In the spotlight: Tamsin Greig
PUBLISHED: 07:23 22 August 2014 | UPDATED: 07:23 22 August 2014
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Episodes star and Maidstone maiden Tamsin Greig is dramatic chameleon who moves between radio, comedy, Shakespeare and satire. She’s also refreshingly down to earth
The Garden of England is a fertile breeding ground for dramatic talent, and one of the recent crop to bloom is the wonderful Tamsin Greig.
She switches confidently between dramatic genres in her various screen and stage roles and while many actresses fall victim to the ‘post-40’ curse, for Tamsin, 47, every birthday seems to bring her more roles.
The witty actress currently stars as Beverly in Episodes, the much-loved sitcom focused on the British scriptwriting husband and wife duo Sean and Beverly, who are drawn to America – and into the clutches of Matt LeBlanc - when their show is bought by an American network.
With a new series now on TV, Tamsin is becoming a familiar face to American audiences, having already made her mark on British television; who can forget her comedic turns in the classic suburbia sitcom Friday Night Dinners, the surreal medical world of Green Wing or the darkly glorious Black Books?
Greig’s aptitude for acting is a family trait and her vocation was clear from a young age. Growing up with a mother who also indulged her theatrical side with amateur dramatics, Tamsin discovered that she “couldn’t get into drama school” and took a drama degree at Birmingham University.
A few years later, she might now have staked her claim in London but Greig hasn’t forgotten her roots. “I was born in Kent,” she says, “and Kent is just beautiful.”
After graduating, Greig didn’t instantly achieve dramatic glory; instead, she enrolled on a secretary course and found work as a typist. Thankfully this was only temporary and in 1991, landing the part of Debbie Aldridge in the BBC’s long-running radio drama The Archers acted as a springboard for an enduring acting career.
She jokes that the more children she had with her husband, the actor and writer Richard Leaf, the more opportunities came her way. Now a mother of three, Greig quips “I should just carry on having them!”
Naturally, on her journey to success, Greig took on the challenge of balancing motherhood with her flourishing career. It was her husband who encouraged her to join the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006 when their children were still very young.
Despite first declining the role, her ensuing performance as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing won Greig a prestigious Olivier award, gaining her further respect within the hard-to-crack world of theatre.
The last decade has seen her portraying creative characters with a distinctly funny disposition, as well as triumphing in storylines of a more serious nature.
Her alter-ego in Episodes, Beverly, captures this dramatic juxtaposition, frequently veering between the comedic and the complicated. Perfect casting, it seems, with Greig describing her on-screen persona as “a really awkward bird.”
But, we demand to know, what sort of bird? “Definitely one with a massive beak!” she laughs, before settling on a toucan. “Someone who’s totally not prepared to change their feathers, to doggedly hang on to who she knows herself to be.”
And just as the fictional Beverly finds Los Angeles to be a ‘land of the pretend’, that famously unflappable American enthusiasm has also been known to baffle this very English actress in real life.
“You become discerning about what people mean… Someone said to me that LA is a bit like ‘death by encouragement’!”
With our thoughts focused on the joys of home, our conversation comes back to the merits of the south east.
“Oh yes, Kent,” she smiles, “there’s nothing I don’t love about the county.” But despite some of Episodes bring filmed in Millwall, shooting in her home county doesn’t quite suit the temperament of the show and its obsession with celebrity culture.
“It’s a story essentially about Hollywood,” she explains. “That doesn’t quite fit with Kent sensibilities, does it?
“Perhaps we could do a spin-off, Episodes in the Garden of England. Matt LeBlanc in Canterbury Cathedral could be interesting – I can only imagine what the locals would make of that!”
The central casting of Friends star Matt LeBlanc is undoubtedly integral to the appeal of Episodes.
But while his level of fame might be an asset to the show, celebrity superstardom isn’t something that appeals to Tamsin, who prefers to maintain a delicate balance between her professional and personal lives.
However, working with LeBlanc came with another, unexpected but not unwelcome, setback: apparently it’s impossible to complete a scene with him without descending into giggles.
Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig and Matt LeBlanc may pepper shoots with their own impromptu humour, but the content of the Episodes scripts don’t exactly help. “Reading ‘at the sex therapist’s…’ at the top of the director’s notes I just thought, ‘well, we aren’t going to be able to do this scene, are we.’”
Certain scenes may be an (enjoyable) challenge, but Tamsin isn’t one to panic under pressure. With her sights set on roles further afield – she’s keen to build upon her Shakespearean scope, for example – Greig is evidently an actress whose work will continue to take her to pastures new.
But she’ll keep one eye on the green gardens of Kent, which will always be ‘home’. “I’ll move back one day, I know I will. It’s almost like I’m on an extended break at the moment – an extra-marital affair of sorts with other destinations.
“Those flirtations never last – my heart is in Maidstone!” n