The Oxford Times published a truly, inspiring interview with Maxine yesterday morning. Read it below and I can assure you won’t be disappointed:
Katherine MacAlister speaks to actor/ writer Maxine Peake about Beryl Burton
It’s no that surprise Maxine Peake chose the life of Beryl Burton to kick off her career as a playwright, because the two have so much in common. Both are Northern, both battled against sexist, conformist, old-fashioned rules to get where they wanted, with as little fanfare, fuss and bother as possible. Both have a ferocious work ethic, no-nonsense approach and wonderful sense of humour. Both trained hard, fought hard and succeeded in their fields.
Maxine Peake and Beryl Burton are worthy opponents then and perfect subject matter for the inspirational talks at the new Ruskin Theatre, because apart from being one of the most diverse and sought-after actresses, Maxine is desperate to discuss her new passion: writing.
Her debut play for Radio 4 celebrates the extraordinary sporting achievements of Morley cyclist Beryl Burton, MBE, OBE, five-times world champion, 13-times national champion, twice road-racing world champion and 12-times national champion.
“I’d spent so many mornings drinking coffee with fellow actresses complaining how they were always playing mistresses, wives and mothers. And of course those are important roles, but there is more to women than that, so I thought I’d better dip my toe in and seize the opportunity. If you fail, you fail, but I’m too old and ugly to worry about that.”
Neither old nor ugly, Maxine has never been more in demand, with parts in Dinnerladies, Shameless, Criminal Justice, Silk and most recently The Village making her one of the most in-demand actors in Britain.
Even so, she refuses to take it for granted. “They say when you hit 40 the roles start drying up so I’m preparing myself with an alternative career. But I do think women get more interesting as they get older, that was my view even when I was younger.”
I agree with everything she says about women get more interesting as they get older – not only as human beings but just take a look at different actresses’ careers. For example, there’s Alex Kingston in Doctor Who, Helen McCrory in Peaky Blinders, or Jessica Lange being introduced to a whole new generation (google American Horror Story).
So if there’s a chance writers can have a bit of influence on this matter please please write more striking roles for women. It is fair to say that these days we’re past the housewife cliché and don’t need one-sided characters anymore. There is more to women, isn’t it?
When she was younger of course, acting was the last thing on her mind, Maxine setting her sights on becoming a writer or comedian: “I’d always imagined I’d go to university, meet like-minded people, start up a comedy group and it would go from there,” she laughs at her naivety. “But I didn’t get into uni, and had to fight hard to even get into drama school. It took years. I got used to being rejected, which is useful in this business.”
What kept her going? “I had a strong, Northern, working class, no-pain-no-gain attitude. And it hasn’t been easy. You have to fight for what you want.
“So, at drama school I always played the old woman rather than the pretty fox because I was big and Northern and they didn’t know what else to do with me. And yet it was the best training I could’ve had. How does a 23-year-old play a 64-year-old from the Deep South? I had to take it on.”
It wasn’t until Maxine pitched up on the set of Dinnerladies, alongside her all-time hero Victoria Wood, that her metamorphosis began. Wood sat the 15-stone, 23-year-old Maxine down and told her the business was tough and that she would always be typecast as a big, brash, blonde, Northerner if she didn’t lose weight. Maxine went on a diet. Once she reached her ideal wight she moved on, and up, and has refused to be typecast ever since.
“I had high blood pressure for a 23-year-old and was very unhealthy. If it didn’t go between two pieces of bread, I wasn’t interested. At drama school I was the only female in the canteen. I’m a bit of a sod like that though. I always do the opposite of everyone else, so I lost the weight begrudgingly.”
She’s been a size 12 ever since and eats healthily now, but doesn’t dwell on her weight. She’s more interested in the roles she plays. “I always start from scratch with a part. The difficulty is returning to a role because you have crafted this character and may disagree with the way they develop, but you have to accept it.”
So what next? “I haven’t lost my love of acting,” she says, but hopes to continue writing and is adapting her radio play Beryl for the stage, wanting to share her story with the world.
A feminist then? “Feminist? I think feminism is just about equality but I’ve never had a lack of confidence or thought women were the weaker sex. I think women are much stronger than men. They have to juggle more; careers, children and be the backbone of the family. That’s not to say men don’t but I do think women are stronger.”
This last paragraph captures exactly my thoughts and I admire Maxine for speaking it out loud and being honest because sadly, men still don’t seem to realize these days what it’s like if you aim “to have it all”. Of course, there are exceptions but, as for me studying in a more men-dominant, scientific field the equality along with thoughts on women’s strengths and flaws is still a problem sometimes.
Maxine does accept however that Beryl Burton needed the backing of her husband to succeed and he supported her 100 per cent. “In those days cycling was an amateur sport so they both made a lot of sacrifices, so Beryl is also a love story,” she says.
Does Maxine have a similar support network? “My partner Pawlr (pronounced Pavlo) is brilliant. He told me I must do it, even when I’m writing from 8am-11.30pm. And if I’m offered a job that takes me away from home he just says ‘go and do it if you want’. I’ve been out with actors who haven’t been that accommodating. But in the end it’s about getting off your backside and doing it for yourself. So while one part of me says ‘you can’t do this’, the other says ‘you have to’.”
My conclusion to this engaging interview is we should all take her as an example and give what we love our best because that’s what leads to success. We can see it has absolutely worked fine on Maxine’s part! 🙂
As for the Ruskin talk Maxine says it’s a Q&A session, but that she’s incredibly honoured to have been asked and that it’s a real privilege. I’m sure the feeling is mutual.
Ruskin Theatre, Dunstan Road, Old Headington, OX3 9BZ
Wednesday (March 5), 6.30pm
All events free – book tickets at firstname.lastname@example.org