamlet, to the reason she won’t be defined by the baby question, Emma Jane Unsworth meets Maxine Peake and discovers a woman determined to defy convention.

As I’m nattering with Maxine Peake, it takes a while for me to appreciate the bizarreness of the scene. We’re in her trailer on the set of BBC drama The Village, deep in the Derbyshire countryside, where she’s shooting the final week of the BBC drama’s second series after an intensive 14 weeks. The trailer is large and slightly chintzy, decked out in floral fabrics and beech veneer. There’s a tiny toilet, a microwave and an unslept-in double bed. The blinds are pulled halfway down, letting in shafts of sunshine. Somewhere nearby, a generator thrums. It’s like a strange, American gothic film set all of its own.

Meanwhile, Peake is dressed in 1920s costume for her part as Grace Middleton, which saw her nominated for a BAFTA in 2013: a long-sleeved pink blouse, the high neck buttoned tightly. Her hair, dyed red for the part (‘I love being a ginger’), is pinned up in loose knots. The joy of this postmodern mash-up dawns on me as we chat about her weekend: DJing at a local club on Saturday, and ruined with a hangover for much of Sunday. ‘I play vinyl,’ she says. ‘I don’t do all that computer stuff.’

It’s something of a cliché to say that Maxine Peake is down to earth (and is it just because she has a Northern accent? More of which shortly). She’s universally loved and respected. She radiates an extremely comfy mix of honesty and warmth. Everyone wants to work with her right now. Peter Moffat, writer of The Village and Silk, the legal drama in which Peake starred as Martha Costello QC, hailed her ‘the best actress of her generation’. And because Peake has kept her accent, because she lives in a terraced house in Salford, because she shot to fame playing brassy northerners in shows like Shameless and Dinnerladies, there’s the temptation to pigeonhole her as some kind of working-class hero. But this is where you learn that Maxine Peake is someone who won’t be shoved in any old category.

‘I left the north when I was 21 to go to drama school in London, and I stayed there 12 years,’ says Peake, who turned 40 this summer. ‘I just woke up one morning and thought, I want to go back. People say, is it because you’re dead proud of being northern? And I say no, it’s just my home. It’s where I’m from.’

Peake spent her teenage years living with her granddad Jim in Bolton, a beloved mentor to whom she attributes her socialist politics. ‘I was in awe of him,’ she says. ‘Politically, he was so clued up.’ She joined the Young Communist League aged 18 and still has that fire in her belly. ‘For me, politics is about passion,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t matter what you know; it’s your actions that count. I meet people who say they’re socialists and that’s not what they carry out in their everyday life. As I’m getting older, I’m getting angrier. I remember my granddad saying to me before he died: Maxine, I was born in the biggest depression and I died in the biggest depression and I fought all my life for socialism, and we’re in a worse state now than when we started.’ She sighs. ‘That breaks my heart.’

In January this year Peake went to Bolton Socialist Club to accept an Outstanding Contribution to Socialism award – an honour she described as “better than a BAFTA”. And though her career has gone stratospheric, she isn’t dazzled by the glamour – quite the opposite, in fact. ‘I have to laugh when I get invites to the polo,’ she chuckles. ‘I’m like, have you seen me? My granddad would turn in his grave if he saw me hobnobbing!’

When I bring up next year’s general election, she grimaces. ‘I’ve always voted Labour because they’re the best of a bad bunch, but I’ve no faith in them. I worry if Labour don’t find a solution the Tories will get in again. I remember when New Labour got in. I was at Salford Tech studying drama and everyone was jumping up and down, and I was so upset I went to a phone box and called my granddad. He said, don’t worry, they don’t understand – they’re the same as the Tories, these lot.’

Peake hadn’t had the greatest start studying drama. ‘They said I’d never be an actress as I wasn’t gregarious enough. The other girls were all-singing, all-dancing, in sweat-pants and jazz shoes – and I turned up in dungarees and German para boots with a basin haircut,’ she laughs. ‘But I really think if I hadn’t had that tough time, then I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, because it made me think, I’ll bloody show you.’

This ‘I’ll show you’ attitude carried her through college, through RADA, through a broadcasting world and industry that still treats anything other than RP as a novelty, and all the way to the Manchester Royal Exchange this autumn and that traditional pinnacle of acting ambition: Hamlet. After a hugely successful run in Miss Julie at the venue in 2012 – her favourite role to date – Peake met with artistic director Sarah Frankcom to discuss what next. ‘We knew it had to be bigger in terms of concept,’ she says. ‘So I said, what about Hamlet?’ The next day Frankcom called Peake and asked if she was serious. ‘I said, let’s do it.’ Admitting she gets ‘very bored’ if she doesn’t stretch herself, Peake relishes the challenge of Hamlet: ‘Why should it be the preserve of men?’ In Frankcom’s production, there will be a female Polonius, a female Rosencrantz and a female Player King. ‘I’ve had emails from actresses saying thanks for doing this,’ says Peake. ‘But, lovely as that is, it wasn’t a feminist statement. I just thought, why not?’

