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BBC actress talks to The Journal

PUBLISHED: 08:00 12 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:26 01 August 2010

"I PUT off getting into the corset until the last minute," laughs Matilda Ziegler. The Denton-based actress is chat-ting about filming Lark Rise to Candleford, in which she stars.

“I PUT off getting into the corset until the last minute,” laughs Matilda Ziegler. The Denton-based actress is chat-ting about filming Lark Rise to Candleford, in which she stars.

“The costumes are fabulous, but I prefer to be in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.”

And if you ever thought that acting is a glamorous profession, Matilda is quick to put that idea to rest. It takes seven months to shoot a series of the popular Sunday night show, which means that while on screen it appears to be summer, it might have been filmed in the depths of winter.

“There's a trick that if you have steam coming out of your mouth you drink some iced water first. You can imagine it's the last thing you want to do when you're cold,” she says.

Matilda, who lives in Denton with her husband and three children, plays dressmaker Pearl Pratt in the comedy drama, which is penned by Norwich writer Bill Gallagher.

And she says she's a joy to play.

“I think she's funny, first of all,” Matilda says. “She's got issues, which is my favourite thing. She's an independent woman in a period when it wasn't easy for a woman to be on her own.”

Lark Rise to Candleford, now in its third series, is perfect Sunday evening comfort viewing. Matilda agrees.

“I think the secret of its success is mainly Bill and his understanding of the human condition,” she says. “And Bill also has a feeling for comedy.

“It makes it immensely watchable. Even though it's a period piece and interesting for social history, you can relate to these people because they are human and very ordinary.”

And, of course, there are parallels with life today. “We are ready to make life a little more simple and try to find the things that matter. And these people could be perfectly happy with very little. Lark Rise provides that in a lovely sepia-toned hour on a Sunday. And the whole family can watch it. It's quite all right for all ages,” she says.

Matilda's acting career has taken her all the way from Albert Square to Candleford. With credits including the high drama of EastEnders (she played Donna Ludlow, the daughter who Kathy Beale gave up for adoption and who died of an overdose), acclaimed theatre parts and roles in comedy shows including Mr Bean (she played his long-suffering girlfriend Irma Gobb), Swiss Toni and Outnumbered, she has the sort of CV any actor would envy.

As she explains, it's no accident that she's done so much comedy.

“I make everything funny. I have this feeling that most things in life can be funny. I think it's something more like irony, nothing is ever just black and white. It's not that I try to make tragedy comic, but actors are observers of life and can't but help look at it in a certain way,” she says.

“I've done all sorts of different things, maybe it's true of every actor, you just turn your hand to everything. And you can't wait to be somebody different, it's great fun escaping from yourself. That diversity is what keeps you going.”

What was it that made Matilda want to become an actress?

“I just don't have any other qualifications for anything else, I had no choice,” she laughs. “I had toyed with the idea of being a painter, but that's a very difficult life. I did spend some time in Paris after I left school looking into the possibility of going to art school there.

“I was very under-qualified and just went round following punk bands and wasting time. Then I just tried for drama school and fell in to it. You think 'maybe I can do this' and before you know it everyone's talking about agents, then you get one.”

Matilda's husband, Louis Hilyer, is also an actor. They've worked together and have a long association with the play An Inspector Calls.

“I got myself in through the back door via him,” she says. “We managed to get this job going round the world. He's just played the Inspector, so we have been connected with that production for some years.”

Matilda and her family (the couple have two daughters and a son - Evie, Faye and Herbie) have lived in East Anglia for five years, having relocated from London.

“We used to live in Suffolk and we've just crossed the border and we're now near Bungay. We lived in Hackney. We just wanted to get into the country and I knew my sister might end up in this part of the world. And we fell in love with it,” she says.

Is it difficult to juggle two acting careers and a family?

“It works very well,” she says. “When Louis is working I don't and he tends not to work when I am. The children have quite a charmed life - they wouldn't agree with me - they have one or both of us around most of the time. Sometimes we rope in Louis' parents and I've got my sister who lives very close by. We just muddle through,” she says.

Having actors for parents, is there any sign of the children following in their footsteps?

“They are showing signs of being interested in drama and acting and the other side of the industry too,” Matilda says. “But they're not actually showing interest in having it as a career - very sensible - and I certainly don't encourage them,” she laughs. “Of course they absorb a lot of it, and it's quite a warm environment.”

And she's currently working on a show aimed at youngsters for the Nickelodeon channel.

“It's called the Freaky Farleys. It's a comedy series for teenagers about a family who relocate to Transylvania, which is full of vampires, zombies and werewolves.”

Lark Rise to Candleford is on BBC One on Sunday evenings.

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