Jo Joyner: ‘Why I love village life’
Former EastEnders star Jo Joyner chats country life and dancing in her wellies – and reveals her acting inspiration
When she was asked to star in BBC1’s new daytime drama Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators, actress Jo Joyner found it an offer she just couldn’t refuse.
For starters, her character – former hairdresser Luella Shakespeare – was a breath of fresh air.
‘Lu, being bright and bubbly and happy and positive, is what really drew me to her,’ grins Jo, ‘because I can play some quite miserable, fierce people.’
The scripts were fabulously funny, with intriguing mysteries and an added layer of references to the Bard. Her co-star, as gone-to-seed private eye Frank Hathaway, was Mark Benton of Waterloo Road, Northern Lights and Strictly fame.
But the icing on the cake? As Jo, 40, tells Woman’s Weekly, it was filmed on her doorstep, so she could still spend time with husband Neil Madden and their twins Fred and Edie, eight.
Shakespeare & Hathaway was filmed in Stratford-uponAvon, William Shakespeare’s birthplace, just down the road from your home…
I live in a village equidistant from Stratford, Leamington and Warwick, so it was a 20-minute commute. I hadn’t planned to be working as I’d been away so long filming the Channel 4 school drama Ackley Bridge. I was going to be at home being a mum. But when they said, ‘It’s Mark and it’s in Stratford,’ it was all a bit too brilliant to say no. I could have friends meet me for lunch, and my kids met me after school for dinner.
Stratford’s quite touristy. Did you film on the streets with an audience?
We did! I had one long scene by Shakespeare’s original home. We had to do the entire scene walking along – all in one go. Suddenly, we had a busload of Japanese tourists with their wheelie cases, so you could hear them coming from a long way off! They all decided to stop and watch. No pressure…
What’s life like in your village? Midsomer without murders?
I’ve never watched Midsomer Murders, so I don’t know! The thing about village life is it’s incredible to grow up there, then you get to 15 and realise everybody knows your business. You get claustrophobic and want to leave. You come back when you’ve had your own children.
So there’s a real sense of community?
It’s a really strong community. There are 400 people in the village, and we all know each other. All the kids knock for each other and are out playing down at the field – it’s priceless. I grew up there, so nobody’s interested in what I do. It’s not like anybody would ask for a photo at the park on Sunday! I can totally relax in a way I couldn’t in London. If I was
taking my kids to the park there, I’d end up putting on make-up – which isn’t me – as I’d know I’d probably get asked for three or four photos.
Do you grow your own veg?
Turns out I’m ‘brown-fingered’! We were brought up on my mum’s organic veg from birth. Purple sprouting, green beans, artichokes, asparagus… You name it, my mum grows it brilliantly. Then I try, and either I’m brown-fingered or everything just dies. Or, if I’m honest, I tend to say, ‘I’m going to plant this…’ Then I get a job and I’m away. I don’t tend to it or pick anything. So there is murder in my village – it’s me, murdering my vegetables [laughs]. I do like to garden, though. I find weeding therapeutic, actually. My daughter Edie enjoys it, too.
Can you see your children Fred and Edie following in your acting footsteps?
I don’t know. I’m not hugely encouraging it. They’re not in a drama class – they can’t fit one in at the moment. If they said, ‘I want to go to Dance & Drama…,’ they’d go. But I wasn’t a child actor. I didn’t come to acting early, so there’s no rush.
What do they enjoy?
Edie loves writing and is a real bookworm. Without a doubt, she’ll be somewhere in the creative world, but not necessarily front of stage. She’s learning piano and Fred’s learning guitar and drums. He’s learning piano unofficially, too. Yesterday, we were both on the piano for ages. I was on Grade 8 when I had finished learning.
Who would be your ultimate fantasy co-star?
Julie Walters. I just love her energy. She’s instinctive. She’s innately funny – it’s in her bones, isn’t it? She’s such an inspiration, absolutely one of my idols. Alison Steadman, too – they’re both terrific character actresses. They can do drama and be funny. They can really twist the knife and, minutes later, have you in bits. You believe them in anything.
You turned 40 last May. How did you celebrate?
I was going to have a ‘40 and fabulous’ festival. I realised all my friends were really talented, so their present to me would’ve been a stint in the main tent – ‘You’ll do a yoga session, you’ll do some stand-up comedy, you’ll be a DJ, and we’ll have a festival.’ But then I was working so much, I didn’t have time to organise anything. My husband surprised me by organising a few of my nearest and dearest and their families to stay. We all went for a big dinner and had a party at mine. And we did go to Latitude Festival. It was my 10th wedding anniversary at the same time, so we went with the kids, my mum and my auntie. We were dancing in the woods at midnight in our wellies!
Shakespeare & Hathaway – Private Investigators continues on weekdays at 2.15pm, BBC1. The entire series can be seen on BBC iPlayer at bbc.co.uk/iplayer
‘When they said, “It’s Mark and it’s in Stratford,” it was all a bit
too brilliant to say no’
Jo with Edie, Fred and husband Neil
With Mark Benton in Shakespeare & Hathaway
With Jake Wood as EastEnders’
Tanya and Max Branning