That said, Peake is super-aware of the societal pressure on women to do and be certain things, despite her incidentally no-fuss look (‘I get angry about the way women are forced and bullied into what the male ideal is’). At a deeper level, too, she has found herself frustrated with expectations regarding her life choices. Like many famous women, she is constantly asked whether she wants children. ‘Men don’t get quizzed about their personal lives in the same way,’ Peake says. ‘No one says to a man, you’re 38 and you haven’t got children: why? You spend your life as a woman building your career, then, once you’re there, there’s a tiny window and all this pressure.’

In reality, Peake and her long-term partner Pawlo tried for many years to start a family, suffering two miscarriages and enduring a course of IVF. ‘I haven’t talked about those things before because they’re very personal and I didn’t want to be a spokeswoman for women who don’t have children,’ she says. ‘But when I did interviews, it was the first thing they asked about, like it was a conscious decision on my part to not have kids, and it wasn’t.’

Now, Peake is adamant she won’t be defined by not being a mother.
‘Paw and I have been down every avenue and it hasn’t happened,’ she says, ‘but there are other things to do. My own mum told me not to have children. She loved us, but she realised that because of us there were things she hadn’t done. I think women can feel ashamed, like they’ve failed or like they’re not a woman somehow if they don’t have kids, and that’s wrong. It shocks me that in this day and age motherhood still often defines a woman.’

Just before I leave she takes me on a tour of the set, leading me through the maze of white vehicles to a large shed. Inside, we pick our way over leads and wires to a huddle of chairs, the makeshift ‘green room’, where John Simm sits rehearsing his lines. ‘It’s non-stop glamour round here,’ he quips. A few metres away, the ‘bedroom’, where they’ll been shooting for the rest of the day, is packed with lights and cameras; boiling hot. Then she waves me off in the production car, and I look back to see a brilliantly modern woman (albeit in an old-fashioned long skirt and brown workboots): a woman who is at home in her own skin beyond the costume changes, who is keen to see where her own questioning takes her next. One thing’s for sure – we’ll all be watching.

Hamlet is at the Manchester Royal Exchange, September 11th-October 18th; The Village is back on BBC One this month

Join our exclusive event with Maxine Peake and Red editor-in-chief Sarah Bailey in Manchester

Find out what else is in the September issue of Red

Follow us on Twitter @RedMagDaily

I have the biggest respect for Maxine. Truthfully and frankly. Just wow! I wish more people shared her view towards women’s life choices so sincerely… also, the ‘I’ll show you’ attitude is something I want to emphasize. Great interview!


Maxine Peake: ‘Silk wasn’t axed. I always said I was going to do three series’

Maxine Peake has spoken of her sadness at Silk coming to an end earlier this year, but is adamant that it was not axed.

The actress, who played passionate QC Martha Costello in the BBC1 legal drama, has told TV & Satellite Week that she felt it was a shame that the series had drawn to a close after three series, but that it was the right time to bow out.

“People said that the BBC axed it, but it wasn’t axed. I always said I was going to do three series and Peter Moffat, the writer, has so much on too,” says the actress, who appears in the second series of Peter’s BBC1 period drama The Village from Sunday, August 10.

“I was sad though, especially because the response to the last series was great, and people kept stopping me in the street to ask about it so I won’t get people saying nice things to me any more! It is a shame too because Martha was a great female character and a bit of a role model because she was going out and doing her job and was bright, intelligent and driven.”

The series ended on a cliffhanger as Martha appeared to vanish into thin air as she walked away from Shoe Lane Chambers, leaving her terminally ill friend and clerk Billy Lamb (Neil Stuke) behind, but Maxine has her own theory about what might have happened next.

“People kept saying to me, ‘She wouldn’t have walked away from Billy and left him’, so I think maybe she crossed the road further down and came back!”


Maxine Peake: We’ve had some ‘milking incidents’ on The Village

Maxine Peake experienced some trouble with her animal co-stars on the set of the new series of period drama The Village.

The actress, who plays poverty-stricken farmer’s wife Grace Middleton in the acclaimed BBC1 period drama, which returns next month, has told TV & Satellite Week that some of cows were less than co-operative during filming.

“Last series I was punched and had to go down in the mud and get cow poo in my mouth, which made me worry that I needed a tetanus and I became a bit of hypochondriac,” laughs Maxine, who was Bafta-nominated for her role.

