I had a walk-on part as a gypsy in The Bill when I was 11; a group of us from my drama club did it and my dad, who runs a coach company, drove us in his best coach – the executive coach – which I loved so much I sometimes slept on it. They covered us in dirt because we were meant to be grubby and my dad went ballistic. We had to sit on bin liners on the way home.
I worked at a Clarks shoe shop while I was at college. I don’t like to boast, but I was s**t-hot at that, especially at selling handbags to old ladies. I used to get a pound per handbag, so poor old Enid didn’t stand a chance, bless her.
Worst job interview?
Remembering my Grange Hill audition still brings me out in a cold sweat. We had to come up with a character and I made up this little Just William boffin who was clearly not what they were after. At drama club I’d been taught to freeze when you left a scene. So I froze and was stood there like a lemon for 15 minutes while the two boys I’d been put with wrestled around on the floor, having a fight.
I’d be the next Mr Clarks. Or I’d do something in art – I’d like to be a curator or have my own gallery.
You might recognise Russell Tovey from roles in Being Human, Sherlock and Him & Her.
While I was at college I dressed up as a chicken in Hammersmith shopping centre and read Easter stories to children for £16 a day. I lost three stone in sweat but I was thrilled. I remember thinking, “This is the beginning of my showbiz career!”
When I was 19, I was a magician’s assistant. We rehearsed in a lock-up in Kettering but his wife was Brown Owl in the local Brownie pack so I convinced myself it was all above board. Our first act was on a cruise ship in the Bay of Biscay and opened with me singing a song from Phantom of the Opera. I looked incredibly young for my age and my high singing voice leaves a lot to be desired. You could see the dads thinking, “I’ve come on this cruise to see a sexy señorita, not this 12-year-old who sounds like a boy trapped in a cupboard.”
Dozens! I waitressed at a restaurant in Mayfair where the level of service depended on my mood; I served in a chocolate shop in Old Bond Street where you had to taste all the chocolates; I worked in a bar…
Have you ever signed on?
Twice in my early 20s and it was deeply unpleasant. The job centre I went to had grilles protecting the person behind the counter from the riffraff, and they didn’t really know how to deal with actors – “Well, you’ll just have to get a proper job, won’t you?”
I’d be a cleaner. I’m very thorough. If I’m round somebody’s house and think the work tops could do with a hot cloth, I won’t be shy of doing it.
You might recognise Sarah Hadland from roles in Miranda and Waterloo Road
Sophie McShera plays sulky job seeker Bryony
In my first week at a drama club called Footsteps in Bradford, they were sending five girls to the West End to audition for a big musical. At the last minute a girl dropped out and they asked if I could sing and do an American accent. I don’t know why I thought I could do both of these things – I’d never done them before – but I’d been watching Saved by the Bell the whole summer so I was pretty sure I could nail the accent. I sang a song from Annie and I was fearless because when you’re little there are no consequences. I got the part in Neil Simon’s musical Goodbye Girl and made my West End debut at 12 years old.
Working in a factory in Bradford packing and picking packaging. I had such awful paper cuts, I could barely wash my hands. We worked 12-hour days and it was mind-numbing. My favourite “in-between-jobs job” was working on reception because you’re your own boss and you can do your own thing. So when I wasn’t answering the phone, I used to send my CV off to casting directors and try to find acting work. I worked in reception for a big transport company in Bradford for a while – so glamorous!
My most recent non-acting job was looking after my nine-year-old cousin, who is autisitc. I even did that between series one and series two of Downton Abbey as my in-between job. It was really rewarding and something I would really like to do more of.
You might recognise Sophie McShera as Daisy in Downton Abbey
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