Unlike fellow Trainspotters Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, SHIRLEY HENDERSON hasn’t proceeded directly to Hollywood. Instead, she has quietly gone on to pop up in every decent British film of the last six years.
Words: Allan Radcliffe
f the name Shirley Henderson doesn‘t ring any bells. the
face should definitely provoke cries of ‘()h herl'.
Described by one theatre reviewer as a ‘ferocious fairy". the diminutive. strikingly sharp-featured Scots character actor first garnered attention as Isobel. the feisty reporter and love interest in Hamish tl/laeherh. In the mid—90s. she landed a small role in Warns/minim. being on the receiving end of Ewen Bremner‘s projectile excrement.
While Danny Boyle‘s feature proved a springboard to Hollywood success for Henderson‘s co—stars. the actor has
remained in the UK and still resides in her hometown of
Dunfermline. Yet. for such an unassuming talent. Henderson has proved her versatility working with such highly acclaimed and idiosyncratic British film directors as Mike Leigh. who recognised her quirky comic potential in 'lbpsv-Turvy. in which she played an alcoholic opera singer. and Michael Winterbottom. who cast her as the nippy single mother. cockney accent and all. in gritty. urban drama Whaler/am] and again. as a prostitute. in The Claim. She also cropped up in Bridget Jones" Diary as Bridget‘s fast-living friend Jude: this despite her claim that she is ‘violently sick‘ if she drinks more than two glasses of wine.
When I meet Henderson for coffee and After Eights at the height of the Edinburgh Festival. she's just spent the afternoon being photographed for a national newspaper. While her star is on the ascendant. she refreshingly shows no trace of an ego and even expresses pleasant surprise at the direction her career has taken. “I'm completely surprised.‘ says the 35 year old whose career began as a teenager singing big ballads on the Fife club circuit. 'l‘ve been very lucky with the film work I‘ve done. I mean. how do you plan that? When I had my first interview with Mike Leigh. my first thought was: “Why does he want to see me?" .‘
Despite her self-doubt. the work just keeps on coming. Early next year. Henderson will be seen starring in
Winterbottom‘s 24-hour Party People. the story of
Manchester‘s liactory Records which produced such 80s wonders as Happy Mondays and New Order tshe plays opposite Steve (‘oogan as the wife of label boss Tony Wilson). Willi her unconventional. contemporary looks and diverse (‘V. Ilenderson has successfully avoided the typecasting trap. In this. she is following the advice of her Hamish Maeheth co-star Robert (‘arlyle who recommended she turn down similar jobs so people would appreciate her range. She was understandably thrilled to be cast as a l‘)th century society beauty in BBC
12 THE LIST 1 1:"; Nov 20m
Henderson as rich girl Mario in The Way We Live Now; below, in Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Tum
costume drama The lit/av W) Live Now. ‘I was amazed to get that because I never even get seen for period drama.‘ she says. ‘I did 'lb/mv-Yirrvy but not that kind of weighty costume drama with big speeches and months of filming. But I was thrilled to do it. because of the character and the writing.‘
The series. which has been adapted by Andrew Davies front Anthony Trollope’s satirical novel. focuses on the dregs of late nineteenth century London society as they struggle to stay afloat. Both book and screenplay poke fun at the late Victorian obsession with class. breeding and what Trollope called ‘commercial profligacy'.
lnevitably. watching this BBC classic adaptation with its big houses. ballrooms. carriages and gaming tables. does induce a sense of deja vu. yet The Way We Live Now is
redeemed by its performances. particularly
‘Yes’ I’m from Henderson as rational rich-girl Marie determined and maybe worked with him. but he‘s just an ordinary
Melmotte and David Suchet as her self-made father. ‘I was a bit in awe of him before I
I am a wee guy who works very hard. He works in the same way I do; he likes to have a carry-on
Wee blt on set. which makes for a good atmosphch feroCiOUS’ among the actors.‘
As for her aspirations. Henderson is less
forthcoming. Hollywood hasn't come calling.
though she would be happy to work there and particularly
admires American independent films such as .S'n'ingers. ‘I'll
just see how it goes.‘ she says. ‘l’m ambitious. If I wasn't I’d
have given up this job ages ago because you get so many
knock-backs. It just so happens that everything I've been doing
has been British and I‘m happy with that and I‘ve but really. really lucky.‘
I remind her of the ‘ferocious fairy‘ tag. In person. she doesn‘t seem at all ferocious. ‘I‘ve heard that one too.‘ she laughs. ‘Yes. I‘m determined. 1 like to have a go and keep having a go until I'm not enjoying something any more. So maybe I am a wee bit ferocious. But. you know. it's taken me a long time to get into film. so I can‘t be that ntthless.‘
The Way We Live Now starts on 8801, Sun 1 1 Nov.