“This time there have been a lot of milking incidents. I had to hold the cow while John Simm [who plays Grace’s husband John] was milking it, but in reality it had already been milked, and it didn’t like its udders being touched, so as soon as John touched it, I ended up going down the hill with it. I managed to stay on my feet, but everyone was shouting, ‘Let go of the cow’!”

Even the younger bovine cast members have caused a stir on set this time around.

“We had a bit of a temperamental calf. It was only six days old, bless it, it didn’t quite know how to lie down so when it was tired it just threw itself to the floor as you were walking along, but it was very sweet,” says Maxine, who decided to name the calf after one of her political heroes.

“We called it Tony after Tony Benn because we filmed with it just after I had been to Tony Benn’s funeral, so it became the Tony Benn memorial calf!”

Thanks Rupert Evans Fan Website for the link!


Maxine Peake’s My London

The Silk actress wants to buy the BT Tower and bring back Red Ken

Home is…

Salford, not Manchester. Contrary to popular belief, Salford is a city in its own right.

Where do you stay in London?

With my great friend Michelle Butterly — she has a little flat off Great Portland Street. You can walk everywhere, and it’s close to Euston for a swift getaway.

Best meal you’ve had?

I have simple tastes: lobster roll and fries at Joe Allen.

Last play you saw?

The Weir at the Donmar; the acting was superb. I’m a big fan of Dervla Kirwan.

Who’s your hero?

Octavia Hill. She was a pioneer of social housing and open spaces for the masses. She saved Parliament Hill Fields from developers and founded the National Trust.

Best place for a first date?

Anywhere with alcohol.

Favourite shops?

Margaret Howell on Fulham Road, because there isn’t one in Manchester. Pokit on Lexington Street — I bought the best pair of jeans I’ve ever owned by Seven Foot Cowboy there. Rigby & Peller on Conduit Street; you can’t beat a good bra. Contemporary Ceramics Centre on Great Russell Street, because it’s my boyfriend Pav’s favourite shop. I’m a sucker for a bit of vintage workwear so I love Levi’s Vintage Clothing on Newburgh Street.

Most romantic thing someone’s done for you?

Years ago, I was leaving an audition in Soho (having embarrassed myself as per usual) and an old man handed me a poem about knowing how great you are. I had a spring in my step for the rest of the day.

Earliest London memory?

I didn’t come to London until I was 20 to audition for drama schools. I remember sitting on the South Bank, looking out over the Thames thinking, ‘I really do have to come here.’

Building you’d most like to buy?

The BT Tower.

What would you do as Mayor?

Bring back Ken Livingstone.

Best place for a nightcap?

Trisha’s on Greek Street.

Last album you bought?

We’re All Normal and We Want Our Freedom: A Tribute to Arthur Lee and Love. My favourite track is Gobblehoof’s ‘Alone Again Or’.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

From the actor Michael Culkin: ‘Your career’s made not by what you do but by what you don’t.’

Favourite pub?

The French House in Soho.The first time I went I got chucked out for using my mobile. A couple of years later I ventured back in. It’s full of wonderful characters.

Building you’d most like to be locked in overnight?

The BFI. Hopefully there’d be a projectionist in with me. I’d get a hold of their flipside collection and have a marathon film night.

Biggest extravagance?

I’m Northern — we don’t do extravagance!

At the moment you are…

Filming the second series of The Village and putting the finishing touches to my first play, Beryl, which opens in a couple of days at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, plus learning Hamlet, as I’m playing the lead in Manchester this autumn.

What do you collect?


Keeping Rosy is released today in Picturehouse cinemas


5 minutes with Maxine Peake…

Keeping Rosy is the new British thriller starring Maxine Peake, Blake Harrison and Christine Bottomley. Peake is Charlotte, a career driven woman who is turned down from a major position at the firm she has worked so long and so hard for. Gripped by rage, Charlotte takes out her anger on her cleaner, with devastating consequences. Desparate for help, Charlotte turns to her sister Sarah (Bottomley) and Roger (Harrison) a security guard with a dark and sinister agenda.
Maxine Peake is best known for her TV roles in Dinnerladies (1998-2000), Shameless (2004) and See No Evil (2006). This new role sees her go deep into the psyche of a complex character whose life is unravelling before our eyes. We spoke to Maxine about this challenging role and her relationship with the rest of the cast.

F3S: How did you first become involved in Keeping Rosy?
Maxine Peake: I got a call from my agent saying a script had come in and that they wanted to meet me. I read it and I just loved it. I was really surprised that this was a female lead piece. It wasn’t a chick flick as they call them – it was really exciting, well crafted, with a tight script. So I met with Steve Reeves the director, and Mike who wrote it, and just had a chat. And then I thought, ‘OK I have to do it’ but I didn’t know whether they’d pick me. Then I got a call saying they would like me on board – so that’s how it happened.

