If you're a fan of British film and television, faces don't get more familiar than Elizabeth Berrington's.


Perhaps you remember her as Tim's oversharing desk buddy, Anne, in The Office (UK); snobby food tech teacher Ruby Fry in Waterloo Road; old-fashioned governess Mrs Griffiths in Sanditon – or from one of the other 100-plus roles she's stepped into over the past three decades.

Certainly, she must rank as one of Britain's most steadily employed character actors.

"The work ethic is to keep going at all costs because I'm a single parent running a house with a greedy teenager and a dog," she told RadioTimes.com.

Her latest project is BBC Two sitcom Henpocalypse!, where she plays tough-as-nails Midlands woman Bernadette, who is on a hen party in the Welsh countryside when society catastrophically collapses.

Suddenly, herself and the other attendees – including her soon-to-be-wed daughter, Zara (Lucie Shorthouse) – are thrown into an extreme scenario described as "Blair Witch meets Bridesmaids" by way of The Last of Us.

Bernadette copes with her new reality in an unconventional way – puffing a vape filled with anti-freeze that induces some "mad visions" – but don't underestimate her.

"She's not super glamorous in any way, but she's so confident," said Berrington, "about herself and her opinion [and] what she's got to say. She couldn't give a toss about what anybody thinks about her. And in a crisis, she is absolutely the go-to person that you want to be standing behind."

Lucie Shorthouse and Elizabeth Berrington star in Henpocalypse!, hugging each other
Lucie Shorthouse and Elizabeth Berrington star in Henpocalypse!

The series comes from the mind of writer Caroline Moran, who has previously praised television depictions of working-class life as "very affirming" in her formative years.

Now, she's providing that representation for the next generation through the semi-autobiographical Raised by Wolves, plus Hullraisers and Henpocalypse!. Her lived experience adds an authenticity to the scripts that Berrington believes makes all the difference.

"I think it's everything because it just nails the comedy so perfectly," she continued. "Caroline is from the Midlands, where all of our central characters are from... so that's a really nice touch as well."

Berrington and Shorthouse co-star with a brilliant ensemble cast, including Callie Cooke as long-suffering bridesmaid Shelly, Kate O'Flynn as widely despised cousin Jen and Lauren O'Rourke as no-nonsense beautician Veena.

The cast "bonded in adversity" during an intense pilot shoot. "It was pretty tough going because we only initially had a week, so we were all absolutely thrown in. And we were scrabbling around in the forest, covered in mud... hair full of twigs and feathers and you name it," recalled Berrington.

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The rest of the series was filmed in "hypothermic" conditions in north Wales earlier this year, which proved a particular challenge for co-star Ben McGregor, who plays scantily-clad stripper Drew.

Lucie Shorthouse, Lauren O'Rourke, Elizabeth Berrington and Callie Cooke in Henpocalypse!, standing in a forest
(L-R) Lucie Shorthouse, Lauren O'Rourke, Elizabeth Berrington and Callie Cooke in Henpocalypse! BBC / Various Artists / David Gennard

Indeed, Berrington is quick to point out that "nobody need feel that it's an exclusively female set-up", with the male crew members on-set frequently bursting into giggles behind-the-camera.

"They found the material really satisfying, really nourishing, really funny - and so I think it's a great example of how inclusive it is, really," said Berrington, who adds that men become the "centre of attention" at several moments throughout the story.

Chief among them is a "magical" appearance from a certain EastEnders icon and all-round national treasure.

"The combination of Danny Dyer and Kate O'Flynn is an absolute match made in heaven, I can guarantee, because they're both just brilliant," teased Berrington (and she's absolutely right). "That's something really delightful to look forward to."

At a press event, series creator Moran revealed she "begged" Dyer to join the show – and he was more than happy to oblige after reading the scripts.

But while Henpocalypse! isn't shutting anyone out, it is worth noting that its creator and cast are predominantly female – something which is becoming more common today, but was rarely seen when Berrington began her career.

However, she considers only a "small shift" to have taken place in the industry, with women of colour and older women continuing to have difficulty building and sustaining a "full-fledged" acting career.

