My recipe for joy... Doc Martin, music, family & fashion
Caroline Catz tells Prima about her love of vintage clothes, her passion for Cornwall and why working on Doc Martin is a dream for an actress
Actress Caroline Catz on the passions that light up her life
Caroline lives in London with her husband, actor Michael Higgs, and their two children, Sonny and Honor. The Radatrained actress has enjoyed roles in film, theatre and TV. Most recently, we’ve seen her in DCI Banks and
I Want My Wife Back. This month, she returns in the new series of Doc Martin to once again star alongside Martin Clunes as Louisa, one half of TV’S mostloved ‘on again, off again’ couple.
LIFE ON DOC MARTIN
I find the relationship between the Doc and Louisa fascinating. The fact that it keeps changing is one reason I look forward to returning to the show. They’ve finally decided to make a go of it, so it’s no longer a ‘will they, won’t they?’ situation. They drive each other crazy, but they’re bound by genuine love and by a child whose wellbeing is paramount. Louisa has also conceded that, despite craving a normal family life, there’s probably no such thing. Despite their problems, she and Martin are determined that they are going to make their family work.
Louisa and Martin are an extreme example of incompatibility. But if you look around, it’s not that unusual. You often see unlikely couples and wonder how on earth they stay together. But, somehow, people do. In the case of Louisa and Martin in this series, the viewer is a fly on the wall in their home as they battle through the miscommunication that remains in the relationship.
It’s funny to watch, but how exhausting it must be to be in their situation. I’m happy to say that my marriage is a little bit less complicated!
Louisa is going through some changes in the new series. She’s faced with a dilemma, which may lead to her having to leave her job as headmistress of the local primary school. She’s considering a new career in child therapy, which is secretly motivated by her fear that their son, James Henry, might develop Doc Martin’s traits. She can’t change Martin – his curmudgeonly behaviour, his lack of social skills, his phobias – but, perhaps, if she studies child development, she can prevent her son from becoming as socially awkward as his father.
We’ve got through a lot of babies filming Doc Martin! We started with seven playing James Henry as a newborn, four in the last series and just one set of twins in this series because he is now much more recognisable.
It’s fair to say that the twins are more interested in being toddlers than being actors! But they are absolutely gorgeous.
Becoming a parent changes you profoundly. No one can prepare you. It adds layers to an actor and you can relate to parts in new ways. The roles became more interesting after I had my children.
Doc Martin is a unique job for an actor. The fact we make the series every two years gives us a chance to work on
other projects and come back feeling refreshed. It also means there’s more time for the writers to work on the scripts, develop characters and find meaty storylines for them. I’m sure it’s why the show has had such longevity.
As an actor, you can often find yourself in some grim locations. But the reverse is the case on Doc Martin. We get to spend the summer in lovely Port Isaac. It’s one of the reasons the cast and crew love returning and it has created a special family feeling on set.
For the first time ever, we already know there’ll be another series. It will be in 2019 and it will definitely be the last – although we’ve said that before! I love working with Martin Clunes. He’s
the opposite of the Doc: funny, charming, empathetic and gregarious. Problem is, he’s starting to believe he’s an actual doctor, giving me unwanted diagnoses if I have so much as a cough or sniffle. A trivial bruise on my hip recently warranted a scan, in his opinion! He’s also been known to write me a fake prescription from the prop pad on the Doc’s desk.
If we knew what has made the series such a success – both at home and abroad – we’d bottle it. But maybe it’s about the relationships, the sense of community in the village and the quirky characters. It’s also to do with Port Wenn, of course – a place that’s a world within itself that runs at its own pace.
We film Doc Martin in Cornwall, which is like another character in the show. I’m sure that the beautiful backdrop is part of the show’s appeal, but it’s also an ever-changing landscape. It can be a beautiful sunny day – all ice cream and beaches – and then, suddenly, the sky goes dark, a seagull swoops and nicks your chips, and a torrential storm drenches you to the bone. It’s a perfect metaphor for the show itself, which can be light one minute and dark the next.
MY FASHION PASSION
During breaks in filming, I spend a lot of time on ebay. It’s my latest resource for vintage clothes. At one time, you could hardly get a mobile phone signal in Port Isaac, now we’re fully connected to wi-fi. It will be the ruin of me!
