Portrait of the artist: Alison Steadman, actor

'After all this time, I always think the next play will be the one where I forget my lines'

What got you started?

As a child, I was constantly impersonating people – teachers, our neighbour's gentle Scottish accent. So I grew up thinking that making people laugh was a great thing.

What was your big breakthrough?

Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh. I'm a terrible giggler, and we laughed so much doing it, so I suppose we knew it was going to be fun. But we had no idea it would still be talked about 35 years later.

Stage or screen?

I've always said stage – but even after all these years, I think the next play will be the one when I'll forget the lines, and they'll find me out. And I do enjoy doing TV – I've just done a half-hour monologue for BBC4 called A Very Civil Arrangement. I think it may cause a bit of a stir.

Actors' fees have gone down, without a doubt: they're trying to squeeze more out of the lemon now than ever.

And there are so many more actors in the industry, doing all these drama courses, and then coming out and scrabbling for the same jobs. It makes me quite sad.

What are you most proud of?

The fact that since I left drama school in 1969, I've been able to earn my living from acting. There's always been a crust on the table.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I still think of all the times that I used to say: "Mum, I don't think I can do it." And she'd say: "Come on, I'm not hearing this – you've done everything well so far, and you'll do this well." She was a real confidence-builder.

Is there a downside to fame?

I used to pick my kids up from the local school, and some parents would look at me and say, really sarcastically: "Oh, she's picking her children up!" But mostly people are lovely. Now I get all the young ones who know Gavin and Stacey shouting "Pamelaaa!" at me.

What's the worst thing anyone ever said about you?

When I was young and doing TV, the director came up to me, seconds before the cameras started rolling, and said: "The producer doesn't like what you're doing, and I think you can do better. Now stand up and speak up." Luckily, most directors aren't bullies any more.

What one song would work as the soundtrack to your life?

Bette Midler or Peggy Lee singing Is That All There Is? I love the bit that goes: "If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep on dancing."

In short

Born: Liverpool, 1946

Career: TV includes Abigail's Party, The Singing Detective and Gavin and Stacey. Theatre work includes Here at the Rose theatre, Kingston, from 19 April to 12 May.

Low point "Reading bad reviews."

High point "Filming Nuts in May was one of the happiest times of my life."


Interview by Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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