Alice Lowe's teen obsessions: 'Under the bed was Keanu Reeves folded into tiny pieces'

With her new film Eternal Beauty opening soon, the star of Sightseers, Prevenge and Garth Marenghi remembers the gothic thrill of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, bearded men in Excalibur and the otherworldly Kate Bush

Charlotte Coleman

I never gave my parents enough credit for their great taste in TV. We would all sit down and watch Dennis Potter and Twin Peaks together and my mum really encouraged me and my sister to see Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – perhaps trying to give us an opportunity to tell her something. Then we both disappointed her by being straight. She had this romantic fantasy of herself as a mother who would be completely the opposite to the one in the show.

I hate the word “quirky” but you just didn’t see that many female characters who were allowed to have a personality back then. I had loved Charlotte Coleman’s punk aesthetic in Marmalade Atkins and later in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Many years later I did a read-through with her and said, “My mum is a massive fan of yours.” And, because I had just been in Garth Marenghi, which had won the Perrier, she said, “Your mum must be so proud of you.” She was so sweet. She died about two weeks later and it was a real, real shock. She was lovely.


A fine growth ... Nigel Terry as King Arthur with Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere in Excalibur. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros.
A fine growth ... Nigel Terry as King Arthur with Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere in Excalibur. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros. Photograph: Allstar/WARNER BROS.

I really had a thing about Jesus. I built a shrine to him in a medicine cabinet in my bedroom, not because I was religious but because I fancied him. I thought you could be into him in the way that you could be into A-ha. I just thought he was gorgeous.

I’ve always liked bearded men. My friend and I would watch a VHS of John Boorman’s Excalibur over and over. It wasn’t fashionable to be bearded until The Lord of the Rings – and then onwards, thank God. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a partner now. But back then very few people had beards except Merlin and Jesus.

The gothic

I loved The X-Files and Quantum Leap. Shows that were kind of supernatural felt huge to my teenage self, as if something was coming – actually it was just probably my future. Portishead felt connected to that, too: spooky and unknown. You don’t tend to connect gothic with the 90s, but there was plenty of that stuff to be found and believe me, I found it. I was too young to be a proper goth, so instead I had to visit castles and watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was really into pre-Raphaelite stuff and put postcards round my room of John William Waterhouse paintings of The Lady of Shalott and Ophelia, which is probably why my mum thought I was a lesbian.

Keanu Reeves

Secret love ... Keanu Reeves, with Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Photograph: Zoetrope/Columbia Tri-Star/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock
Secret love ... Keanu Reeves, with Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Photograph: Zoetrope/Columbia Tri-Star/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock Photograph: Zoetrope/Columbia Tri-Star/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

I was so in love with him, but I kept it a secret. I thought it was embarrassing to put up a poster of him or [A-ha’s] Morten Harket. But under the bed would be Keanu Reeves folded into tiny pieces.

My sister is a brilliant writer and she won a competition where the prize was a year’s subscription to Sight & Sound. I would read it cover to cover in case there was a tiny scrap of information about Reeves buried in one of the essays. So I credit him with all my film knowledge. My General Studies A-level essay was about VFX in Jurassic Park versus practical effects in Dracula. I argued that analogue effects were more uncanny than CGI and I stand by that. I still love Dracula, though I think it loses its way as soon as Anthony Hopkins comes in.

Friday night comedy

Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out blew my mind, and I loved Morwenna Banks’s Absolutely, but I would watch all sitcoms. So I would sit down and watch Desmond’s and Cheers and Golden Girls and the Brittas Empire and Red Dwarf. Chris Barrie was clean-cut and good looking but I fancied Danny John-Jules. He was just cool. What with the clothes and dandyish aspect, he was sort of the honorary Prince of Red Dwarf. He was also the funniest. I went to see The Mary Whitehouse Experience live. It was like the Beatles; you had to choose one to fancy and of course it was Rob Newman.

Kate Bush and Björk

'I just loved her and wanted to be her' ... Kate Bush. Photograph: Gered Mankowitz
‘I just loved her and wanted to be her’ ... Kate Bush. Photograph: Gered Mankowitz Photograph: Gered Mankowitz

They were these otherworldly creatures who were a validation if you were a slightly dorky girl who was into doing weird drawings. They were chameleonic and mercurial – and their being women and taking authorship of that kind of transformation was amazing. Now there are a billion singers with weird hair who dress like sea creatures, but back then Björk felt unique.

A lot of comedians yearn to be musicians; think of Ricky Gervais and Bowie. I did an Edinburgh show based on Kate Bush because I just loved her and wanted to be her. Sometimes, I feel like there’s this agonising one degree of separation between us – and then I’m like, God, I’m just thinking like a stalker. We have a picture of Kate Bush on the wall and once a babysitter came round and mentioned he was in her Hammersmith show. She sometimes talks about doing soundtracks for films and I would obviously die if she did one for my film.

Cat Stevens from the charity shop

Jethro Tull. Fleetwood Mac. Weird proggy stuff I found in my mum and dad’s record collection or in the charity shop. In the 90s, if you liked folk it was really just Clannad, unless you dug into the 70s to find things you thought magical. Cat Stevens looked like Jesus, so I would listen to him on a loop and cry and be lonely and draw pictures of Medusa.

Weird proggy stuff ... Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/Keystone/AP
Weird proggy stuff ... Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/Keystone/AP Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AP

I never had the money to buy records. So it was always a bit passed-on; secondhand fandom. You had to tape-record the charts. You would go to Woolworths and contemplate for weeks whether to buy an album.

I did go to see Blur and Oasis, but because it was sort of the law; my best friends said, “You’ll regret not going.” I was a bit more of a Pulp girl, but Britpop wasn’t quite my time. I was talking to someone recently and they were like, “God, I loved the 90s.” But I didn’t. I had terrible skin and a terrible diet. Most of the time I would sit in my bedroom, listening to vinyl, depressed and eating a vegetable pizza.

  • Eternal Beauty is released on 2 October


As told to Catherine Shoard

The GuardianTramp

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