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I am often asked what my favourite role has been. This is almost impossible to answer. On a whim I might say Alice in Arden of Faversham, a part I played on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Or the nurse Alex Price in the film An American Werewolf in London. The characters couldn’t be more different: Alice was a woman from the 16th century who wanted to be rid of her husband - and who made eight attempts to murder him before finally succeeding. Alex Price was a modern, no-nonsense young woman who fell in love with a wonderful guy; unfortunately he turned out to be a werewolf.
On this page Jenny addresses in her own words some of the subjects and questions that come up most frequently when she meets people. The content is exclusive to this website and will change, so please keep coming back to see what is new.
The truth is that I have been very lucky in the parts I have played. However, a good film or play is the whole created by a number of elements, only one of which is the role being offered. I would often ask Theo Cowan - a legendary publicist who handled press for me from the age of fourteen - for advice about whether to take on work. His response would inevitably be along the same lines: “Is the location good? Is it an enjoyable team of people to work with? What will the grub be like?”
Walkabout fell into the category of a great location. I was four months in the Australian outback, and it was an amazing adventure. You never know whilst making a film how it will turn out and I was unaware at the time what an extraordinary piece of work Nic Roeg was creating. I was engrossed in the day-to-day discoveries, travelling across this staggeringly beautiful continent with what seemed to me, at the age of sixteen, like a circus troupe. We stayed in hostels miles from anywhere or camped in the outback. One night the props department provided me with an antique iron bed in which to sleep out under the stars. We went by small plane and helicopter to regions that the explorers Burke and Wills may have trekked across with their camels during their legendary 1860 expedition, but which no one had been to since. Making Walkabout was an exceptional experience.
Making a film in Europe requires rather less of a pioneering spirit. Meals are very important - in France I think the crew would strike if they were not served a gourmet lunch of several courses with a choice of wine and a number of excellent cheeses to follow. My first experience of this was at the age of thirteen when I went to Cap Ferrat in the South of France to play a small role as Pamela Lawrence in Star, a big-budget Hollywood movie about the life of Gertrude Lawrence, played by Julie Andrews. The location was an impressive villa in an exclusive part of the Côte d’Azur. Lunch was as big a production as the film itself. Julie Andrews, however, would have a plain yoghurt and a rest. Hers was a demanding role and there was not a scene in which she did not take part.
Being a guest in a successful television series is most enjoyable - whether one’s in Hawaii having a case investigated by Tom Selleck as Magnum, or in a remote part of the Yorkshire moors hoping not to be arrested by Nick Berry, the PC in Heartbeat. There is an efficient but relaxed atmosphere on set, which comes from the crew and regular artists knowing one another well. I played Susannah Temple-Richards in Fair Game, an episode in the fourth series of Heartbeat for Yorkshire TV. The backdrop for this vintage police drama is Goathland, a rugged moorland village where it is impossible to receive any mobile phone signals - a “disadvantage” that actually removes huge amounts of pressure from filming. As little contact could be made with the outside world, we were just left to get on with work. The episode was wonderfully directed by Matthew Evans, and mine was also a terrific role.
Sometimes it is rewarding to be given roles which people don’t expect you to play. I loved being Connie, the stressed wife of a politician in the TV mini-series And the Beat Goes On, about Liverpool in the Sixties. When it was being shown I remember someone on the street asking whether I was off the tranquilisers yet. Tessa in Spooks was also a brilliant role to play. Episodes were being written as we went along. I never knew what she was going to do, whether she would turn out to be good or bad. I always felt she was amoral, but holding on to certain principles in what can be a fairly unprincipled business.
I began by saying it was almost impossible to say what my favourite role has been. On reflection, I think it is utterly impossible - but that’s because I continue to be offered new challenges, new experiences and the chance to enter characters and worlds I have never before explored. I hope my good fortune continues.