Five Minutes With | Maureen Lipman

The actress talks about her new stage role, her appreciation of Breaking Bad and the importance of love…

Interview by: Rosalind Sack

My character is a bit frilly-headed, slightly stupid and slightly snobbish. I play Veta in the new stage production of Harvey, written by Mary Chase, alongside James Dreyfus. Veta means well – she’s desperate to get her daughter married and to do the right thing, but puts her foot in it left, right and centre. It’s a very stylised, high-comedy part. The play feels as though it’s crafted like a piece of old Ming dynasty China.

I’m never the girl they ask to read the Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4. It’s not too much to ask after all these years of listening to other people read it! I still have lots of ambitions. I haven’t had a place in television for the past few years. I have never played Broadway. I’ve never really done any filming abroad
– the only thing I did was in the motorway service station toilets! So there are always things that I wish I was doing but, at the same time, I’ve had an exceptionally good career and I wouldn’t change it. I would probably make
some different decisions, but not many.

The BT commercials probably typecast me somewhat and my opinions have typecast me too. If there’s a part for a funny, eccentric, batty old lady, the casting directors will probably go straight to Julie Walters, and I don’t blame them. I don’t think being opinionated and outspoken wins you many friends in this climate. But I don’t regret it. I have to self-sensor more than I would like because we all do for politically correct motives, but the idea that I should keep quiet when the world is, in my opinion, unjust in many ways – no, I couldn’t do that.

I don’t think any actor would turn down a soap opera because that means instant kudos. I did Coronation Street but only for two weeks, until Bet Lynch got back on her feet. Breaking Bad would suit me – I think it’s the best thing that’s ever been on TV. Such incredible performances, I love everything about it. There aren’t many things I can watch without thinking: ‘Oh, that’s good direction’, ‘They did that well’, ‘They should have played it the other way’, but I completely disappear inside that.

I’m very fortunate to have been loved by two very nice guys in my life. And I’m very fortunate to have two kids who seem to like my company. And I have pretty good friends. Friends change in this business – you meet different people every time you do another job. Some you take with you and some you don’t, and I think that’s one of the exciting things about it: change. But when push comes to shove, even in my life, I don’t have that many people who would pass what I call the Anne Frank test – in other words, would they hide me? There’s not many but, if you have one or two, you’re luckier than most. I try to be a good friend because, in the end, that’s what we’re left with.

Maureen Lipman is starring in Harvey on tour and at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London. harveyonstage.co.uk

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