The lady who would be queen
Star of Cardiac Arrest, Helen Baxendale is getting used to playing control freaks. As she swaps her stethoscope and white coat for Lady Macbeth’s wardrobe, Eddie Gibb discovers an actress with attitude.
n her brief television career thus far. Helen
Baxendale has played thoroughly modern
women; women of the Cosmopolitan
generation who want it all — successful
career. smart ﬂat, a meaningful relationship
and an interesting sex life (though not necessarily with the same man). But most importantly they want to stay in control of their own lives.
This week Baxendale starts ﬁlming at Blackness Castle near Linlithgow on a low- budget version of Macbeth. playing the ultimate control freak. the Lady who would be Queen. A thousand years ago an ambitious woman was forced to channel her energies into her husband’s success, becoming the power behind the throne.
Baxendale was brought up in Staffordshire, but after graduating from drama school in Bristol spent three years until I994 at the Citizens‘ Theatre. Glasgow. Although she played some smaller parts during that time, her TV career really took off when she landed the role of Dr Claire Maitland in BBCl’s Cardiac Arrest, the acerbic satire on the NHS shot in Glasgow. The Maitland character was a cool-under-pressure type with high expectations of her colleagues’ performance — particularly in bed. Baxendale simply doesn’t do dumb blondes.
‘These days people write parts about young women with a sex life. thank God,’ she says. ‘I don’t see myselfas particularly sexy but most of the really good parts have that aspect within them. I’m not going to not play them because they have a sexual angle — why can’t women have a sexual angle‘?’
If you’re going to play young female leads. and Baxendale says she’s reasonably ambitious in that direction, then good looks and a bit of sexual charisma are the basic requirements. Fortunately that’s exactly what the camera sees in her and Baxendale’s cool charm is currently in demand. ‘Basically it comes down to the fact that we are commodities,’ she says. ‘In my personal life I’m a human, I’m not a commodity but I’m under no illusions that Ewan
Helen Baxendale: doesn’t do «at: Monies
HELEN BAXENDALE FEATURE
McGregor is Ewan McGregor because he has sex appeal and Helen Mirren is there because she is this charismatically sexy women. You have to sell yourself— sadly.’
Her latest role is in the BBC] thriller Truth 0r Dare in which she plays Lorna Johnston. an upwardly mobile twentysomething Edinburgh lawyer who prefers to sleep with a married man than divert her energies into a stable relationship. Although she kids herself she is in control of her life, Lorna is dissatisfied enough to welcome the distraction of three old university friends turning up unexpectedly to drag her out for a series of wild nights on the town.
The devilishly handsome — and as it turns out. just plain devilish - Nick (John Hannah) awakens a lust for life in her which has been hidden from her douce legal colleagues. This is no innocent student lling, however, and the friendships take on a darker undercurrent before
‘These days people write parts about young women with a sex life, thank God. I don’t see myself as particularly sexy but most of the really good parts have that aspect within them.’
turning into a full-blown nightmare. This is Baxendale's first television lead. and she has been given the difficult task of playing a character with a wild streak which she suppresses for career reasons.
This was an important break. but two other major TV roles are already in the can including a pan in the follow-up to the political drama A Very ()pen Prison about a beleaguered Government minister who falls under Baxendale’s spell. With regular work coming in, it seems a strange decision to play Lady Macbeth, given the fact that the previous historical dramas by the same production team. Chasing The Deer and The Bruce. have been critically panned. The smaller investor scheme which offers backers the chance to appear in the movie has also met with derision.
To be fair. Macbeth should be on a firmer financial footing with the backing of Grampian Television. and the production has also landed another bona fide star in the shape of Jason Connery. Baxendale says she had no qualms about accepting the part.
‘l’m aware the funding is unconventional,’ she says diplomatically. ‘but I wanted to do something which challenged me. Who knows how it will turn out, but there’s a good script for a start. I’ve been in some really nice, prestigious projects so why not take a chance? A lot of actors do low-budget films.’
This is true, and like most actors, Baxendale would rather be working than sit around waiting for the ultimate role. ‘l’m the perfect age to play the part because Lady Macbeths are usually too old,’ she says. ‘l’m concentrating on the way she manipulates people and her ability to pull strings. I don’t want her to be a harridan, I want her to be able to be charming and sexy and strong.’
These are all characteristics Baxendale has proved herself able to project on screen, but there will also be a new dimension to this character — with voice coaching from an assistant director on the shoot, her Lady Macbeth may remembered as the one with the pronounced Kilmamock accent.
Truth 0r Dare is at the OFT Glasgow on 22 Aug, 8pm, and on BBC 1 on 3] Aug.
The List 23 Aug-5 Sept I996 73