F3S: How would you compare this to your other roles? You’ve played some dark characters before…
MP: I don’t think she’s a pleasant character, not initially. I think she’s become a victim and has become quite arrogant. It’s a tough life, especially for a woman, in the advertising world, and she’s become quite detached really. She’s lost the sense of who she is as a person; she’s become more about work and making the money. Throughout the film those layers start to peel away and she starts to find out who she really is and what she really wants.

F3S: What was it like to play a character whose mentality changes so much throughout the film?
MP: It’s a real challenge but that’s the fun of it. I think you’re happy as an actor to get the opportunity to play somebody who is affected by the situation they’re in and the events that happen to them. It was a challenge but I enjoyed it. The more challenging it is the more enjoyable it is really – I don’t see the point in doing roles otherwise.

F3S: The film was filmed in Docklands area of London – what was it like to film around there?
MP: It’s got a real bleakness about it, which I loved. At the weekend it feels dead, and there’s little sense of any. There are a few shops and a hairdressers but it’s quite a transient place. Lots of people from all around the world live there because of the trade in the city. So it’s a strange place but there’s something quite atmospheric about it. Something quite alluring about it really and I liked the anonymity of it.

F3S: There are some particularly challenging scenes in the film, were any of them hard to film?
MP: We had twin babies on the set and they didn’t stop crying! But they are the stars of the film. There were times spent just trying to get them to sleep and calm down. Occasionally we just had to roll the camera – its obviously quite difficult trying to speak over screaming babies, but it comes across on screen brilliantly.

F3S: From your character’s perspective, what do you think Charlotte gains from spending time with the baby?
MP: It’s the only time she has spent with another human being really. She gets a sense of who she is, of being a woman, of being a mother, of being nurturing, maternal and its something she may have never given a passing glance to. She has had her career destroyed and has to start again – in her world, it’s very difficult to get back to the same position. So she finds another road, which to her surprise she actually enjoys.

Continue reading 5 minutes with Maxine Peake…

Beryl Burton: The greatest British female cyclist of all time

As the Tour de France rolls through Leeds, a play celebrates life of Beryl Burton, a cyclist who amazed the cycling world in 1967

The Tour de France is often described as a battle between the world’s best cyclists. Strictly speaking, though, it’s only a battle between half of them.

When the Grand Départ sets off from Leeds town hall next month, all 180 riders in the peloton will be men. Under rules set by the UCI, cycling’s governing body, the race is deemed too hard for women. Women are only allowed to ride 80 miles a day in UCI events, way shorter than almost every stage in the three-week men’s tour.

And anyway, the men who control the sport still think not nearly enough people want to watch girls having a go.

It’s cheering, then, that a play premiering in Leeds as part of the Yorkshire festival later this month, timed to coincide with the Tour’s visit, celebrates the greatest British female cyclist of all time. Not Victoria Pendleton or Laura Trott. But Beryl Burton of Morley, who for two glorious years in the 1960s held the men’s world 12-hour time trial record.

In 1967 she pedalled 277.25 miles in 12 hours, famously overtaking Mike McNamara, her male rival, and giving him a liquorice allsort as she passed. It wasn’t until 1969 that a man went faster. No woman has ever bettered her time.

She was also five-times world champion over 3,000 metres, 13-time national champion and the British best all-rounder champion for an incredible 25 successive years. All this she managed to fit around her shifts at a rhubarb farm and bringing up her daughter, Denise, who went on to be a top cyclist too.

“If she was a man, everybody would know about her,” said actor Maxine Peake, who has written Beryl, a four-hander which will open at the West Yorkshire Playhouse at the end of this month. (An eight-wheeler, really, because all of the characters are on bikes.) The play began life on the radio with Peake in the main role. She had been given Burton’s biography as a gift from her art director boyfriend, Pawlo. “He bought it because I’m always on about female stories and female ideas. We’ve got so many inspirational women in this country, past and present, who we don’t know about.
“Paw wrote: ‘get yourself a tight curly perm and there’s a film in this for you!’ But I thought, who’s going to pick up a film of a female cyclist? You’d just be banging on closed doors, that’s what I thought – even though I know I shouldn’t have this defeatist attitude. So I thought: I could write this for radio. The soundscape of cogs and wheels and wind would be quite interesting.” So successful was the radio version that Bolton-born Peake was persuaded to adapt it for stage, pleased to spread the word of Burton’s under-celebrated career.

Burton received limited fame in Britain, but was revered in continental Europe. According to the forward to her memoirs, a Frenchman once wrote: “If Beryl Burton had been French, Joan of Arc would have to take second place.”

