‘ Pa­parazzi? They wouldn’t pay the Sev­ern Bridge toll’

The ‘ Gavin & Stacey’ co- cre­ator and ‘ Stella’ ac­tor talks celebrity, her first novel, and the ‘ com­pletely tal­ented’ James Cor­den with Car­o­line O’Donoghue

The Irish Times Magazine - - INTERVIEW -

‘ Marks & Spencer’s in Cardiff is a re­ally good place to get recog­nised,” Ruth Jones says, beam­ing, and I laugh. Not just be­cause of her small, pri­vate joy at be­ing the pride of the city but also be­cause if a shop can be a per­son, then Ruth Jones is a Marks & Spencer. We may have got to know her as Nessa in Gavin & Stacey, the chain- smok­ing, leather- wear­ing for­mer All Saints mem­ber who has had af­fairs with ev­ery­one from John Prescott to Dodi Fayed, but the 51- year- old mother of three is warm, ap­proach­able and just the right side of show busi­ness. She’s a Gü Pud, a bag of Percy Pigs and a good pair of cot­ton knick­ers rolled into one per­son.

“I love it if some­one comes up to me and says, ‘ I re­ally, re­ally love Gavin & Stacey,’ or, ‘ I’m re­ally en­joy­ing the new sea­son of Stella,’ be­cause it’s a com­pli­ment about my work,” she says. “But some­times they just say, ‘ You’re Ruth Jones!’ and I say, ‘ No, I get that a lot. A lot of peo­ple think I’m her.’ Some­times I put on a Scot­tish ac­cent. Once I ran away. I ran away from some­body at a rugby match. She just screamed, ‘ It’s Nessa!’ and I ran. It’s very child­ish.”

The ac­tor and screen­writer is here to talk about her de­but novel, Never Greener, which is typ­i­cal of Jones’s work in its cheer­ful do­mes­tic­ity. In Gavin & Stacey two fam­i­lies are hap­lessly smashed to­gether when two young lovers meet and get mar­ried. In Never Greener two fam­i­lies are oblit­er­ated by an af­fair ruled by ma­nip­u­la­tion, ob­ses­sion and de­ceit. It fol­lows Kate, a fa­mous TV ac­tor and low- level so­ciopath, who re­lent­lessly pur­sues her ex- lover, Cal­lum, a mar­ried school teacher who got her preg­nant 17 years ear­lier.

“It kind of hap­pened by ac­ci­dent,” Jones says. “I took a break a cou­ple of years ago and de­cided to look through my lap­top for any cre­ative ideas I might have started, and I found this screen­play that I’d writ­ten called Never Greener. And, y’know, it was only all right. I wrote it 15 years ago, so there were ob­vi­ous flaws to it. I’ve learnt a lot about screen­writ­ing since then.”

This, she says, is the rea­son­ing for the book’s un­usual time­line, which al­ter­nates between 1985 and 2002. The char­ac­ters live in a world where mo­bile phones have just ar­rived and Friends Re­united takes prece­dence over Face­book.

“But the story was good,” she says. “So I adapted it to prose fic­tion just as an ex­er­cise. You have a dif­fer­ent, much more in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with the char­ac­ters in a novel than when writ­ing a screen­play. You’re able to get in­side their heads in a dif­fer­ent way. You can un­der­stand their mo­ti­va­tions more. I haven’t quite achieved that in screen­writ­ing.”

Ruth Jones, it should be pointed out, has an MBE for her ser­vices to en­ter­tain­ment. But, per­haps be­cause of the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of TV work, she seems rarely in­clined to take credit for her work. Un­like most artists, she ap­pears cheer­fully dis­tant from her art, hold­ing it at arm’s length in a way that is both charm­ing and frus­trat­ing. I ask her about Kate, the self­ish, neu­rotic ac­tor who is the book’s main char­ac­ter, and why she is the way she is.

“I’m not a psy­chol­o­gist,” Jones says, hap­pily. “I wouldn’t even be­gin to ex­plain why she be­haves how she be­haves . . . but I like that, too. There doesn’t al­ways have to be an ex­pla­na­tion.”

Doesn’t there, though? In fic­tion, at least? Isn’t the point of a novel that you get un­der peo­ple’s skin so that all of their ac­tions seem fluid and believ­able?

The cliche with first- time nov­el­ists is that they tend to bor­row heav­ily from their own lives. Jones, how­ever, is in­sis­tent that vir­tu­ally noth­ing from Never Greener has any root in her ex­pe­ri­ence, de­spite Kate and Jones shar­ing a back­ground in the Bri­tish tele­vi­sion in­dus­try.

“I’ve ob­vi­ously wit­nessed the world of TV pro­duc­tion, and I’m just a bit fas­ci­nated by peo­ple be­ing a bit aw­ful,” she says. “I’ve taken my knowl­edge of how things work and put it on to the char­ac­ter, and how some­one as aw­ful as Kate would re­act.

“The whole fame thing now is very dif­fer­ent, with so­cial me­dia,” she says, re­fer­ring to Kate’s 2002 time­line. “You still have pa­parazzi. But, be­fore, things would end up in the pa­pers but wouldn’t be on peo­ple’s phones or on Face­book or Twit­ter. You just think, How far is it go­ing to go? And so many peo­ple are fa­mous now.”

In­clud­ing Jones, I point out. “I don’t get recog­nised much out­side of Cardiff,” she says, laugh­ing. “You don’t get many pa­parazzi on your doorstep. They prob­a­bly couldn’t be both­ered to pay the Sev­ern Bridge toll, frankly.”

Al­though Jones has an aver­sion to the kind of fame she writes about in Never Greener, her for­mer writ­ing part­ner and costar, James Cor­den, has em­braced it. The star of the US talk­show The Late Late Show has shot into or­bit since they worked to­gether on Gavin & Stacey, and Jones beams with pride at hear­ing his name. “James is just so good at han­dling it. He’s just nicer to peo­ple than I am!” she says with an­other laugh. “He’s com­fort­able with be­ing fa­mous. And, also, he’s in a dif­fer­ent l evel of f ame t o me. I might get a cou­ple of peo­ple com­ing up to me, but you couldn’t walk down the street with him now. You’d be mobbed.” While Cor­den has gained mul­ti­tudes of fans world­wide, there’s a per­vad­ing sense of tall- poppy syn­drome around his suc­cess. For what­ever rea­son, bring­ing up his name seems to in­cite huge re­ac­tions from the English: they’re ei­ther breath­lessly loyal or have a vague ha­tred they can’t quite ex­plain.

“He’s a tal­ent house. And, the thing is, no one can take that away from him. No one can say: how did he get to be so suc­cess­ful? Be­cause he’s com­pletely tal­ented. He’s a bril­liant ac­tor, bril­liant pre­sen­ter, his wit is so quick. He’s in­ter­ested in ev­ery­thing.”

Her love for Cor­den is ob­vi­ously gen­uine, and is quite un­usual for a celebrity interview.

Typ­i­cally, if you’re in­ter­view­ing a fa­mous per­son, and you bring up an­other fa­mous per­son they used to work with, the shut­ters comes down on the con­ver­sa­tion. The un­spo­ken ta­boo of celebrity in­ter-

It re­minded me of be­ing at univer­sity af­ter turn­ing in my first es­say and think­ing, If I don’t pass this I’m not meant to be here, I’m not meant to be at univer­sity. Then get­ting it back, and think­ing, Phew, I am meant to be here

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