Amanda Abbington: “I never want to see a young actress feeling bullied”

The Sherlock actress and star of new Channel 5 film Crooked House talks Twitter, Trump and twisted detective stories

Amanda Abbington in Crooked House, Channel 5, SL

Amanda Abbington has a cold and so do I. The difference is she caught hers from snogging Michael C. Hall whereas I most likely picked mine up from my mother.

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“I had to do a kiss with him and he had it and I was bragging, saying, ‘I’m not going to get it’. The next day I got his cold.”

There’s nothing like a glamorous anecdote to put your own mundane life into perspective.

Along with Hall, Abbington is leading the cast of new Neflix series Safe – a new Harlen Coben thriller set for release in April 2018. It’s all part of what Abbington describes as the “fallout from Sherlock”, the BBC drama she bowed out of in dramatic fashion earlier this year when her character, Mary Morstan, was killed off.

The role – which saw her line up alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and former partner Martin Freeman – raised her profile and introduced her to a global audience. “It’s such a worldwide thing that it was on people’s radars a lot more than any of the other work I’ve done. People know me more now than they did three or four years ago and I think that’s because of Sherlock.”

And Abbington’s enthusiasm for the detective drama, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, is downright infectious. “I’ll always be grateful to Sherlock,” she says. “It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever done… It’s one of those lovely little moments in time where it all happened and we told good stories and I loved it.”

Sherlock is, of course, notorious for resurrecting past characters but when I mention the idea of a possible return to the show – well, the string of affirmatives speaks for itself:

Oh, absolutely. In a heartbeat. Completely. I'd go back in a minute. Hell yeah! I'd love to.

In case you had any doubt, she adds: “Andrew [Scott]’s dead – Moriarty is definitely dead in it and he’s come back – and Andrew said you never leave Sherlock, there’s always an outside chance that you might come back in a flashback. So never say never but if they wanted to bring me back I would be there with my bags packed.”

In the meantime, Abbington has plenty on her plate. There is Safe – which finishes filming just before Christmas – and a new film, Crooked House, the first ever adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s lesser-known novels.

With the hole left in the BBC schedules by Ordeal by Innocence (which was pulled in the wake of sexual assault allegations against one of its actors, Ed Westwick), Channel 5 are screening Crooked House – written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes – ahead of a cinematic release next year.

Abbington plays Clemency, the wife of the son of Aristide Leonides – a wealthy entrepreneur who is found dead in a case of suspected poisoning. The film was shot last year and much of the action takes place in a country mansion inhabited by Leonides’ various bitter and twisted family members.

“They all live in this big house together and Clemency is a prime suspect because she works at this place where you develop and analyse poisons,” explains Abbington. “She’s married into this mad family who are all nuts and dysfunctional and she eventually tries to get her husband away because it’s too unhealthy.”

The film boasts an impressive cast – among them Glenn Close, Christina Hendricks, Gillian Anderson and Terrence Stamp: “Terrence Stamp has always been a hero of mine. I was brought up with the sixties by my folks and he was the archetypal beautiful sixties man.”

Crooked House, Channel 5, SL
Crooked House airs on Channel 5 this Christmas

The star-studded cast left their egos at the door. “Everyone mucked in and we had fun and big dining table scenes and we all sat around and were laughing and playing games. It was a really fun shoot.”

That dining table scene has more than a whiff of Downton about it, which comes as no surprise with Fellowes at the helm. But unlike the lavish ITV drama – where privilege often did buy happiness – Crooked House pivots around a group of desperately unhappy wealthy elite.

“[Money] is great and it helps – you need it – but actually it’s all about love and health,” muses Abbington. “That’s what I’m finding as I get older. It’s about having love in your life and being healthy and everything else pales into insignificance. When I’m ill it’s awful – I can’t cope – and if I don’t have people around me who I love it’s a very lonely time. So in the pecking order it’s health, love… money. You need some but you don’t need a lot.”

There is no question that Sherlock also makes Abbington happy. But she’s keen to step behind the camera, too. “I’d love to direct. I’ve got an idea for a thing I want to write and I’m just trying to secure the rights to the book.”

The project – a true story – is something she’s keen to write herself. “I’d have to think very carefully about whether I’d want to be in it or if I’d want to direct it but the directing is something I’m very interested in. The older I get, the more interested I am in being behind the camera.”

After 20 years spent in the industry, she’s also unafraid to speak her mind (although it’s hard to imagine the effervescent Abbington has ever been a shrinking violet). Instead, she’s refreshingly open and willing to tackle topics that other, more nervy, actors might baulk at – including the recent sexual harassment scandal that has rocked Hollywood and her urge to protect those starting out from predatory filmmakers.

“I will always champion young women – and men as well, because there are young boys who are also being exploited – but it’s mainly women and it’s mainly young girls. So if I see that, I will be the first person to go, ‘That’s not how it works and shouldn’t be how it works – there is no reason for you to be doing that and there is no reason for you to be asking her to do that’.

“I’m always very aware of it on set and I’m always very aware of young actresses. If they’re feeling uncomfortable I will always make sure they feel supported by me and know that they’ve got an ally and can come to me.

“I never want to see a young actress feeling bullied or having to do something they don’t want to do or feeling violated. I think it’s an appalling thing to do: it’s bullying and it’s an abuse of power, and I can’t stand that. I find that abhorrent.”

Amanda Abbington in Sherlock, BBC, SL
Amanda Abbington in Sherlock (BBC)

Anyone familiar with Abbington’s Twitter feed will know she uses it regularly to have her say on a range of topics. “I think it should be a place where you can express yourself in a positive way and if you see something you like or something that’s annoying you or if the establishment is being horrendous, like it is at the moment, we can voice our opinion.”

Does she see it as a means of holding public figures – like Donald Trump – to account? “I do think it is very important that we have a say in what white middle class men are doing because we don’t have a voice – women don’t have a voice, ethnic minorities don’t have a voice, the gay community doesn’t have a voice – so we have a right to say what we feel because they do and they’re running the world in a very bad and dangerous way.

“They’re going to destroy the planet. They’re going to divide and conquer and it’s going to be the end of days. I firmly believe that because they’re not there for the good of man – they’re there for their own reasons and they’re not for the people. Their actions defy that and if one small voice is saying, ‘Don’t do that’, if somebody retweets that and somebody retweets that again, you get a movement and I think that’s important.”

It’s a conversation I could have continued for hours – Abbington is the sort of person you want to share a cup of tea (or bottle of wine) with  – but our time is almost up. There’s just long enough for her to tell me (unprompted, might I add) all about her favourite Christmas ritual…

“I get my copy of Radio Times and start highlighting it before the kids do it – that’s what I do every year. I buy the Radio Times and then I get a mince pie and a glass of wine and I go through the whole thing and ring what I’m going to watch and then what I’m going to record. I am such a geek when it comes to that. I love it – it’s one of my favourite things.”

Maybe I’m biased, but what better way to spend Christmas than that?

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Agatha Christie: Crooked House airs on Sunday 17th December at 9pm on Channel 5