He­len McCrory:

She has an im­pres­sive list of stage and screen cred­its and is mar­ried to Home­land star Damian Lewis, but at home in North Lon­don He­len McCrory is happy to play down her fame and be just an­other work­ing mum, she tells Chrissy Iley.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

the feisty star who prefers a low-key life

He­len McCrory is rather pleased her hus­band, Home­land and Wolf Hall star Damian Lewis OBE, has been ob­jec­ti­fied as a pin-up, with top­less shots from US TV se­ries Bil­lions plas­tered over the pa­pers and glossy mag­a­zines along­side other Bri­tish hunks Tom Hid­dle­ston and Ai­dan Turner (for more on Ai­dan, see page 34).

“It’s lovely. Ev­ery wife wants to be with some­one ev­ery­one finds at­trac­tive. Just like ev­ery hus­band wants to feel their wife is at­trac­tive,” she says, perched at the bar of a Lon­don mem­bers’ club in high black boots and a black, high-necked, fit­ted dress with a sexy split in the skirt.

I’d heard He­len McCrory was tiny. But she never looks tiny on screen, es­pe­cially as Polly Gray, the mob­ster ma­tri­arch in award-win­ning Peaky Blin­ders. There you don’t think about her size, just her mes­meris­ing force, which is equally ap­par­ent in her rap­tur­ously praised lead in Medea at the Na­tional Theatre in Lon­don. It’s given her an im­pres­sively var­ied ca­reer. She’s ap­peared in two Harry Pot­ter films, starred op­po­site 007 as MP Clair Dowar in Sky­fall, played Cherie Blair in two films, and she’s re­cently been on the stage of the Na­tional again in Ter­ence Rat­ti­gan’s The Deep Blue Sea.

So does she think of herself as part of a power cou­ple? “Sure, ev­ery morn­ing on the way to school in my py­ja­mas with the chil­dren in all the wrong out­fits: power cou­ple is writ­ten all over us,” she ex­claims with a laugh.

In the flesh she’s a fierce, sexy woman with re­fresh­ing views on nu­dity (“I walk around at home in knick­ers”), the Na­tional Health

Ser­vice (“drunks who pitch up to

A&E should foot the bill”) and the gen­der pay gap in Hol­ly­wood (“if you’re do­ing the same job, you should get the same money”). She also makes a sur­pris­ing bid for a key role in the next Bond films (see over­leaf).

Her re­la­tion­ship with Damian

Lewis sounds close and lively. Ac­tor Michael Caine’s ad­vice for keep­ing a re­la­tion­ship alive is to have sep­a­rate bath­rooms. What’s hers? “Marry some­one you love and some­one who you like. I am in­cred­i­bly lucky. We are con­stantly apart and in stim­u­lat­ing sit­u­a­tions; it’s feast or famine.”

Does she have any­thing like the three-week rule, where no mat­ter where she and Damian are in the world they have to see each other? “No, but we try to see each other as much as pos­si­ble… it’s not a rule, I just miss him when he is not there bab­bling to me for hours. We talk a lot. We both don’t shut up. It’s con­stant un­til your ears bleed.”

At 48, two years older than her hus­band, she rev­els in her Peaky Blin­ders role as the tough-as-old-boots ma­tri­arch Aunt Polly, who keeps up with the boys both in the bar and on the mean streets of Birm­ing­ham, while tak­ing care of busi­ness when the men were in the trenches dur­ing WWI. But He­len also be­lieves she can play much younger women: “In­stead of that dys­mor­phia where women look in the mir­ror and the size 14 woman sees herself as size 22 be­cause she has no self-es­teem, I’m the other way around. I go, ‘That 17-year-old, tall woman star­ing back is lovely.’ Some­times I look at the screen and go, ‘Ter­ri­ble light­ing, I al­most look mid­dle-aged.’ And I am so

alarmed if I see a photo of my­self. I say, ‘What a strange cam­era an­gle, you’ve made me look ter­ri­bly short.’

