Actor Amelia Bullmore has appeared in some of my favourite TV programmes: Coronation Street (Steph Barnes), I’m Alan Partridge (girlfriend Sonja) and Twenty Twelve (Kay Hope) – we’ll come onto Happy Valley in a minute. And so, it’s quite surprising, then, that when we met at a Pilates class, a couple of years ago, I didn’t even recognise her. Sharp, brilliant and funny, I always enjoyed it when we ended up next to each other on the reformers, chatting like giddy kids at a sleepover.
We discovered that we were both students in Manchester at the same time, but while I was propping up the bar at the Hacienda, Amelia was touring the country with playwright Helen Edmunson and the women’s theatre group Red Stockings. It was only when we all went out for a Christmas drink that I realised that ‘Amelia from Pilates’, was actually the bossy boss from Scott & Bailey. ‘You mean Amelia Bullmore?’ Mr That’s Not My Age asked incredulously when I got home, ‘She’s really successful; been in loads of things.’ I’d accidentally made friends with a famous person.
For the latest in my series of Creative Women at Work, I popped round to 52-year-old Amelia’s house for a chat:
TNMA: I think we can still talk about Happy Valley (Amelia appeared in series two as Vicky Fleming), what makes it so brilliant?
AB: When the series was coming to an end, I was curled up on the sofa crying when Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) was holding Alison Garrs (Susan Lynch) in her arms. It was such an epic place but you’re taken there so deftly and really believed these two women in extremis. It’s the depth and breadth of the writing, not just line for line but the experiences Sally Wainwright gives people and the choices that she makes – she handles everything in her own particular way and it’s gripping, like a really good book. The writing is so good and the actors know the characters so well, and have acted together for so long, you’re watching a real working relationship.
TNMA: How do you feel about the inequality that exists in the acting profession, particularly around age?
AB: The statistics are not good. There are more leading males than females and there’s a pay discrepancy; but my experience, working in television, has been quite healthy. It’s very egalitarian, my bosses are often women. I’ve worked with lots of female directors and producers, camera women, hair and make-up artists and there’s a good mix of all backgrounds and classes. It’s a very nice feeling, everyone contributing and getting on with their jobs.
TNMA: Would you say ageing has affected your career?
AB: It’s hard to say. I suspect what’s tough is if beauty is your identifying quality, it gets complicated. I haven’t been defined in that way and so, have more wiggle room. I’m aware of ageing and aware of my ageing self but I couldn’t say I have a clear idea of what impact it’s having on my work. When I do worry about it, I thank god I can write and can be as wrinkly as I like. In fact, my experience is a positive boon. (Amelia has written for TV – including This Life and Scott & Bailey – radio and theatre).
TNMA: As an actor, how do you work on character development?
AB: If it’s someone complicated like Vicky Fleming in Happy Valley, she is thinking in a very particular way, not like the people around her. There is a gap between what we see and what she sees – you’ve got to get behind that. It’s a bit like DIY, and you have to do all the sanding and soaping beforehand – you don’t get your paintbrush out until you have a plan. I’m really lucky because if it’s someone who is going to do something extreme, I live next door to a criminal psychologist and so I’ll send him an email, ‘She does this, she does that…what do you think?’ We then basically gosssip about a person who doesn’t exist.
TNMA: And what about their wardrobe?
AB: Oh this is the really pleasurable bit. You’re working with the costume designer and thinking about particular clothes on particular days, what it is she’s trying to achieve. Does she need to look business-like, is she cleaning out the garage, or trying to seduce? This is when you really get a feel for the person, it’s a key moment and a very important step towards assembling that person. They’ve got your body but you have to work out whether they dress it well, whether they cover or reveal it. Sonia (Alan Partridge’s girlfriend) was a good one, she was dressing to attract and always showed her silhouette. When I go into M&S, I often think Jill Murray (Scott & Bailey) would kill for that dress. When you play someone long enough, you get into their fictional tastebuds.
TNMA: How would you describe your own personal style?
AB: It’s interesting because I realise that now I’m 52, I wear the same thing again and again. I’m not frilly – I like pattern and print in the home but never wear it. I want to be feminine and I do want to look sexy but I don’t want to look like I’m trying. I would rather feel a bit scruffy. I don’t want my hair too done or clothes that match – I feel good in jeans and neat jumpers and am more likely to feel frumpy in dresses and skirts. I aspire to be gamine, if someone mistook me for a French person that would be the highest praise.
TNMA: You do love a jumper – I can’t wear them anymore because of the hot flushes, how do you cope?
AB: So far, for me overheating is a nighttime event. Though I have noticed that if I get embarrassed or something, during the day, a hot flush can piggy-back that. It’s an opportunistic flush, piggy-backing a moment of embarrassment – I explode with heat and feel as if I’m purple but in reality I’m probably just a bit pink…