Katherine Parkinson: 'I Just Want To Be In Shows I Find Exciting' – Interview
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Katherine Parkinson: ‘I Just Want To Be In Shows I Find Exciting’ – Interview

Significant Other is streaming now on ITVX

You might recognise Katherine Parkinson from Doc Marten – or perhaps She’s got one of those faces that pops up all over British TV – and which is about to pop up leading ITVX’s new series, Significant Other. Olivia Emily sits down with Katherine to chat all things Significant Other, plus finding the country in the city.

Interview: Katherine Parkinson On Significant Other, ITVX

Anna [Katherine Parkinson] and Sam [Youssef Kerkour] in Significant Other.

Anna [Katherine Parkinson] and Sam [Youssef Kerkour] in Significant Other. © Quay Street Productions/ITV

Hi Katherine, how’s life going at the moment?

Life’s going good, thank you. I’ve got a holiday coming up, so I’m excited about that. And I’ve had a very busy period, because, for the last year, we’ve been moving. So I’m just looking forward to being a bit calmer and still.

You’re about to star in Significant Other on ITVX – can you give us an elevator pitch for the show?

I suppose I would call it an anti romantic comedy – or certainly an unromantic comedy – because it doesn’t follow the usual form of the meet cute and them being really good for each other, and so on. It’s a bit more down to earth than that. Just when you think things are going well, there’s an obstacle. And also we’re not entirely sure these people are good for each other. So it’s an unusual show, from that point of view.

You play Anna – can you describe her?

I think Anna is quite defensive, quite shut off. She’s quite a bruised woman, as a lot of people can be when they’re in their mid 40s. But she’s very un-self-pitying. She’s lost her parents, but she’s very proud of her career and her home. She’s sort of counting her blessings. She works entirely from home in quite a solitary way, and I think there’s a very particular urban loneliness that I would say she is suffering from without maybe realising it.

What was it like playing her?

Well, it helps that she smokes quite a lot. Her character reminded me of, I suppose, myself at a different stage in my life. When I was in my 20s, and when I was also bogged down with academic work, and living quite alone. You know, I wouldn’t necessarily see anyone except for the guy selling me chips from a van at the end of the night – but I never was knowingly lonely. But with hindsight, I definitely was. So I think, because I am an ex-smoker and smoked at that time in my life, the smoking helped me get into Anna’s character. I find it quite winning how she does the things that are bad for her in spite of her best intentions. That’s very familiar to me. I think that would hopefully be familiar to plenty of people. But the writing was also so well done, that I found it quite easy to plug into her.

What were rehearsals and filming like? Any standout moments?

You don’t often get a lot of rehearsal with TV, but we actually had a proper rehearsal, in a rehearsal room with the director – who I already knew, have worked with before, have known since I was in my 20s. So that was great. David, the director, is an actor – as well as all sorts of things – so that I found very helpful because I think he just knows what’s helpful and what’s not. And Youssef [Kerkour, who plays Sam] and I met for lunch, and then we rehearsed together. I knew Youssef, and we very nearly worked together before so the omens were good. Basically, I knew the director, I knew I wanted to work with Youssef, and it was just a case of meeting and discussing the scripts, and then talking and reading them through. And then we got to do long scenes all day together. A lot of stuff happened on set. I’m filming something at the moment, and there’s so many moving parts: so many people in it and such a big set that the camera’s on you, and then it’s off, and you’ve got to get it in that moment. In this particular case, we could rehearse the scene again, and it would just be filming it from different angles. So you really felt like you got on top of it.

You’ve starred in an abundance of projects, Humans, Doc Martin, The IT Crowd. But what is a standout project for you to date?

Well, Significant Other, actually. It was such a pure job. I love the script, I love the writers, I love the director, I love Youssef. I love where we were filming it: I love Manchester, I love the clothes shops in Manchester, I love the coffee shops in Manchester. It fell during holiday times – a priority, for me, always, is things working around my children. So all of those things, and I’m not just saying Significant Other because that’s what I’m selling! I think the other job I feel like that about is Home I’m Darling, which lots of people probably didn’t see because it was a theatre production. But that was a really lovely job, and pure in the same way. I loved everything.

Any roles in the pipeline that you’re excited about? (If you’re allowed to tell us!)

Yes, I’m doing Rivals, which is written in part by the writer of Home I’m Darling, actually, Laura Wade. I have a romantic storyline with Danny Dyer, and it’s set in the 80s, and Julie Cooper is a legend and is around a lot. It’s just a very nice team – a really nice group of actors. So that’s been very enjoyable so far. I’m halfway through that.

Which character that you have played in the past do you relate to the most in your own life, or a character that has stayed with you?

There was a character that I played in a film called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society called Isola, and she sort of lived vicariously through books. She was a real romantic, but had never had experiences herself. And I found that resonated with a different side of my life. I remember my kind of romantic notions being based on people I’d read in books, rather than real life. I thought I would have got on well with her. She made her own gin as well.

Who has been your favourite actor to work with in the past?

I have a lot of people I feel like that’s about. If it was somebody I haven’t worked with, I would probably say Ruth Wilson. But on Guernsey I was very excited to work with Penelope Wilton, who I was very pleased to discover is great. I’ve also worked a couple of times with Kristin Scott Thomas, who is just as kind of fascinating as you would hope – and fun, as well.

Which co-star did you learn the most from?

It was early doors, but I was really in the mood for learning when I did Doc Martin, which was my first big telly job. It was Martin Clunes who all my scenes were with, and I did kind of watch and learn from him. Not just his acting, which was a very good lesson in acting for television, but also the way he operated on set. He managed to be hilarious and really mischievous, but also very focused and respectful. His wife was a producer, so he couldn’t muck around. [laughs] But I think I learned a lot from him. And then, and then I just sort of got blasé and stopped learning.

