Unsurprisingly, actors often marry actors: Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory, Anne-Marie Duff and James McAvoy, Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, the list goes on. Awkwardly, one often garners more success than the other, at which point their partner can either walk proudly behind them or fight to fly proudly alongside.
Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s long-term partner, appears to fall into the latter camp. She’s about to start hogging Sunday-night telly for what seems like for ever. With three huge shows, first to the screen has been Case Histories on BBC1. In the second outing for Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books, Abbington is back as DCI Louise Munroe, the Edinburgh cop in a see-saw relationship with Jason Isaacs’s rugged private eye. How would Abbington describe the two characters’ relationship in the new series?
“Turbulent. They can’t be together and they can’t be without each other. They’re drawn to each other, but they’re a mess when they’re together. Unrequited love,” she smiles. “It’s great to play.”
Thankfully, and just in time, Abbington and Freeman’s young son Joe has finally got his head around his parents’ job. He now understands that, just as Dad isn’t really a young hobbit who hangs out with a bunch of dwarves, so Abbington’s current co-star isn’t actually evil Harry Potter wizard Lucius Malfoy.
“He was terrified the first time I did Case Histories,” Abbington smiles. “When he found out who I was working with, he thought his mummy was going to die – Lucius Malfoy was about to take her away. We had to explain that wasn’t the case. And Joe’s 22 so it was about time he knew.” Boom-tish! Another funny line from this sparky 39-year-old who lives in Hertfordshire. Joe is actually seven, and little sister Grace is five next month.
Next you’ll see her in ITV’s Mr Selfridge as the lovelorn head of accessories, Miss Mardle, and come winter she will be reunited with Freeman on screen – for the first time since they met in 2000 on the set of TV movie Men Only in BBC1’s Sherlock. She is sworn to secrecy on any plot or character details of the new trio of films. But paparazzi snaps from the Bristol set have revealed Abbington wearing a wedding dress. Are the rumours true? To wit, is she playing “love interest” Mary Morstan, and is she about to marry Freeman’s John Watson?
“Well, was I marrying [lovelorn pathologist] Molly maybe?” she says with a coquettish twinkle. “I put that [idea] on Twitter and they all went mad, all the little Sherlock nuts. Not mad,” she backtracks. “They’re very sweet girls. But there is a fandom…”
“Working with Martin on Sherlock is really quite inspiring, ’cause he’s so good at his job. And he and Ben [Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock Holmes] have this fantastic chemistry. Coming into Sherlock you have to up your game, ’cause they’re so good together.”
It also gives the couple a chance to make up for lost time. Freeman was in New Zealand for 18 months filming the bulk of Peter Jackson’s three ilms of The Hobbit. The aftershocks of his absence must linger, not least because while he was away on his Tolkien odyssey, Abbington had a cancer scare and had a lump removed from her breast. It was benign, but she had to deal with the whole trauma on her own.
“I’m an only child, I’m quite self-sufficient – I can get on with stuff on my own. I don’t like to worry other people, either. And it was fine in the end, and Martin was fantastic. But I said to him there was no point in him coming home. He’d be sitting there holding my hand and worrying, whereas he didn’t need to.”
This reluctance to share – or burden – goes some way to explain Abbington’s calamitous run-in with the Inland Revenue. She was declared bankrupt earlier this year after finding herself unable to pay a £120,000 tax bill. Eyebrows were raised at how the partner of an actor reportedly worth £10 million could have come financially unstuck.
“It’s fine, it’s being sorted out. It was a big mistake and I’m sorting it out right now,” she says speedily. “It’s being paid off now. I would never want to go through this again. But I’m paying it off,” she repeats.
Was poor professional advice to blame for her tax woes?
“It was just me not managing my finances properly. I was putting some money away [to pay tax], but not all of it. I was working one year and not working another year. So I was using the money I’d saved… It will be annulled in a couple of months.”
Was it important to her to fix it on her own and not rely on Freeman?
“Yeah, oh God, yeah. And it just got out of hand. I never wanted to avoid my taxes. The thing that upset me was,” she adds, “it’s nobody’s business. But it becomes public because they put it on something called The London Gazette and then people find out,” she frowns at her public ignominy. “It’s mean,” she says with a shrug.
For Abbington it’s now a case of keeping her head down and keeping on top of her finances: having three primetime dramas in the pipeline will help with one, if not the other… “People will hate me!” she says chirpily of her looming ubiquity. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh, no, it’s her again. Jeez! Martin Freeman’s on the side of buses, she’s all over my television – they can just …off!’
Case Histories is on Sunday at 8:30pm on BBC1