Surrey’s Premier Lifestyle Magazine

More than just luck

Anna Wilson-Jones has been acting for over 20 years, with a resumé boasting credits in cult shows Black Mirror, Spaced and Waterloo Road. She is perhaps best known as Emma Portman in the long running ITV drama Victoria. Normally seen in front of the camera, Anna recently swapped roles for short film The Visitor taking on the role of creator and producer. Anna talks to Andrew Peters about life, loves and her future.
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Photo copyright: Ed Miller
Q Anna, you were born in Woking, attending Sir William Perkins School in Chertsey – do you have fond recollections of the town and return there at all?
Yes! My parents still live near so I’m often visiting. I had such great times with the Woking Youth Theatre. I started acting there when I was 13 and played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at the Centre Halls which was where the Peacock Centre is now. I also had many a Saturday job in Woking. I worked in Benetton endlessly folding clothes, ushering in the cinema, bar tending in various pubs. There used to be lots of discos at the Centre Halls and the Old School House. I’d go in homemade outfits and dance for hours in the ’80s!

Q Was becoming an actor something you always wanted to do?
No, I had always wanted to be a doctor and started medicine at university, but sadly found I was extremely squeamish when it came to dissection and so changed to law. I finished my degree, but I had been taking part in plays in the summer holidays with the National Youth Theatre and decided to become an actor. From a secure profession to a very precarious one.

Q Was there anyone in particular who inspired you to start your acting career?
Actually, probably Rob Leech and David Hawkworth who ran the Woking Youth Theatre. I was quite shy as a child and drama helped so much. I loved pretending to be someone else. When I joined the National Youth Theatre, I met people working in the industry and I realised acting could be a profession.

Q You’ve a very impressive and varied acting resumé which includes cult shows such as Spaced, Black Mirror, Monarch of the Glen and Waterloo Road. I presume it was fun to work with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (Spaced) and Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror)?
Well that’s very kind! It’s very much a matter of luck. You never know if a series is going to be popular or not. It’s often to do with timing, the zeitgeist. Yes, I had much fun on Spaced. Jessica Hynes who co-wrote and starred in it was a friend from the NYT, and Black Mirror was a privilege to be in as I think Charlie Brooker is a genius. Otto Bathurst directed National Anthem and brought out the darkness of the piece.

Q Favourite actor – who would you pay to watch?
I pay to watch all actors, especially in the theatre. The prices are ridiculous! Apart from my husband, Steve John Shepherd, of course, Christopher Walken. I’ve just watched Seven Psychopaths and so it’s him this week.

Q Who would you walk across hot coals to work with?
Guillermo Del Toro or Peter Jackson. I love surreal and fantasy films.

Q Do you pay any attention to social media or a production’s ratings?
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Q You’re now a regular in ITV’s drama Victoria (as the all-knowing Emma Portman) which has recently resumed in a third series. What do you enjoy best about the part?
It’s lovely to be someone else entirely and behave in a such a different way to modern day characters. The sets are breathtaking. And genuinely it’s such a lovely group of people, we have a lot of fun.

Q Do you ever now fear being typecast?
No, I am very lucky to be working. Of course I do love to play different people and since filming the last series I’ve had the chance to play some varied roles, but I am always happy to be in a period drama!

Q Your recent short film The Visitor was shown at the Manchester Film Festival. Can you tell us a little about it and how it has been received?
Yes, it was my first venture into being on the other side of the camera. It’s about a homeless man who breaks into a woman’s house only to strike up an unusual relationship with her. There’s a twist at the end. We’ve had lovely responses so far. There are beautiful, moving performances from Steve John Shepherd and Jane Asher.

Q Did venturing into writing and producing come naturally and was it a planned move?
My husband wrote the film, but my brother and I came up with the story. It wasn’t planned at all. I told my director friend Duncan Roe the story and he said let’s make it into a film! So we did.
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Quick five
Dog or cat? Dog!
Favourite food? Homemade curry
Guilty pleasure?
Crisp sandwiches/sherbet fruits/TV in bed
Main inspiration?
My husband and children
Glass half full or half empty?
Always half full
Q Does the theory that actors want to be behind the camera hold for you?
It has been lovely with The Visitor and Ghosted to be involved from the beginning to the end and to feel you have a bit of creative control; often as an actor you feel like a prop who can talk. Acting is my first love though. In Ghosted with Alison Steadman, I was in front of and behind the camera so that was perfect!

