"If everyone's going one way, I want to go the other way," says Katherine Kelly, reflecting on her long and varied career. "I don't swim with the tide."


Kelly first came to prominence in 2006 as the unpredictable and headstrong Becky McDonald in Coronation Street, who she played until 2012 before deciding to seek out a new challenge. But the roles that were typically on offer at the time, such as tortured cop or "woman who cries a lot", were of no interest to Kelly, whose CV includes Happy Valley, Mr Selfridge, The Night Manager, Doctor Who spin-off Class, Netflix's Criminal: UK and her latest work, Ruby Speaking.

The ITVX sitcom, which was co-created by and stars comedian Jayde Adams, follow an ensemble of working class Bristolians during their 9-5 call centre grind. Kelly plays their slightly terrifying and deluded boss Vicky, who may or may not think she's actually the head of a major corporation.

"She's a mash up of TED Talks, wellness podcasts and Oprah," Kelly says over Zoom from her home in Yorkshire. Her "gurus" are Meghan Markle, Amanda Holden and Matthew McConaughey, which gives you a fascinating insight into how she approached the character.

Kelly was also eager to avoid the evil comedy-boss stereotype: "The b*tch boss has been done to death. I didn't want to go down the road of The Devil Wears Prada. I thought 'we've seen that, let's do something different.'"

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Vicky stood in the work office with her colleagues holding a glass of champagne
Vicky stood in the work office with her colleagues holding a glass of champagne. ©Yellow Door Productions

For Kelly, variety is always the aim of the game: "Inevitably, in this job, when you do a period drama, you're going to get offered another period drama, but that's not what interests me.

Drama in its various forms has traditionally been her wheelhouse since leaving Coronation Street eleven years ago, but she's a dab hand at comedy too, with BBC One's Black Ops and Ruby Speaking allowing her to flex different muscles.

Kelly is also one of the most prolific actors working in the UK today, with this year alone seeing her take on three new projects. She attributes her ceaseless drive to her working class upbringing in Barnsley, which is worlds away from the gilded floors of Broadcasting House:

"My dad left school at 15 with no qualifications and went to work down a coal mine. All my family have worked in them. I have that thing of not having any sense of entitlement, or expecting things to come to you. You have to go and do it yourself."

Her background has also ensured that the thrill she gets from acting has yet to wane.

"I'm in a vocation and a job that I love. I'd do it anyway, I just made a living out of it. I’ve never lost that sense of gratitude and I think gratitude is probably one of the hardest things to hold on to. You're blessed when you get to my age and still love your job because most of my friends don’t."

Kelly channels that passion through her production company to pave the way for the next generation of budding artists: "I'm very much into giving people an opportunity or a chance to shine, and there are a lot of jobs in this industry that people don't know exist. It's not just an actor or a camera person, there's all these fabulous role in between and I want to make sure people get an opportunity."

Katherine Kelly in Netflix's Criminal
Katherine Kelly as Natalie Hobbs in Criminal: UK. Colin Hutton/Netflix

The next time Kelly will be on our screens, it'll be in ITV's Yorkshire Ripper drama The Long Shadow, which is set to air this autumn and is a complete 180 from Ruby Speaking. Kelly has taken on the daunting task of playing Emily Jackson, one of Peter Sutcliffe's earliest victims, alongside a vast ensemble that includes Daniel Mays, David Morrissey, Charley Webb and Michael McElhatton.

The show also has extra significance for Kelly given that she's both from the region and moved back there during the pandemic. "I actually don't remember it all going on, as it was before my time, but there is a long shadow in Yorkshire of that horrific time. I felt very privileged to be asked to be a part of it."

There are themes tackled in The Long Shadow that are sadly still relevant today, such as a justice system not fit for purpose (Sutcliffe was questioned nine times by the police before he was arrested). As Kelly says, the show will explore the "women he attacked [who] were dismissed", adding: "They [the police] didn't believe them at the time, and they live on and have their stories to tell."

And so, Kelly continues to push herself in new and challenging directions. Some actors can struggle to shed their soap star skin, but she did that the moment she first appeared in Mr Selfridge, and everything that has followed since has felt like an expansion of her talents, with Ruby Speaking the perfect home for her charm and charisma.

It's an expansion that doesn't appear to have any limits.

Ruby Speaking will premiere on ITVX on Thursday 22nd June 2023. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.

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