While she jokes about her own ap­pear­ance, she is per­plexed by ac­cu­sa­tions of a lack of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness in the film and TV busi­ness. So while this year’s

Academy Awards, dubbed “The

White Os­cars”, high­lighted race con­cerns in Hol­ly­wood, He­len sug­gests that race isn’t the only is­sue that could have been picked up on. “Where were all the old ladies and the big fat guys?” But she adds: “I find it strange when peo­ple say ac­tors are role mod­els. Why would you have such low self-re­gard that you want an ac­tor as a role model? It’s not about be­ing so­cially con­scious, it’s the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness.”

How­ever, she is vexed by sex­ism in in­ter­views. She would like some­one to ask Damian about his beauty regime and how he jug­gles chil­dren and a job, and is he think­ing about get­ting some work done. She may have a valid point, but given las­civ­i­ous me­dia com­ments ear­lier this year about her hus­band’s naked scenes in his shows I cheek­ily ask her if she’s changed her mind about strip­ping off, as she used to turn down nu­dity? “You mean, will I drop my knick­ers at the drop of a hat? Not quite. But when I started I was very aware that I was in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion and you can’t call the shots. You can’t de­cide where the cam­era is go­ing to be and you are not in con­trol. When you are older you get to be more in con­trol and it’s eas­ier to be vul­ner­a­ble be­cause you’re in a safe place. And I don’t see that nu­dity is nec­es­sar­ily sex­ual. I’d be happy to just open the fridge in a pair of knick­ers at night talk­ing to my hus­band. In the sum­mer at home I walk around in knick­ers.”

Damian has al­ways said that it’s his wife who is the boss at home. “I don’t think he sees me as boss lady at home, but when he’s away in Amer­ica he knows that I am look­ing af­ter the chil­dren and he knows that I can take care of them [her chil­dren Manon and Gul­liver are 10 and eight]. He has re­cently been do­ing Bil­lions in New York. When he comes back home he is very aware that I have been there, man­ning the fort.”

Will they ever work to­gether? “I don’t know. I think we’d like to, but the prob­lem is we get sent scripts that ei­ther have a great bloke part and an only okay girl’s part, or vice-versa. In some of them there are hus­bands and wives and I think that’s a bit dis­tract­ing for an au­di­ence. It feels a bit Who’s Afraid of Vir­ginia Woolf?”

Jen­nifer Lawrence has spo­ken out about the pay gap in Hol­ly­wood, the dif­fer­ence be­tween men and women. But Kate Winslet said it was vul­gar to talk about money. Where does He­len McCrory stand? “If you’re do­ing the same job, then in­dis­putably you should have the same money. I don’t sit around with my friends and ask, ‘How much do you earn?’ but mainly be­cause I don’t know what I earn un­til the tax man at the end of the year says what I have earned. I ab­so­lutely as­sure you that we both need to work. Phone up the Na­tional Theatre and ask how much we make a week.” (The Eq­uity min­i­mum wage for an ac­tor is £380 [$679] a week, but big names in big the­atres can ex­pect up to £1000 [$1787].)

Emma Rice, the artis­tic direc­tor of Shake­speare’s Globe theatre in Lon­don, has said that there is no rea­son why women should not be cast in the clas­si­cal male roles and vice versa, and she has com­mit­ted to de­liv­er­ing a 50/50 gen­der split in her pro­duc­tions. The ac­tresses Fiona Shaw, Cate Blanchett and Max­ine Peake have al­ready taken on iconic male Shake­spearean roles (Richard II and Ham­let), so is there a clas­si­cal male lead He­len would like to play? “I was of­fered Ham­let about four years ago in New York, which I was quite ex­cited about un­til I dis­cov­ered that I was to be the only per­son with re­verse gen­der. If you de­cide Ham­let is a woman, I want all the cast to be re­verse gen­der. That said,” she ad­mits, “I would re­ally like to play Mac­beth. I want to be able to say, ‘To­mor­row and to­mor­row and to­mor­row’.”