This lack of opportunity results in unrelenting competition. Berrington mentions one project, which went into production last year, that included a highly desirable role for a woman over the age of 50 – and "every British actress you could name" in that demographic went up for it.

The part was so unusually complex that it "apparently" attracted interest from Hollywood star Melissa McCarthy, too. Nevertheless, it was ultimately "cast younger" in a bitter blow to many who auditioned.

"That gives you an example of how few roles there are for women in their late 40s/early 50s or older, that are really meaty and really chunky," explained Berrington, "and I think British TV would be served well if we did see more of those roles."

As a result of this condemnable reality, she questions how "realistic" it is that she would be cast in a visual effects-driven blockbuster project, but would certainly relish the chance should it come her way.

"It would be amazing," said Berrington. "You never stop wanting to play around with those genres or get the gig on Star Wars... It would be such a hoot. I want to do it all. And with the big blockbuster comes the slightly fatter pay cheque as well, so it's just a win-win really, isn't it?"

Recently, the actor has had a taste of more fantastical roles in the likes of Prime Video's Good Omens (as demonic Dagon) and HBO's The Nevers (as super-powered Lucy Best).

Although she praises the "brilliance" of the latter drama, it didn't work out as planned. During production, creator Joss Whedon (of Buffy and Marvel fame) was accused of inappropriate behaviour on past projects, something he denies, but which severely scuppered any chance of success for his latest endeavour – it was axed after its first season.

Elizabeth Berrington stars in The Nevers, standing by a gate with two people stood behind
Elizabeth Berrington stars in The Nevers. HBO

"That's a great sadness. The show very much got swept up in controversy and its fabulous director Joss Whedon is no longer employable. There's a huge discussion around that," acknowledged Berrington.

"That was a show that had all the detail and brilliance to run and run and run. And that didn't happen, so I think it's fair to say – to the vast majority of us who performed in the show – that was a great disappointment. But it's a much, much bigger discussion."

With co-stars including James Norton (Happy Valley), Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark), Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) and Laura Donnelly (Werewolf by Night), anyone would have expected The Nevers to be a sure-fire hit prior to the Whedon claims. The eventual outcome certainly stung, but Berrington has developed a thick skin to such matters of her profession.

"I've had lots of experiences where you do shows... and you're like, 'This is going to be the one. This is going to make you a household name.' And then, for lots of reasons, it doesn't happen. I've been there a lot," she said candidly.

"Obviously, you're quite committed to those characters – you imagine a sort of future journey for them and then it doesn't happen. But that's just part of being a self-employed artist, really. If you don't get used to that really early on, then you're going to be in trouble."

Elizabeth Berrington stars in Henpocalypse!, wearing a red bandana
Elizabeth Berrington stars in Henpocalypse! BBC / Various Artists Ltd.

While not every project has been a commercial juggernaut, Berrington's varied career has allowed her to work with some of the most respected "auteurs" in the business today. She says it's a "great privilege" to be a repeat collaborator of acclaimed filmmaker Mike Leigh, having appeared in his 1993 film Naked, along with Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake and Mr Turner.

"He works in a very detailed way with actors," she explained. "Deep character detail, then improvisation, then locking things down into a super tight script.

"Having the luxury of time on a film is something which actors, directors [and] producers never normally have – and you've always had that with Mike. So that's a great love I have for working with him and his stable."

Berrington also speaks highly of her Henpocalypse! co-stars, saying she would jump at the chance to reunite with them should the sitcom be renewed for a second season. Nothing is confirmed just yet, but Moran recently told press that she is "cooking up" more chaotic ideas for future episodes.

"All brilliant writers these days will will finish a series with a question mark," explained Berrington. "So there's certainly a desire [for] a next step. There's a horizon they're heading to. I'd certainly love to do more of it because it was really meaty and so enjoyable.

"It's a real delight to play British comedy that's so satisfying. It did remind me – and I don't know if this is sacrilege – of the lovely payoffs we got in a much-loved show like Porridge."

Henpocalypse! premieres on BBC Two at 10pm on Tuesday 15th August 2023. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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