Q Will your experience with The Visitor change your understanding of acting?
Yes, absolutely. The tiny changes that you make in the edit can change the entire feel of a performance without the actor doing anything at all.

Q Any highs and lows of your career you’d care to mention?
It’s literally a career full of highs and lows and everything in between. Lows can be those periods when you’re not working and you think you’ll never work again, it’s very insecure. Highs are when you get the call with an offer.

Q With three children and a busy working life is there is such a thing as a typical day for you?
No, every day is different. Some days I’m doing the school run, other days I’m in a corset dancing in a ballgown, in a studio doing a voiceover or desperately trying to complete a self-tape without laughing!

Q Do you find more light-hearted and easy-going roles easier to play than serious ones?
It depends on the character or project. But I think most actors agree, serious heart-wrenching stuff is often easier, it can also be cathartic. It’s much harder to say mundane lines and make them seem real.
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Anna Wilson-Jones
Actor and producer Anna Wilson-Jones, best known for her roles in Monarch of the Glen, Spaced, Black Mirror and Hotel Babylon, recently returned to screens as series regular Lady Emma Portman in the third series of ITV’s Victoria. Anna will also join the cast of the third series of Hulu/Amazon Prime’s eighteenth century drama series Harlots, alongside Samantha Morton, Jessica Brown Findlay, Lesley Manville and Liv Tyler.

Later this year brings A Confession (from screenwriter Je Pope, starring Martin Freeman and Imelda Staunton, based on Stephen Fulcher’s book A Confession) – a six-part drama about a very recent true story that calls into question how the public want the police to behave when someone goes missing.

As a producer, Anna has recently created the story for and produced the short film Mr Shepherd Ploughs the Sea – from production company Seaplough Pictures which Anna runs with her husband, Steve John Shepherd, known for EastEnders and This Life, who has written the script and stars in the film.

Anna created and produced The Visitor (also written by and starring Steve) – which centres around a homeless man who breaks into a woman’s house which leads to a friendship forming between them. The short film premiered at the Manchester Film Festival and will travel around other festivals this year.

Anna has also produced and also appears in another short film called Ghosted, starring Alison Steadman. The comedy film is about a woman who becomes a psychic medium after she loses her husband. The film is currently in development for a TV series.

Anna is also a Prince’s Trust Ambassador and works very regularly with the charity on various projects with young people across the country.
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Q Have you noticed a change in attitude towards women from when you began your career?
Not really. I’m happy to say I’ve mostly felt respected and treated equally to men on set. We should aim for equality and respect in all areas of life, regardless of ethnicity or gender, but certainly not by vilifying men. There are, however, undoubtedly less parts for women and less lines said by women on screen even now and I’m not sure there’s much evidence of change, bar headline-catching roles. But the huge discrepancy in our industry is between the stars and the ‘normal’ working actors. But I’m certainly not going to complain as I have water, food and a roof over my head.

Q Can you tell us a little about your charity work for The Prince’s Trust and how you got involved with this?
My husband is an ambassador and I met Annie Lycett who heads the ambassador section and I was so happy to be asked to be one too. I try and do whatever is asked of me: whether it’s attend functions or help with a cookery course, or donate an experience for a Trust auction. I would love to do more. The Prince’s Trust is an extraordinary charity which helps young people who have become lost. It has turned thousands of lives around and is literally a lifeline for so many young people.

Q What’s the question you never get asked but would like to be?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. I suppose every actor would like to be asked: “What did it feel like to win that Oscar?”! Maybe a question about my other interests? But I’ve probably been rambling far too much by now.

Q What are you currently working on and what’s next on your busy schedule?
I’ve just finished A Confession, a drama based on true events, Breeders, a comedy and I’m finishing Harlots, a Georgian period drama. I’m about to film Adult Material for Channel 4 and Agatha Raisin for Sky. I’m also working with my husband on a comedy series called Mr Shepherd Ploughs the Sea... and of course working hardest being a mum.

Watch Anna as Lady Leadsom in the third series of Harlots, 10 July on Hulu and Amazon Prime.