How does she feel about play­ing Bond – James Bond or a Bond girl? “I have been in Bond. I may not have been emerg­ing from the At­lantic in a bikini but I had a very fetch­ing twin­set from Jaeger that did the job. I would love to be a Bond girl in the way that M [Judi Dench] was. Would I like to play Bond? No. But if [Bond film pro­ducer] Bar­bara Broc­coli is read­ing this, can I please play M?”

For He­len, sex­i­ness and con­fi­dence come from within. She once said that

When I come back with Damian from danc­ing in New York, you have that feel­ing you are freer, more re­laxed and sex­ier.

women do­ing “the walk of shame” (com­ing home at dawn in the same clothes you went out in the night be­fore) is hot. So when was the last time she did the walk of shame? “I’ve walked into ho­tel lob­bies at 5am with messy mas­cara and mushed hair, and that’s more to my taste than when I leave look­ing pris­tine. That’s what I was talk­ing about. When I come back with Damian from danc­ing in the boom-boom rooms of New York or what­ever, you have that feel­ing that you are freer, more re­laxed and sex­ier.”

Does she often go danc­ing with Lewis? “Not so much, but yes, we like to go out. He is here now mak­ing shelves, ac­tu­ally. Later this year, he will be film­ing in New York so I will go over with the kids. Damian film­ing and me play­ing my great­est role to date: mother and wife.”

She laughs with a mis­chievous cackle, but I sus­pect that part of this is true.

Do her chil­dren like to hang around on set watch­ing their par­ents? “No. We live in Tufnell Park [in north Lon­don] and all our friends are in the area, none of them are in the busi­ness, and I like it that way. I don’t want my chil­dren to be in the glare or rare­fied or spoiled. The way we live is kind of low key. We tell them that we are sto­ry­tellers. They came on set when I was do­ing Hor­ri­ble His­to­ries, which is a big kids’ pro­gramme. I came down in a bald cap with black teeth and my hair with­ered – ‘Look at Mummy’s funny cos­tume’ – and they walked right past me. They weren’t in­ter­ested at all.

“And you can eas­ily avoid the lime­light. I have no time for ‘Why were the pa­parazzi there when I was stag­ger­ing out of The Ivy at mid­night?’ There is a per­fectly good Ital­ian near us that the paps won’t be out­side, so if you choose to go there you can keep the paps away.”

She doesn’t suf­fer fools eas­ily. The McCrory-Lewis house­hold is one of shared tasks. “If I have been at home all day and have cooked the kids lunch, Damian will cook in the evening or vice versa. Who­ever has the en­ergy left to do it. Damian is bet­ter at cook­ing quick things and I am bet­ter at cook­ing slow things. I’ll make fish pies and ap­ple crum­ble. He makes tuna Niçoise. That’s all you need in an evening. There’s a de­press­ing new gen­er­a­tion of women who say they don’t like the word fem­i­nism. House­work is not an op­tional ex­tra for men, it’s some­thing that’s nec­es­sary to do. Not the bor­ing job that the other per­son does.”

She is clearly not starry ei­ther. “We avoid all that. It doesn’t in­ter­est ei­ther of us. The kids are, like most kids with their par­ents’ jobs, only mildly in­ter­ested.”

Nev­er­the­less, both have leads in school plays. Do they have strict home rules? Do they have iPads? “Ab­so­lutely not. I know the kids watch tele­vi­sion but we are with them. I don’t want them typ­ing ‘pussy’ into YouTube, though the other day Manon wanted to look up a baby mon­key and the im­age that came was a mon­key with its skull pulled back and elec­trodes on its brain. I hope that im­age will fade and soon they will be old enough to have the con­ver­sa­tion of what you’ve got to be care­ful about be­cause you have to pro­tect your mind. They are lovely chil­dren. They will say things like, ‘I came sec­ond, not mean­ing to boast Mummy, be­cause boast­ing is not good.’ They are both re­ally kind and I am most proud of that.”

He­len’s child­hood years were spent in var­i­ous far-flung lo­ca­tions be­cause of her fa­ther’s diplo­matic ca­reer.