Mostly, Burton accepted her fate as a largely unsung heroine, says Peake, who interviewed Burton’s widower, Charlie, and their daughter, Denise, for the play. “She was only a little bit fed up when she wasn’t getting much recognition, like when she was up for BBC Sports Personality of the Year and she came second to Henry Cooper, and she only got about two seconds of screen time. She said they probably only had about two seconds of her on film anyway.”

Peake, who has received acclaim for her roles in the BBC’s Silk and The Village, does not share the UCI’s view that women should feel grateful this year to be allowed to race just one stage of the Tour – a circuit around Paris after the men have finished. It’s a concession made only after the organisers came under pressure from women including Britain’s Chrissie Wellington, multiple winner of the World Iron Man triathlon event.

“It’s shocking, isn’t it, in this day and age,” said Peake, herself a keen cyclist. “I don’t see how it’s allowed to happen, that they can get away with it … We need to start making a big old racket.”

Charlie was Burton’s greatest supporter, a one-man mechanic, driver, childminder and husband rolled into one. He was ahead of his time, thinks Peake: “Initially I thought this was going to be a story about a housewife and a mother in the 1950s, finding it so hard to get out on that bike, her husband won’t be supporting her and she’s doing it against all odds.

“Then you meet Charlie and you realise it’s not a story about a woman escaping from the shackles of domestic life. He helped her every step of the way. He says: ‘she was a better cyclist than me’. It’s an amazing story, really, even today, that a man would say: ‘you go on, love.’ For Burton, cycling took precedence over everything else, even Denise, says Peake, citing the time mother and daughter were in a race and Burton refused to shake Denise’s hand after she won by a whisker. “Afterwards she said something like, ‘people say it’s because I was jealous, but I wasn’t. I don’t know what came over me, but I just felt Denise hadn’t done her whack.’ There’s an etiquette in cycling that you hold the group, taking it in turn to set the pace. Beryl had set the pace all the way and then right at the end, Denise zipped past her. Afterwards, Beryl wouldn’t let her in the car and made her cycle home!””

Burton died on the eve of her 59th birthday, out on her bike, posting invitations for her party. Peake wells up telling the story: “It was her heart. It just packed up. Apparently it could have happened any time. Someone just found her there in the road with her bike. But at least she died on her bike. It’s like Tommy Cooper dying on stage.”

Peake wanted to write a play which focused purely on a woman’s achievements. When you reach a certain age as a woman on TV, you get typecast, says the now 39-year-old. “I’ve been lucky, but then again I’ve been like: ‘I’m not doing that. I’m not doing that.’ Mistresses and prostitutes and wives, gah. I remember when we were doing Silk, [fellow cast member] Rupert Penry-Jones showed me a tweet which said: ‘Work hard, young actresses, and one day you can play the wife or mistress of a very interesting character!’ … I’m sick of playing parts where a man threatens to hits me and I have to cower. That’s really difficult, a real challenge for me.”

In September Peake will play Hamlet in a gender-bending production at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. She’s reluctant to reveal too much but says: “We’re of the mindset that gender is not important. It’s Hamlet, but a Hamlet confused about their gender. Whether we’ll play that overtly, or whether I will keep it as a secret, I don’t know yet. Sometimes it’s good as an actor to have a secret that nobody else knows. I think I’ll be a man, but somebody who has equal quantity of male and female.”

Describing Beryl as a “gentle” play, Peake says her aim was simple: “What I wanted with Beryl, all I wanted really, was a celebration of this amazing woman and her amazing achievements.”

Beryl, by Maxine Peake, is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from 30 June until 19 July


Maxine Peake: ‘regional accents are taken less seriously’

Actress and writer Maxine Peake on her new play about a British female cycling champion – and playing Hamlet in Manchester

Maxine Peake was going to cycle to our interview, but it’s tipping down in Salford so she drove instead. She is not the kind who demands a chauffeur-driven car. This is the woman who turned up to Bolton Socialist Club in January to accept an Outstanding Contribution to Socialism Award and, with absolute sincerity, declared it better than a Bafta.
She lives in a terraced house not far away with her partner, Pawlo, and their rescue dog. She moved here a few years ago in protest at London’s property prices. “Ridiculous! How does anyone afford it?” she asks. And that’s coming from an actress who gets so much work she hasn’t taken a holiday in five years.
Peake is one of Britain’s most sought-after acting talents, having worked her way up from her first regular television role as Twinkle in the Victoria Wood comedy Dinnerladies to headlining her first BBC One primetime series as barrister Martha Costello in Silk. Her name in the titles has become a reliable stamp of quality.
Her latest project is a labour of love: writer and star of a stage play about cyclist Beryl Burton, probably the most successful British athlete you’ve never heard of.