I love the clothes I’m wearing in these pictures for Prima. It’s like wearing my fantasy wardrobe. I chose them with my friend, the stylist and fashion historian, NJ Stevenson. We had a day with Cleo and Mark Butterfield – an amazing couple who have curated the most astonishing collection of vintage clothes at C20, their company in Devon. They have thousands of items, from Victorian gothic pieces to 20th-century attire. We chose beautifully cut dresses and skirts and exquisite blouses by fashion icons, such as Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell. I could have lived in that place!
We chose the clothes for both their beauty and glamour. The Ossie Clark creations, for example, are not just beautifully cut, they also have a rock ’n’ roll edge, which I find so appealing. It’s astonishing, too, that all the clothes still look as fresh and fantastic as the day they were made. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a passionate vintage collector.
I especially love clothes from the late 1960s and early 1970s. From the age of 10, I pored over posters, record covers and pictures of musicians of the era. My teenage bedroom had wall-to-wall posters of my absolute idol, David Bowie. I love how glam rock made fashion available to everyone, not just the elite, and how musicians and artists took clothes from the past – including austere Victoriana – and wore them in a different way. It was a way of reclaiming history while being playful and subversive with it.
I’d have loved to have spent a day walking down the Portobello Road in 1973. It’s where Cleo Butterfield started her collection and she told me how, at the time, she bought vintage treasures, such as beautiful hand-printed chiffon dresses from the 1930s, for next to nothing! You could own the most gorgeous things without breaking the bank. It was when the concept of recycling fashion and dressing up for fun began.
I’ve just discovered London fashion designer Justine Tabak. Her clothes are based on the romantic 1970s look, but with a contemporary twist. The fabrics feature historic prints sourced from an archive in Manchester (my home town!), while her clothes are made by British manufacturers, too.
I was thrilled when Justine asked me to work with her to create a Louisa/caroline dress for her autumn collection. She’s looking through my vintage collection for inspiration. I’d like to say that I have a special room for it all, but it’s more of a chaotic cupboard where everything gets squished. I’m not exactly a hoarder, but once I’ve bought an item, I fall in love with it and find it very hard to part with!
Louisa gets to wear one of Justine’s creations in the new series. Giles Gale, Doc Martin’s brilliant costume designer, and I fell in love with a 1940s-inspired blue wrap dress with white embroidery from her collection that’s just perfect for my character, Louisa. Justine made some minor adjustments – the little popped sleeves are now a bit more puffy and slightly longer because
I need to cover a tattoo of a rose on my right arm. You’ll spot me wearing it at the very end of episode eight.
MY ROLE MODELS
I’ve loved working with Dame Eileen Atkins. She plays Doc Martin’s aunt Ruth. In our downtime, we talked a lot about clothes. I tried to convert her to my ebay habit, too, after she challenged me to find a particular bag she liked on the site. I succeeded and we’ve been in deep negotiations with Yvonne from Northampton ever since! I absolutely adore Eileen – she’s funny, irreverent, sharp as a tack, a keen walker and an absolute powerhouse. She also looks fantastic. I’d love to be just like her when I’m older.
I’m very close to my mum, too. I credit her with my love of fashion. When I was growing up, she had an amazing hat shop in Manchester selling hats by Phillip Treacy and Stephen Jones. My idea of helping out was to stand in the shop window with a hat on pretending to be a dummy, just to see if I could pull it off.
My mum has always looked fantastic.
Growing up, I’d study old pictures of her in the 1960s looking so Dusty Springfield, with her hair piled high and wearing immaculate eyeliner. In the 1980s, I recreated that look when I went to the clubs in Manchester. I never thought, ‘Why would I want to look like my mum?’ To me, she looked amazing.
As a kid, my parents’ wardrobes were a big fashion resource.
My dad’s was especially useful, because he never chucked anything out. There were shirts, sheepskin coats and gabardines. I still wear some of his T-shirts from the 1970s, including one of his favourites – a red scoop neck with an appliquéd Dennis The Menace!
I’m not as good at making things as I’d like to be. I have a sewing machine and have made cushion covers, but I’d love to be able to make a simple shift dress, for example, or a little cape from one of the many dress patterns that I collect from the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, my daughter and I are about to have sewing machine lessons together.
I’m also learning to crochet.
This is thanks to Maggie, our medic on Doc
Martin. She’s an expert and got me started with a little crochet square along with a video of her demonstrating the stitches. I watched it and practised on the journey between Cornwall and London. In the past 20 years, Maggie has made 300 blankets, and each one starts with a length of wool from the last, so it’s a continuous train. She was crocheting a beautiful blanket throughout filming – which she then gave me as present. It’s so wonderful.