“We were in Scan­di­navia, West Africa and Tan­za­nia,” she re­calls. “Then I went to a Welsh school for a term, then a school in Bletch­ley. It made me

fit in but never want to be­long. I used to lie ap­pallingly. I never saw that as a prob­lem.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing hor­ri­fied at 15 or 16 when a girl­friend was re­ally up­set be­cause I had said some­thing that was to­tal fan­tasy. Of course it never hap­pened but it was a ter­ri­bly good story. And it re­ally con­fused me why peo­ple were so in­ter­ested in truth. Truth of feel­ing is very im­por­tant. Be­ing hon­est about your feel­ings. But be­ing hon­est about what re­ally hap­pened? Un­less it hurts some­body, it’s just se­man­tics. So liv­ing in the great twi­light be­tween my re­al­ity and re­al­ity as an ac­tress was born.”

When she gets on a roll He­len is al­most un­stop­pable. She is par­tic­u­larly keen on re­form­ing Bri­tain’s Na­tional Health Ser­vice (NHS). She once said that peo­ple should be fined if they miss ap­point­ments. “I would also like peo­ple to be told how much their pre­scrip­tion is cost­ing. If you pitch up, ham­mered out of your mind, to have your stom­ach pumped, which is what most A&Es are full of on Fri­day and Satur­day nights, you should foot the bill. If you can’t take your drink, don’t drink.

“‘I would like to take the NHS out of the po­lit­i­cal arena. Let’s put it back in the hands of the doc­tors and start re­ally valu­ing it. And the other thing that de­presses me is ma­chines at Tube sta­tions. There used to be six ticket of­fi­cers who would tell you if the trains were down to­day and where you would change plat­forms. And now it’s just ma­chines. What if the Tube crashes and there’s not one per­son to help 750 peo­ple get off the train?”

She hur­tles along in ou­trage: “And what about su­per­mar­kets with no peo­ple, just ma­chines? Why do peo­ple have to be so greedy? Why is it all right to say we’re mak­ing all this money and now we’re go­ing to fire peo­ple to make even more? What hap­pened to peo­ple talk­ing to you at the shops?

It’s nice to feel part of a vil­lage, wher­ever your vil­lage is.”

He­len is as happy meet­ing Tube work­ers and check­out staff as roy­alty, although she de­scribes meet­ing the Queen in March this year as “very ex­cit­ing”. She was work­ing on A Lit­tle Chaos, one of Alan Rick­man’s last films, with a woman who taught her how to curtsy prop­erly. So when she was pre­sented to the Queen she did the whole thing. “I was pros­trate in front of her and then I came up.” She gives a lit­tle demon­stra­tion, out­stretch­ing her arms as she bows into her plate. The­atri­cal. Bril­liant. “A lady-in-wait­ing came af­ter­wards and said, ‘Her Majesty would like to com­mend you on your curtsy.’ I was thrilled. She was very clever, very funny and witty.”

I look at He­len’s face – gor­geous, ex­pres­sive and hardly any lines. “I don’t think of my­self as old, but I want to make sure that when we shuf­fle off this mor­tal coil I would like to be ready to go, at peace with it, not scream­ing, ‘It never oc­curred to me that I’m go­ing to die!’ I am not re­li­gious but I think I might find it. I might go the way of my Catholic fore­fa­thers. I was in Venice re­cently with my mum and the smells and bells in those beau­ti­ful churches had a med­i­ta­tive qual­ity. I like that. I like dream time. I like day­dream­ing. I think it’s an im­por­tant part of the day.”

And with that thought, the tiny tall lady takes her leave.

ABOVE: He­len McCrory and her hus­band Damian Lewis in Fe­bru­ary this year. Damian has al­ways said that it’s his wife who is the boss at home.

FROM TOP: He­len and Michael Sheen as Cherie and Tony Blair in The Queen (2006). On­stage as Medea in 2014. In The Woman in Black 2: An­gel of Death (2015). And in her role of mob­ster ma­tri­arch Polly in Peaky Blin­ders.

He­len pho­tographed out­side Lon­don’s ITV stu­dios in March this year. When not at work, she prefers to avoid the lime­light.

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