Burton was five times world pursuit champion, 13 times national champion, with a dozen more racing titles to her name. She won her first medal in 1957 and was still winning them in the 1980s; she beat the men’s record for a 12-hour time trial. All this from a housewife who built up her fitness by working on a rhubarb farm, and who ended one race in London by hopping back on her bike and cycling all the way home to Leeds.
Yet few today have heard of Burton’s achievements. Why has she been forgotten?
“I suppose mainly because she was a woman. That’s got a lot to do with it,” says Peake. “She was an amateur who never raced professionally. And it was a very different climate then. I think she’d be turning in her grave when you see Victoria Pendleton doing naked shoots on a bike. I’m like, ‘Oh, God, what would Beryl think?’”

This is said without a hint of malice. Peake is warm, friendly, supportive of other women. She just balks at their objectification.
She found it “slightly galling” to see London 2012 athletes in the pages of fashion magazines. “They were all being made to pose and I thought, it’s bad enough looking at models and going, ’How do you get like that?’, never mind athletes who train however many hours a day.”
Female athletes are on a more equal footing with men these days, but they are also judged on their appearance. Pendleton and Jessica Ennis became London 2012’s poster girls with contracts to advertise shampoos and beauty brands in a way that Nicola Adams, the boxing gold medallist, did not.
“It is depressing,” Peake sighs. She loved Adams because “I can imagine she’s a bit like Beryl; I don’t know her but if someone said to her, ’Do you want to be the face of whatever’, she’d probably go, ’Oh, bugger off’. Well, you hope she would.”

Peake, 39, has been open about the fact she lost five stone with Weight Watchers after Dinnerladies, a decision she made on health grounds and after Victoria Wood urged her not to get typecast.
“But I do hear stories about people saying they’ve been on jobs where producers said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have that apple pie for lunch…’”
Woe betide anyone who suggests that to Peake. “I think I’d say, ‘No, you can have it in your face’, you know what I mean?’”

Peake is that rare thing: an actress completely unafraid to speak her mind. The daughter of a lorry driver and a care worker from Bolton, she spent her teenage years living with her beloved grandfather, Jim Taylor, a socialist who helped to shape her political beliefs. She laughs at the memory of being “a right serious little bugger” at school: “I used to put my hand up and they’d be, ‘Oh, here she goes…’”
Aged 18, she joined the local branch of the Communist Party, which had fewer than a dozen members. She was the youngest by far.

“They’d say, ‘We’re going to Bury market on Saturday to pamphlet,’ and I was like, ’I don’t want to be pamphleting, I want to be kicking some arse!’ But you looked around the table at these people in their sixties and seventies, and it just used to break my heart – like my granddad, they’d fought all their lives, been in the war, seen horrific things.”

Her grandfather died last year, and she dedicated her award from the Bolton Socialist Club to him. She smiles. “I just thought, ‘If my granddad had been around he’d have been over the moon about that.’”
Her party membership has lapsed, but Peake remains a committed socialist. Her research for Beryl, which she wrote originally as a Radio 4 play, uncovered the fact that cycling was once sniffily regarded as a working-class pastime.

“There was a ban on racing round about the 1860s and 1870s, basically because the landed gentry didn’t want working-class people riding across their land. The police would turn up. That’s why time-trialling started – people set off at different times because they thought if they set off racing like that, people wouldn’t notice.”

Peake is fiercely proud of her working-class roots. Public-school actors have been having a moment – Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne – and Cumberbatch has complained that the Old Harrovian tag is more of a curse than a blessing. This makes Peake snort with laughter. “Oh, and he’s had a terrible career, hasn’t he? He’s not loaded and in Hollywood. I think he’s a brilliant actor and I knew him a little bit to say hello to and I think he’s a lovely bloke, but I can’t…” She shakes her head.
“You can get away with doing posh all the time but if you do Northern a lot they say, ‘Oh, are you doing Northern again?’ like you’re playing the same character continually. But nobody says to Judi Dench, ‘Oh, Judi, love, you’re not going to do that RP again?’ I mean, she’s a fantastic actress. But I do think if you’ve got a regional accent you’re not taken as seriously.”

The “faux intellectualism” of some actors drives her potty. “Sometimes you read interviews with people and think, God, if you’re that clever do something else, go and do something brilliant in medical science! There’s a lot of waving of intelligence around, which can be really intimidating.”
Peake won a scholarship to Rada – fellow students called her ‘Red Max’, which she finds hilarious – and was inspired to get into acting by Vanessa Redgrave. “She was very vocal about politics and I thought that’s what actors were. And then you sort of get here and go…” She looks disappointed. “It’s a very different business now.”

It’s a business that keeps her busy, though. She is currently filming a second series of heavyweight BBC drama The Village, and has two independent films coming out: Run and Jump, in which she gives a quietly heartbreaking performance as a woman whose husband suffers a stroke, and Keeping Rosy, a psychological thriller about an advertising executive whose life takes a shocking turn.

