Michelle Gomez is a force to be reckoned with
Michelle Gomez is a force to be reckoned with
Published: 05th May 2006
Author: The Scotsman
A DECADE ago Michelle Gomez vowed she would never return to her native Scotland again. “I used to say Edinburgh was a beautiful actress with no talent,” says Gomez, best known her role as the barking-mad staff liaison officer in surreal hosp-com Green Wing.
“I thought it was just like a shortbread tin. I think that’s because I did six Festivals in a row there, and I never saw the real Edinburgh, just a lot of deeply annoying Cambridge Footlights kids wanting to be actresses. You just want punch their lights out when you see them parading up and down Princes Street, don’t you?”
Today Glasgow-born Gomez is not only thinking of quitting her London base to return to Scotland, but she is considering making her home in the Scottish capital.
“I was young and naive and talking shite!” she says of her old view of the city. Now I can see Edinburgh in all its glory,
and it’s utterly stunning. Like London, Glasgow is very funky and raw. But Edinburgh has a great quality of life. Everything’s no bother, it’s very civilised, and you can really breathe up there. I’m thinking of moving back.”
This turnaround in her opinion of her homeland is a happy consequence her latest success, Feel the Force, her new sitcom for BBC2, in which she and Rosie Cavaliero play Sally Bobbins and Sally Frank, two dedicated but hapless detectives. The series was shot in Edinburgh, which Gomez describes as “one of the stars of this show”.
If, God forbid, you suffered a burglary, the very last officers you would wish to see knocking on your door to investigate the crime would be Bobbins and Frank.
Gomez encapsulates her character in three words: “Anal, militant, nightmarish. She lives and breathes the police force and tries so hard to be competent, but is in fact useless at her job.
“She imagines that in the biopic of her life, she’d be played by Helen Mirren. In her dreams Jane Tennison, Colombo and the entire cast of The Bill are all her best mates and are forever coming round for dinner. She spends a lot time watching old videos of The Bill and playing with her truncheon!”
Gomez says the characters’ hopelessness is the key to the comedy in Feel the Force. Despite constant dressing-downs from their exasperated boss and stupefying accident rate, the duo think they are the bee’s knees. “We’re just rubbish,” she says, before adding with laugh, “you can see the headline now ‘Feel the Force: We’re Just Rubbish’. We’ve just written our own review!” Such a comment is typical of Gomez, a presence who radiates enough electricity to light up most of Strathclyde.
Some journalists have found the actress touchy – “prickly” is an epithet that has been used more than once to describe her. But the day we meet she is better described as sassy and spunky. With magnetic eyes and cheekbones which many models would sell their dietician for, she manifests the same crackling, cackling energy both on and off screen. It is this physical and mental vibrancy which has finally secured her success as an actress after ten years largely spent “resting”. In one memorable scene in Feel the Force, Bobbins attempts to draw a chalk outline around a corpse that keeps rolling downhill at just the wrong moment. a result, the hillside is lined with white silhouettes.
The scene highlights Gomez’s supreme talent for physical comedy. Whether she is trying to have her sprinting measured by a speed-gun Feel the Force, or riding a camel along a hospital corridor for no discernible reason in Green Wing, she has few peers as a slapstick performer. Not for nothing does Cavaliero call her on-screen partner “a modern-day Buster Keaton”. Gomez would be the first to acknowledge that these quasi-silent-movie roles are seen as her strength. “I think some palette-cleansing better come soon before I disappear down the comedy coal mine marked ‘bonkers female characters’,” she smiles, and explains she did grow up adoring the clowning of Lucille Ball and Marti Caine.
“I don’t see any of these characters as bonkers, but I admit I might help my argument if I managed to deliver their lines without falling down! Rosie is the one who understands the text, and I’m the one who jumps around in the background .
“A bloke came up to me in the street recently and said, ‘you’re that …’ – I thought, ‘I’m not going to like this’ – ‘… you’re that woman who’s good at slapstick’.” Spot on.
Such public recognition has been a long time coming. Her father, originally from Montserrat, was a photographer turned carpet manufacturer, and her mother ran a model agency. From the moment they took Michelle, as a seven year-old, to a production of Kiss Me Kate, she was set on becoming an actress – an ambition her parents always encouraged .
But after graduating from drama school in Glasgow it took Gomez some time to make her way in showbusiness. “I struggled through the ingnue phase,” she sighs at the memory. “Look at my nose – it ain’t a button! I’ve given my Portia, and had it handed right back to me!”
The actress was far more comfortable in character roles, and her big break came in the mid 1990s when she played all four female parts in the original Glasgow Citizens’ stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting . It was there she met her future husband, the star of Coupling and This Life, Jack Davenport.
Nevertheless, Gomez’s success has been anything but overnight. She spent time working as a waitress during the periods when she was a “resting” actress, and she admits that, over the last ten years or so, she invented a number of
jobs to cover up her embarrassment about being an unemployed thespian.
Her favourite made-up job was being a taxi driver – she even got herself a fake laminated cabbie’s licence.
Green Wing changed all that. The show in which she plays Sue White, the world’s least sympathetic staff liaison officer, has acquired cult status and taken Gomez on to another level. Sue’s exploits with a turkey baster in the first episode of the current series – details of which can not be printed in a family newspaper – is likely to go down as one of the TV highlights of 2006.
When I venture that Sue is quite barking, Gomez immediately contradicts me: “I beg to differ. She merely says what she thinks. There is no censor in her head. Everybody would love to be like that and just say out loud what’s on their mind, but they daren’t.
“A lot of women like Sue. There’s something quite masculine about the way she conducts herself. She has no fear – she just doesn’t care. It’s quite intoxicating.”
So does the character bear any similarities to Gomez away from the Green Wing ward? “I’m quite like that – ‘yeah, f*** you!’,” she smiles. “I’m a fan of truth, but it’s got me into trouble!” Still, it doesn’t seem to be hampering her career. She is soon to be seen opposite Ralph Fiennes and Penelope Cruz in the film Chromophobia, a biting indictment of consumerism. She plays a newspaper editor instrumental in the demise of the main character.
With characteristic self-deprecation, she says: “I don’t know whether I’ve made the final edit. I’ll go to the premiere, watch with a sinking feeling and have nothing to talk about after 9:30!”
But mixing with the Hollywood A-list has not increased her desire to play the fame game. In fact, quite the opposite. You are unlikely to see her adorning the pages of Hello! magazine any time soon.
“Today there is a real difference between being a celebrity and being an actor,” Gomez declares. “I have no interest in being a celebrity. I wouldn’t go to anything that I wasn’t involved in, just for the sake of wearing a nice frock and having my picture taken. That part of the business doesn’t make me feel very comfortable.”
Nor does she worry that even though she is riding high today, it might all end tomorrow. “I have no real ambition or strategy. If this was all to finish, it’s totally fine. There’s a lot more to do out there than put on silly frocks and shout for a living. I could always go back to ‘would you like soup with that?'”