Do you have a dream role?

I don’t, really. I went through a stage of going, ‘these are the stage parts, probably, I would like to do. Any of those.’ And, you know, there’s not many actresses that don’t want to do Blanche DuBois, for example. But sometimes I’ve done those parts – and, recently, I’ve recently done one of those parts – and I found it to be a bit disappointing. I get very, very excited by new writing and new parts – playing parts that people haven’t played before. That’s obviously a privilege. And less intimidating because, sometimes, when you play very famous parts on stage, for instance, there’s so much expectation; there are so many people that have done it before, it can slightly crush your mojo. And I’m not sure what the value in it is, in that sense, because you’re just telling a story in a different way. And it’s like, ‘oh, they did that line that way’, and it becomes a sort of technical enterprise. So I would say no, but there are writers that I get very excited about. If they’re writing something, and if they’re writing me apart in it, then that’s, to me, the zenith of everything.

What’s a genre you’d like to do more of?

Mainly period drama. TV is obviously in such an exciting time. The Last of Us – which I didn’t think would be my bag, because it’s zombies (but obviously anyone that’s seen it knows it’s so much more than that) – was such a profound watch. It was so emotional, and everything else, and I thought, ‘oh, things are changing, now. Genres are deliberately merging, aren’t they?’ So never say never to anything. I just want to be in shows that I find exciting. I like going back in time doing shows. I get excited by costumes. You know when you go to those folk museums, and you’ve got people dressed up making bread? That was always my bag as a child, and I think that’s essentially what I’m trying to continue. It doesn’t have to be that far in the past, but something set in a specific time and place is exciting.

You mentioned you like to work around your kids. Do you get to spend much time at home among your work projects?

Yeah, I mean, I say that, but I don’t think anybody would be any different about wanting to prioritise home. I’m very fortunate because, for instance, the job I’m on, I’ve got four weeks off now. So I feel like one of the best bits of my job, which I’ve only discovered in the last 10 years, is that it works really well with being a full time mother – as any mother is. 

What’s your interior design style?

I am so excited by that sort of thing and I have done it myself [in my new house], which means there are some mistakes that I regret… I’ve got a nice sort of pistachio wall colour, some tiles, strange paintings… Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed doing all that. What’s lovely is that you start to know your taste, I think, when you’re a bit older. I always deferred to my mum’s taste – she’s much more artistic than me. I think as I’ve got older, I’ve kind of gone, ‘No, this is okay. I’m a bit different.’ I sort of feel like it’s about becoming who you are. 

So I like art nouveau. And I like pattern tiles. And I like colour. I like green. I like wood. I suppose I like 70s vibes, because I’ve got a lot of 70s lamp shades. It’s all vintage. And what’s been quite nice is it’s all just things I’ve gathered over the years from different places, and paintings done by friends. Now I’m at capacity and have forbidden myself from getting anything else, or I’ll have to do that Channel 4 hoarding program.

Are you a town or country person?

This is a discussion I have every day with my husband! I have family in Devon, so we’re in that part of the country a lot. I’m from London, and quite often you hear people say, ‘Who could live in London? It’s so busy’. And I’m like, ‘Well, I’m from London! So hang on!’ But I do sometimes wonder if we should have made the move. Nowadays, with our industry, you really can be anywhere. It has changed a bit. But the trouble is, once you get your children settled in a school, you really don’t want to move them. I just slightly wish, when my youngest was school age, I had made the jump, if I’m honest. But we’re very lucky with all the green space in London. I just need to be near lots of trees. It doesn’t really matter if they’re urban trees or country trees. And the good thing about London is that you’re really only a short drive from lovely Kent countryside.

What has been your favourite place to film in?

I did a film a few years ago in Tbilisi, Georgia, which I didn’t know much about. And I have to say, if you want a really interesting holiday, it’s an amazing place. Amazing people, amazing food, music and beautiful architecture. Beautiful place. We all went out there – my mother in law, my parents, everyone. And we all loved it.

What’s your favourite thing to wind down from work?

Drink?! And eat sugar.

As a family, we’re getting quite into our garden. My daughters were planting seeds yesterday, which was really nice. I’m increasingly trying to stay put a bit and just appreciate. I appreciate family time, and literally just being in our very green house.

How can we all live a little bit better?

I was reading something in the paper recently; a woman was talking about how important it is to slow down, how there’s this busy epidemic where we all feel that we’ve got to be busy all the time, and achieving all the time. She was saying that it’s only in those quieter moments that she really appreciates things and feels like that sense of fleeting contentment and happiness that you get. I think that’s quite a wise thing. When I was at school, I just remember the long walk home, and feeling those moments of contentment. So just giving yourself permission to sometimes slow down. Not just when you’re 60, but before.

Quick Fire

I’m tuning into… Sweet Tooth with my children on Netflix. It’s sort of like The Last of Us but for kids. Theatre wise, I’d recommend my friend Tom Basden’s play, The Accidental Death Of An Anarchist which is on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

What I’m reading… How to Think Like a Woman by Regan Penaluna

The last thing I watched was… The Little Mermaid

What I’m most looking forward to seeing… Yellowjackets

Favourite film of all time… The Elephant Man

Band/singer I always have on repeat… At the moment, Gregory Porter and Roberta Flack

My ultimate cultural recommendation… The Wallace Collection

Cultural guilty pleasure… Gogglebox?

Significant Other is streaming now on ITVX.

Featured image: Sam [Youssef Kerkour] and Anna [Katherine Parkinson] in Significant Other. © Quay Street Productions/ITV, cropped.