From The Thick of It to War & Peace, RE­BECCA FRONT’s tal­ent for por­tray­ing pow­er­ful women has won her le­gions of male fans. She tells Kerry Pot­ter about body con­fi­dence, her (teenage) fash­ion men­tor and what she’s got in com­mon with Theresa May

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From ocm­edy ot crim,e ac­tress Re­becca Front has done it all in her 25 years on our TV es­ec­nrs, and nwo, she tells us, shse’ hav­ing the prime of heer lif

Re­becca Front is fix­ing me with The Look. Even the most cur­sory of TV view­ers will be fa­mil­iar with it: stern and au­thor­i­ta­tive, as seen on Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Jean In­no­cent in ITV crime drama In­spec­tor Lewis (three years on from Re­becca’s de­par­ture, her co-star Lau­rence Fox still calls her ‘ma’am’). She also de­ployed it in her role as cab­i­net min­is­ter Ni­cola Mur­ray in the BBC po­lit­i­cal satire The Thick of It, as well as in her ma­tri­arch roles in pe­riod dra­mas War & Peace and Doc­tor Thorne. And now The Look is back for Re­becca’s turn in Kay Mel­lor’s new reg­is­ter-of­fice-set BBC One drama Love, Lies and Records. She plays Judy, an awk­ward, job­sworth regis­trar who is fu­ri­ous when she gets over­looked for pro­mo­tion in favour of her neme­sis: gre­gar­i­ous, chaotic work­ing mother Kate, played by Ash­ley Jensen.

Right now, I am ner­vously wit­ness­ing an im­promptu demon­stra­tion of The Look up close. We won’t call it ‘rest­ing b**ch face’ be­cause Re­becca doesn’t like the word b**ch: ‘We wouldn’t call a man that.’ We set­tle for ‘rest­ing angry face’. ‘It’s use­ful to be able to look quite scary,’ she says. ‘I’m re­ally bad at com­plain­ing about things in shops or restau­rants be­cause I don’t like con­fronta­tion, but some­times I don’t need to com­plain be­cause you can just see it in my face.’ And with that, The Look is gone as she breaks into a grin. ‘I am quite a smi­ley per­son; I’m ac­tu­ally not stern enough. I’m quite soft and woolly by na­ture.’

She’s also a mil­lion times sex­ier than many of her char­ac­ters. ‘I’ve got much more body con­fi­dent as I’ve got older. I’m fit­ter and more mus­cly. I go to the gym three times a week. My teenage daugh­ter [Tilly, 16] has given me more self-as­sur­ance. We shop to­gether a lot and I pick up clothes and say, “I don’t think I can get away with that.” And she says, “What does that mean? You’re set­ting your­self a rule and that’s ridicu­lous. You tell me not to do that, so why should you?” So I’ve upped my game: I dress more con­fi­dently, I carry my­self more con­fi­dently. You only live once.’

She’s about to get her ears pierced for the sec­ond time in

re­cent years, egged on by Tilly, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been too scared. That’s the only nee­dle she’ll tol­er­ate though – cos­metic surgery is a big no. ‘Women are under so much pressure: the thought that you have to change your body to be ac­com­mo­dated in so­ci­ety seems wrong to me. I’m hes­i­tant to say I hate it be­cause I don’t want to judge peo­ple for do­ing it – I un­der­stand the im­pulse – but it wor­ries me.’

At 53, Re­becca is happy to look her age. ‘It both­ers me that peo­ple aren’t al­lowed to grow old nat­u­rally be­cause there’s a beauty in that. I know it’s a cliché but con­fi­dence is the sex­i­est thing and if more women felt con­fi­dent about the way they looked, they wouldn’t need to have those pro­ce­dures. It takes guts to say, “I’ve got wrin­kles and crow’s feet and I’m not both­ered about it. I quite like them, ac­tu­ally.”’

Her ten­dency to play pow­er­ful, brusque char­ac­ters has won her a le­gion of male fans. ‘Some men are re­ally drawn to au­thor­i­ta­tive women, aren’t they? I oc­ca­sion­ally get mes­sages from men ask­ing for pho­tos of my shoes be­cause they prob­a­bly imag­ine I’m wear­ing re­ally scary stilet­tos. I mean, I am to­day, but usu­ally I think, “Erm, do you want a picture of my train­ers?”’