The days of being typecast as a “gobby, man-mad Northerner” are long gone. Now it’s what she calls the “women in turmoil” roles that come her way, ever since her standout performance as Myra Hindley in See No Evil: The Moors Murders.
“I think they go to me now for more complex characters. I get scripts and go, ‘Oh, crikey, I wonder why they’ve sent me that?’”. She’d like to go back to comedy for a bit, though, because “you can wring yourself a bit dry”.

Her one stipulation is that the characters she plays are strong women with more on their minds than marriage and babies. She and her partner are unmarried and child-free, and it infuriates her that interviewers make a thing of it.
“That’s one thing I really battled against in Silk,” she confides. “I said, ‘Please let’s not make this all about Martha trying to find a boyfriend. Why do women get force-fed with that? You get to a certain age where if you’ve not got a husband or had a baby then you’re a failure. And Martha was anything but a failure. And it’s all right.” She says this slowly, for emphasis. “When can we just start saying to women it’s all right?”

Next up she is playing Hamlet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, in a production that will also feature a female Polonius and Rosencrantz.
“Honestly, I’ve had so many male actors come up to me and say [adopts comically serious tone], ‘Oh, God, you’re playing Hamlet, how do you feel, you must be feeling sick,’ and I think, oh, get over yourselves.”
The idea of taking on one of the great stage roles – and a male one to boot – doesn’t intimidate her at all. In Peake’s world, you try something out and if it doesn’t work, at least you gave it a go. It’s all about fighting for the opportunity in the first place.
“You get casting directors saying, ‘Oh, she can’t play a lady’, or whatever. Just get them in the room and give them a chance. And I’m sure if Benedict Cumberbatch wants to play a miner or someone who breeds racing pigeons, somebody will give him a chance.”
And she dissolves in a fit of giggles.

Beryl opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on June 30 and is part of the Yorkshire Festival. Tickets: 0113 213 7700; Hamlet opens at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, on Sept 11. Run & Jump is currently showing in cinemas and Keeping Rosy is released on June 27


David Haslam Close Up with Maxine Peake – 28 September

Actress Maxine Peake talks to Dave Haslam, followed by an audience Q&A

Actress, and Royal Exchange Associate Artist, Maxine Peake talks to Dave Haslam about her thoughts and ideas, life and career, including special focus on her lead role in HAMLET.
Maxine will also be discussing her earlier work; from SHAMELESS and SILK to the recent Manchester International Festival production – THE MASQUE OF ANARCHY.

This is the latest in DJ/writer Dave Haslam’s series of ‘Close Up’ interviews, which have also included in-conversations with Will Self, Alistair Campbell, Jarvis Cocker, Jeremy Deller, Nile Rodgers and Neneh Cherry.

Expect insight, stories, politics and revelations…


Maxine Peake interview: Hamlet, acting challenges and a cycling queen

A new, really amazing interview with Maxine. Read ahead:

City Centre, Manchester, Yorkshire, 30 June 2014–19 July 2014

Maxine Peake is an actress who likes to push herself – we found out why.

The joyfully intrigued reaction to the announcement that Maxine Peake was going to be starring as Hamlet in the Royal Exchange’s Autumn season was surely positive proof of just how much the Bolton-born actress is both admired and loved. With the recent confirmation that the production, directed by Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom, will run from Thursday 11 September to Saturday 18 October, it seemed high time to catch up with an actress who’s taken many an intriguing turn in recent years. When we met in The Lowry’s café, Peake told me why she won’t just be ‘Princess of Denmark’.

It all started with a production of Miss Julie, directed by Sarah Frankcom at the Exchange in 2012. “I’ve maybe got a strange idea of what people think I do and what I’m capable of,” admits Peake, leaning forward over one of her ever-present cups of tea. “So after we’d done that I just said to Sarah – who directed me in that and more recently The Masque Of Anarchy – ‘we’ve got this opportunity now where there’s no boundaries, so we’ve got to challenge ourselves, perhaps even to the point where overstretch ourselves’. I was sort of half-joking when I threw the idea of Hamlet at her. But then we just thought ‘why not?’” Peake’s reasoning makes a lot of sense: “I honestly believe that’s what you have to do when you have that sort of opportunity,” she argues.

Although she’s so down to earth that you can practically see passers-by in the café wondering ‘is that her?’, Peake takes her contribution to the arts scene in the Northwest seriously – even daring to hope that Hamlet (along with the likes of the Manchester International Festival and HOME in 2015) could help metro-centric critics and arts funders acknowledge that there really is vibrant theatre scene outside London. “It’s not that I hate London or anything like that,” she emphasizes, “but with all the cuts in arts funding and theatre being so London-centric at the moment, we’ve just got to get a grasp of it in the regions and do something for ourselves that’s exciting and challenging.”

