Sarah Parish is not an actress who blends with the background. Heads turn to watch her progress - a loose, athletic slink - through a restaurant in London’s Mayfair. It’s not a celebrity thing. It’s a presence thing. Immaculate in pencil skirt and silk shirt, Parish radiates the kind of grown-up glamour, a vermouth-and-olives sophistication, that sends waiters diving for chairs.
Maybe it’s the sheen of success - she’s currently starring alongside James Nesbitt in ITV1’s Monroe, where her character, heart surgeon Jenny Bremner, is struggling to come to terms with life as a working mother. But this week the Yeovil-born actress trades Leeds for Hollywood glamour when she joins Kevin Costner in Hatfields & McCoys, a US miniseries that recently garnered 16 Emmy nominations (the same number as Downton Abbey) and won five (second only to Homeland and Game of Thrones).
Either way, the “Call me madam” aura is quickly dispelled by a manner both confident and confiding. “I don’t usually look like this,” offers Parish, 44, best known on this side of the Atlantic as the star of Mistresses and Blackpool. “I just faked it up because I’ve been on This Morning. I’m much more a jeans-and-wellies type of girl.”
Nor - by any stretch - could her part in Hatfields & McCoys be described as a glamour role. She plays Levicy Hatfield, the long-suffering wife of Devil Anse Hatfield (Costner), whose down-and-dirty feud with the neighbouring McCoy family is a keystone of American social history.
“It’s a true story. I’d never heard of it, but it’s hugely famous in America. The feud started during the Civil War, but came to a head with a falling-out over a pig. Which could really only happen in the Appalachian mountains in the late 19th century. Then it just escalated and became this all-out massacre.:
“Levicy was a real tough cookie, a great character to play. She had 13 children, which was normal for the period, and it wasn’t a great time for women. Their husbands had gone off to war and they would be left on a farmstead with all the work to do and all the children to feed. Wives weren’t ‘heard’, particularly, but they were the rock of the family.”
Parish originally read for the part of Sally, matriarch of the McCoys. “When they rang and said I’d been offered a part, but it was playing opposite Kevin Costner, I nearly crashed the car.”
A four-month shoot in the Romanian mountains with a US crew gave Parish ample opportunity to observe the American work ethic. “It was cold and miserable a lot of the time, we were working long hours and it was dirty and grubby, but there’s an energy when you work with Americans that I love.”
“I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but they take their work incredibly seriously. There’s always a stress around it. And you either come up to the mark or you go under.”
“There’s no going out and sitting in the bar till four in the morning. You go to bed at ten o’clock. Then you get up and go to the gym and do a day’s work. You look the best you can and you are the best you can be. American actors exude this confidence and optimism and I just think, ‘Good on you!’ I think sometimes in England we are too ready to put ourselves down. It’s not ‘cool’ to work hard, whereas in America it’s really cool to work hard and it’s really cool to succeed. It’s an honest way of being and I really like that.”