Van der Valk's Maimie McCoy: "I want us to be allowed to age on screen"
Filming Van der Valk in Amsterdam is a dream job for Maimie McCoy – but will those great roles keep coming?
We very nearly lost her to baking.
After leading roles in much-loved series like The Musketeers, All Creatures Great and Small, A Confession, DCI Banks and Van Der Valk, the actress Maimie McCoy is an established TV name. But she has not always been so high-profile; in fact, a dozen years ago she almost quit acting altogether.
The 43-year-old recalls now that, “When I was 30, I had a proper crossroads moment in my career. My agent at the time said, ‘I think we've gone as far as we can go’. Nothing was really happening.”
So, McCoy started baking. “I set up a cake business doing private afternoon tea parties. I loved it. It really tapped into something creative.”
She was particularly skilled at making wedding cakes. “I did one for a friend and her partner. What they wanted was quite bonkers - a five-tier psychedelic rainbow. When you cut into it, it had all of these mad colours inside. It was like some acid trip. And as they got married at the end of a pier, I shoved a fake seagull on the top!”
Despite her success as a psychedelic cake-maker, McCoy continued to secure acting jobs - but they were not always particularly fulfilling. She recollects, for instance, reading for a movie role opposite Tom Hardy - “A particularly bad audition for a lost classic film called ‘Minotaur’. After I finished reading a few scenes, the director said, ‘Ok great… do you think you could try reading another part for me?’
"I was super green and young, so I said yes. I was rather baffled when he handed me a script for the only character who didn’t speak, due to an early trauma. I just had to look and listen. I felt pretty stupid that my speaking wasn’t good enough, but I did get the part, so not a total disaster!”
Her story obviously has a happy ending. After a few more years of struggle, McCoy’s fortunes were finally transformed in 2014, when she landed the leading role of the scheming, seductive Milady de Winter in BBC1’s The Musketeers. Portraying the most charismatic woman in 17th Century Paris proved a game changer.
It was also on The Musketeers that McCoy first worked with Marc Warren, now her co-star in Van der Valk. She got to know him especially well, as his character, the dastardly Comte de Rochefort, attempted to strangle Milady several times.
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McCoy, who hails from Yorkshire, where her parents own a pub, is talking from her home in North London. She makes for entertaining, engaging company, chuckling that, “Marc definitely doesn’t strangle me in Van der Valk - his character barely gives me any eye contact!”
In ITV’s reworking of the 1970’s detective drama, McCoy plays Lucienne Hassell, the title character’s lively and loyal sidekick. She expands on the relationship between the two detectives: "Because Van der Valk‘s always staring off into the distance with his sharp jawline, looking all moody, his colleagues have got to give him a bit of a poke from time to time! Lucienne’s certainly the one person who can pull him up, take the mick out of him and wind him up.
“But for all that, she truly cares for him. She and Van der Valk are two lost souls who are able to challenge each other. It is very much like what Marc and I have off screen. A lot of it is unsaid. There is just a very deep understanding of each other, which I can trace back to us meeting all those years ago.”
The series, which is filmed entirely on location in Holland, returns this week for a second series, and in the two years in which it has been off our screens, it has got darker; in the opening episode Van der Valk and Lucienne have to investigate the grisly murder of a solicitor whose mutilated body is found hanging on a windfarm with a cryptic note hidden in her coat. All Creatures, it isn’t.
McCoy emphasises that this darkness is necessary; it would be wrong for the series to shy away from the trauma that crime inflicts on a victim, as well the investigating detective. “We look at the toll crime takes on a police officer, the emotional cost.
“You don't want to just be in these crime scenes and be totally cold. It’s important that we really show a connection between the victim and the detective. That gives the police officer a real emotional investment in the crime.”
That is not to say that filming “Van Der Valk” has been a relentlessly gruelling process. McCoy reveals that there have been many light-hearted moments during the shoot. She recalls the day things did not go entirely to plan in the production’s mobile toilet, known on set as a “honey wagon”.
“I was desperate for the loo, and so as soon as we broke for lunch, I ran to the honey wagon and bolted the door. Then, just as I was pulling my trousers up, I felt the truck shake and pull away.
“I was shouting, ‘No, no!’ and banging on the wall. As the truck went round a corner, the door flew open and I thought I was going to fall out. But luckily, the driver saw it and stopped the truck. He apologised to me every day after that!” She laughs that her autobiography could now be entitled “The Day I Went for a Drive in a Honey Wagon”.
McCoy wasn’t quite so amused when for one scene she had to lie in an Amsterdam back alley and a huge rat emerged from the darkness and scuttled across her face. “It was two in the morning and I felt this creature run over my face. Marc was horrified. If that had happened to him, he would have gone to hospital and had a tetanus injection!” But, as a tough Yorkshire woman and single mother to a young daughter, McCoy simply carried on.
Despite the “honey wagons” and rats, the actress has adored filming in Amsterdam. “It’s got this sexy vibe.” The one drawback has been juggling a major role with the demands of being a single parent.
One night, McCoy had to stay up for six hours removing nits from her daughter’s hair. “Another time, my daughter fell out of bed and we had to find an A&E in the middle of the night and still had to get up at six the next morning.
“My parents tried to come out to Amsterdam to help during the pandemic but they got sent back from the airport because the authorities didn’t think providing childcare was a good enough reason to come into the country. I had a massive schedule and lots of lines to learn, and I was suddenly left without childcare for 10 days.”
Fortunately, McCoy’s cast mates came to the rescue. “The boys were brilliant. They swooped in to provide childcare. It shows you need a village to help you.”
Childcare crises aside, Lucienne is the sort of meaty TV role that actresses in their 40s have long been crying out for. McCoy cautions that there is still work to be done, though. “Things are changing and I’m doing well in my early 40s, but I do worry about the range of roles for later in this decade. I have friends actively writing roles and campaigning for women not to disappear from the screen. My life is so much richer and more interesting than it’s ever been, and I want to really see that reflected. I want us to be allowed to age on screen and to celebrate that.
“But I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I’ve got a brilliant job. I’m getting paid very well…”
If ever she feels in danger of moaning, "I always have a word with myself and say, ‘Don’t forget how lucky you are. You’re not working down a coal mine’.” Which really is the icing on the cake…
This feature was originally published in the latest issue of Radio Times magazine, which is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.