Her turn as Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent In­no­cent espe­cially caught peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion, re­port­edly in­spir­ing erotic fan­fic­tion about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween In­no­cent and Lau­rence Fox’s char­ac­ter DS James Hath­away. ‘I try not to en­gage with that stuff,’ Re­becca hoots.

Kay Mel­lor, cre­ator of big-hearted, women-cen­tric dra­mas such as Band of Gold and Fat Fight­ers, had the idea for Loves, Lies and Records when she at­tended a reg­is­ter of­fice to record the death of her mother, not­ing how the lo­ca­tion was a mi­cro­cosm for life’s highs and lows. Ac­cord­ingly, the first episode is a roller­coaster of emo­tion, as sad as it is funny, tak­ing in births, deaths and mar­riages.

De­spite ap­pear­ances, Re­becca says she’s not made of stern enough stuff to work in that en­vi­ron­ment. ‘I wear my heart on my sleeve too much for a job like that. With all the deaths and ba­bies, I wouldn’t last more than five min­utes. I cry very eas­ily since hav­ing my chil­dren.’ (As well as Tilly, Re­becca and her TV pro­ducer/writer hus­band Phil Cly­mer have 18-year-old Oliver.) Be­ing a cry baby does have ben­e­fits though: ‘I’ve be­come a much bet­ter ac­tor since I had chil­dren. It’s made me less self-con­scious and opened up a fast-track to ac­cess­ing my emo­tions.’

Cre­at­ing Judy was a wel­come chal­lenge: ‘I thought, how on earth am I go­ing to play this woman as I have noth­ing in com­mon with her? She has no sense of hu­mour, she’s an­ti­so­cial, she’s judg­men­tal. We would not get on at all. But I didn’t want to play her like a car­toon vil­lain. She’s just com­pli­cated. She’s a hu­man be­ing and it’s my job to un­der­stand why she does what she does and find a way into her head.’

The ca­reers of Re­becca and her co-star Ash­ley Jensen have bloomed in a sim­i­lar way, with both mak­ing the suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion from com­edy to drama. On grad­u­at­ing from Ox­ford, Re­becca be­gan her ca­reer in ra­dio com­edy in the early 1990s, work­ing with Ar­mando Ian­nucci (who went on to cre­ate The Thick of It) and Steve Coogan. Mov­ing into TV, Re­becca starred in the Alan Par­tridge canon, with shows such as The Day To­day, and later in Nighty Night, Queers and The Cather­ine Tate Show. Ash­ley, mean­while, made her name in Ex­tras and Ugly Betty as well as, more re­cently, in Catas­tro­phe. ‘I’m in awe of Ash­ley – those shifts she makes be­tween com­edy mo­ments and mov­ing mo­ments are ef­fort­less,’ says Re­becca. The two bonded so well off-cam­era that at one point they had a gig­gling fit so epic, crew mem­bers filmed it on their phones.

The cur­rent state of pol­i­tics, how­ever, is less of a laugh­ing mat­ter for Re­becca. Does she wish they were still mak­ing The Thick of It? ‘Things have gone so mad it would be hard to find fic­tional ideas that were cra­zier than what we’re go­ing through,’ she says. ‘Even Ar­mando couldn’t top this.’

Hav­ing played Ni­cola Mur­ray, she says she has more sym­pa­thy for politicians, espe­cially fe­male ones. In­deed, she’s more char­i­ta­ble about Theresa May than you might ex­pect a left-lean­ing ac­tor to be: ‘We judge women in pub­lic life in a dif­fer­ent way. She gets crit­i­cised for her hair, for what she wears, for be­ing un­emo­tional – I don’t think that would get lev­elled at a man. I sus­pect she’s prob­a­bly a very nice woman. I don’t know her but I don’t look at

Clock­wise from top left: Re­becca with Ash­ley Jensen in new drama Love, Lies and Records; op­po­site Peter Ca­paldi in The Thick of It; in Doc­tor Thorne with Richard McCabe; with her Bafta for The

Thick of It, and in Queers. Be­low: with hus­band Phil

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