The Midwife called and actress answered
Dance teacher inspired Main to put herself out there and audition for anything
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF.— Although she’s been co-starring in a hit TV show for six years now, people still don’t recognize actress Laura Main on the street. Recognition has been “a long, slow burn,” says Main, seated in a noisy coffee bar.
“It’s because I was in the nun’s wimple for two years and then the glasses. So it wasn’t a case, the show is watched by so many millions, and suddenly I’m recognized. That didn’t happen at all. Not at all,” she says.
The show is PBS’s Call the Midwife, which will offer a special Christmas episode next Monday (WNED at 9 p.m.). Main plays the Scottish nun who relinquishes her calling when she falls for the stout-hearted doctor on the show.
Even after her character and the doctor were married and trying to start a family, the paparazzi were not in hot pursuit, she says.
“I would say seriously it’s only been in the last six months that I think people recognize me. Because of the nature of the show, and because of the warmth that people have for the show and how they care about all the characters, people are warm and kind and want to tell you how much they like the program. And that’s a nice thing to hear,” she says.
Being famous was never one of her goals, Main says in her thick, Scottish burr.
“I have to admit I wasn’t ever dreaming of something as big as Call the Midwife. I just wanted to act, and just wanted to practise it and do it. So doing that mix of things I was doing, that was fine with me.”
That “mix of things” was several other jobs that saw her through following drama school in London. She worked in commercials, as a temp for a while and then was offered a fulltime job that wasn’t acting. “However, they did say, ‘You can go off to auditions.’ I was on a contract as opposed to doing the temping work. I thought that was fine. But it became apparent that it wasn’t quite going to work. It was a bit far away to get to auditions,” Main says.
“I said, ‘OK, I’m going to do this. But I’ll only leave for something big, maybe it’ll be something that’ll be shot quite quickly.’ But I found myself getting the opportunity to do something like State Fair that was a profit-share show. It really was a great experience and they were doing it again a year later, and I was doing this other job. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do this (show).’ It wasn’t leaving to do the ‘big job.’ It was leaving to do something small scale, but something that I was proud of and enjoyed doing.”
Her full-time job was as a receptionist for designer Jasper Conran.
“It was Jasper himself who understood that I’m an actress and about going to auditions,” she recalls. “But the logistics of it didn’t quite work.”
Main grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland, the youngest of three girls. Her dad, retired now, was a fish merchant, her mother a teacher and then a housewife. Her parents supported her proclivity for performing ever since she was10 years old. She credits her dance teacher, Karen Berry, for igniting the passion in her.
“My dancing teacher — no, I wasn’t a dancer — basically showed me the world of acting and doing a bit of everything: singing, acting and a little bit of dancing. But it’s totally because of her. And I was about10 or11, and I’d gone to these summer workshops doing dancing, drama, did amateur shows and special shows that would come to town and she would suggest auditioning. It was about meeting an inspirational person like that and I suppose I found I liked it.”
She says she enjoys the physicality of performing. “I was always a bit sporty growing up and it’s a physical thing being onstage for many hours and doing the whole thing. It’s just good fun.”
Main, 36, is a “bit sporty” in another way. She recently ran a marathon.
“People say it’s going to be an amazing day. And you can’t quite imagine how it could be an amazing day, but it really was,” she says.
“I did reasonably well with my training. You have to fit it in with your acting, but it is a big commitment. But I was running for a charity that I’m ambassador for now. It’s for vulnerable children in Lesotho, which is that landlocked country in the middle of South Africa,” she says.
“People support you and spur you on, and I just had this most wonderful day. I absolutely loved it . . . Somebody said to me, ‘If you’ve done that, you can do anything.’ And, in a way, you can now say to yourself: ‘That was a scary moment.’ Because even now when I go for the occasional job, I’m thinking, ‘How did I run the marathon? What happened?’ That is probably something that will stay with me forever. It was an achievement.”
“Because of the nature of the show . . . people are warm and kind and want to tell you how much they like the program.” LAURA MAIN
Stephan McGann as Dr. Turner and Laura Main as Shelagh in the Call the Midwife holiday special.