Peake’s socialist principles and her deep northern roots are powerful motivators but, essentially, acting is her job – and it’s one she takes seriously. However, playing Hamlet entails a different kind of pressure. “Male actors I know who’ve played Hamlet keep saying what a huge responsibility it is to play that part. But, even though I’m petrified, I’m not a man so I don’t feel that sort of responsibility”, she argues. “I just feel excited and, if we fail, we fail. But it’s about having a go, about saying we can do it.” Peake is adamant that this part has got absolutely nothing to do with gender-swapping for shock’s sake. “When there are all-male companies doing Shakespeare, no one minds and no one should bat an eye if a woman plays Hamlet or Henry V,” she asserts. “We’re actors doing a part and, on stage now in 2014, it’s about time there was a freedom to do that. When else are female actors going to get an opportunity to do those great speeches? So far, men have had all the fun!”

Peake is also joining the Royal Exchange as an Associate Artist, a role that should include opportunities for her to get involved in the theatre’s work with community groups and young people from across the city, drawing not only on her acting talents but also her recently revealed skills as a writer. Her plays Beryl: A Love Story On Two Wheels and Queens Of the Coal Age have both been broadcast by BBC Radio 4 – and she’s turned Beryl into a stage play for West Yorkshire Playhouse, opening next month. The script tells the story of Leeds-born Beryl Burton, a racing cyclist and one of Britain’s greatest-ever athletes. Beryl was a housewife who received no support, training or sponsorship, but nonetheless dominated women’s cycle racing in the UK from the 50s into the 80s, winning more than 90 domestic championships and seven world titles – as well as setting numerous records.

Yet Burton is virtually unknown outside of cycling circles, which seems quite astonishing today when the likes of Victoria Pendleton and Bradley Wiggins are such celebrities. “I do a bit of cycling myself, but I’d never heard of her either, before my boyfriend gave me a copy of Beryl’s autobiography that he’d found, with the inscription ‘Get yourself a tight perm and there’s a film in this for you’!” admits Maxine. “I’d never done any writing, just bits for myself, but I was fascinated by this story. I wanted to write something about ordinary people who did just carry on with normal everyday lives while they also had this extraordinary other life.”

The broadcast on Radio 4 last November led to the commission from West Yorkshire Playhouse. This begs the question of whether can Peake see herself writing further dramas with great female characters centre stage? “I know there are more stories out there of forgotten women, whether it’s in politics or sport or wherever, and if I had a daughter, they would be the sort of role models I’d like her to have. I’m not exactly down with the kids but these days there are still women whose stories are inspiring. Like Beth Ditto or Adele, even though her music isn’t especially to my taste.”

Peake’s own musical tastes range from Japanese black metal, garage rock and folk, to techno and psychobilly. She’s an inveterate raider of charity shops for obscure vinyl and has worked on her own musical projects, as well as directing a video for Cherry Ghost. “This has been a year of things I never thought I’d do,” she laughs. “I get slightly embarrassed when actors say ‘Oh, we’re artists’, but I want to be as creative as possible and this was another avenue. It’s not about being fashionable or cool, and certainly not a career move.” In fact, this desire comes from far more personal motivations: “These are things I might not have had a go at when I was younger and scared that I might not be any good at them,” she explains. “As you get older you get more fearless and I’d rather have had a go and maybe been shot down in flames than to regret not doing something when I had the chance.”

Even so, Peake admits to having been than a bit reluctant to have her portrait painted by Jonathan Yeo, for his current exhibition at The Lowry (until 29 June). “I got an email from The Lowry,” she remembers, “asking if I would have my portrait painted and I thought, ‘no, that’s just the height of vanity!’ I found it all a little bit uncomfortable and I didn’t do anything for a couple of weeks. Then I spoke to a few people who said ‘he’s a great artist, you must do it’ and, now, I’m really glad I did it.” Peake told me about the process behind it: “We only did a couple of three-hour sittings and, actually, we did start by talking about the idea of him painting me as Hamlet. But, even though I’m not superstitious, I just felt like I was tempting fate by being painted as a character I hadn’t played yet.” Just like not naming The Scottish Play, you can’t blame her – but, honestly, we have every faith that Hamlet will be amazing.


Video Update: Maxine Peake and Silk writer Peter Moffat on BBC Breakfast – 21 March

For three years, millions of viewers have been hooked on the BBC drama Silk, which follows the legal and personal trials of barrister Martha Costello.

But now the case is drawing to a close, with just two episodes left of the current series – which is to be the show’s last.

Writer Peter Moffat and actress Maxine Peake, who plays Martha, talk about bringing the TV drama to an end.

Special thanks to Kathryn Morris UK for helping out. 🙂