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Katherine Kelly: 'Becky was the perfect character, but things have moved on'
As she returns to TV screens in the second series of ITV’s Innocent, the actor talks about leaving her characters on the set and how a trip to Wetherspoons prompted her to take on less work.
Katherine Kelly is one of prime-time TV’s most recognisable faces. Since bursting onto our screens as Coronation Street loudmouth Becky McDonald, Katherine’s career has taken a more dramatic turn with roles in big-ticket series like Liar, Cheat and Mr Selfridge to her name.
As she once again returns to watercooler crime drama in the shape of Innocent series 2, Katherine spoke openly to BT.com and other press about her career.
‘I don’t have that ego’
Katherine says that she goes through each script with a fine-tooth comb and takes time over whether it’s right for her – and the show.
“I’ve always been of the attitude that I’d rather be a smaller part in something good than the lead in something crap. I don’t have that ego,” she says.
“Primarily I’m an artist and TV is a director’s medium and we are all just colours on that palette. You want to bring the right colour to that show.
“I’m more interested in the show as a whole. I always read the whole script - I don’t read it through the prism of my own character. I read it and think ‘Would I want to watch this?’. And then I start thinking about whether I could play that character.”
She also reveals she tries not to take on too much work these days so she can focus on each role – and this approach seems to have paid off, with highly-rated shows including Mr Selfridge, Liar, Cheat and Criminal: UK among her more recent CV entries.
“For me, it’s quality not quantity. I’m very all or nothing. So if I’m doing something I’m really, really doing it and I down tools and that’s what I’m doing. I’m not good at spinning lots and lots of plates. I realise that about myself as I get older.
“I’ve turned down jobs when I feel I’ve just got a bit too much on. Especially when theatres were around, there was a time when I’d be filming by day and doing a show by night and I just felt I wasn’t giving either 100% and I just find that really dissatisfying. I don’t enjoy it as much as I should.”
However she appreciates that’s she very fortunate to be in demand within a competitive industry.
“I’ve also been really fortunate that I’ve never been without a script in my bag,” she admits. “There was a time when I was going from job to job and a lot of things came at once and I didn’t have a family so I could say yes.”
Losing sight of the real world
Katherine reveals that being so busy in the past meant that she disconnected so much from the real world that she realised she hadn’t been for a regular drink in a pub for a long time.
Talking about a previous job, she recalls: “There was a scene when my character had to order a drink at the bar and I remember thinking ‘God, I don’t know what people drink now at the bars’.
“It had been so long since I’d really truly gone to a pub and it’s not been some sort of red carpet where you’re handed a bottle of champagne.
“Do they drink lager and black anymore? Is that a thing? It really bothered me because I thought, how can you represent real life if you’re not in real life?
“So I felt going from job to job was actually diluting what I was doing and I wasn’t bringing as much richness to the characters that I play.”
She added: “I remember going into a Wetherspoons with my mum and I was like ‘Ah! This is what people drink now! They buy a bottle of prosecco and they shove it in a thing cos it’s cheaper and the red wine was on tap and oh great, now I know’.
“It becomes a very small world moving from set to set and you’re getting fed and it’s not real. You want to represent real.”
Leaving characters on set
Like many actors, Katherine is frequently asked how she deals with playing an intense character before going back to real life at the end of the day. Her Innocent character, Sally Wright, is just one of those – she’s dealing with the trauma of wrongly being in prison for five years and losing nearly everything on the outside.
“We’re all programmed in different ways and I can really leave it [the character behind],” she explains. “I can leave it with theatre but I think even more so with filming - there’s always a next day and there’s always another scene.
“On set I’m very focused. I’m there to do the work and I’m there to do it to the best of my ability. Perhaps it’s that – I give it all when I’m there, so there’s no residue afterwards.
“It’s like an athlete – everything’s for that 100 metres, there’s no point having a good think about it at the end, it’s gone, you’ve missed it.”
Supporting other actors
“If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s judgemental, by any means,” says Katherine, when asked for her thoughts on other actors being in less successful shows.
She adds that she can truly appreciate the amount of work that an actor has put in to make the most of a script that might be below par.
“It’s very easy to be good in a good script, in a good show,” she says. “I watch things and I think ‘Wow… I think you’ve really elevated that. I know what that line is on the page and actually you’ve said that in a way that not every actor could make that sound as real and good’.
“Sometimes I might even have read the script and I watch it and think ‘Wow, that’s brilliant’. It’s hard to be good in things that are not well put together.”
Returning to old characters
Katherine isn’t keen on reprising past roles these days, preferring to ‘go all out’ with one character at a time.
“I don’t think in retrospect and think backwards,” she says.
“I like to have a blank canvas and just take every story and script as it comes. And then I like variety. Perhaps the one-offs work with my all-or-nothing character really. I don’t have to hold anything back for another series.”
However she adds that Mr Selfridge was a justified exception for her.
“Mr Selfridge was four series and I’m certainly not against it [returning to a character]. I always think it has to come back for a reason, not just for the sake of it – what is the story and why are we bringing it back?
“With Mr Selfridge it was very clear, it was because they wanted to tell the story of Harry’s rise to fame and then his demise and it was a very clearly pitched idea for four series.
“But I’m not a fan of making things for the sake of it.”
And would she return to Coronation Street as Becky McDonald? It seems unlikely.
“I think in all honesty she would be a bitter disappointment to revisit her,” says Katherine.
“You know it’s 10 years since I was there and I was in it five. I think that character was very much of her time.
“It couldn’t have been more perfect for me in the sense that it was the 50th anniversary in my last year.
“I would hate for her to be spoiled in any way because it was such a perfect character at a perfect time and she really symbolised a person that doesn’t exist anymore, that ladette.
“Things have moved on. Youth culture always moves on. That youth culture exists but in a different way now. I mean she never had her nails done – nails was not a thing back then.
“As fun as it seems in theory, it would just be disappointing and I think Becky’s better left with a fondness.”
Innocent season 2 begins on ITV on Monday May 17, airing each night at 9pm until its concluding episode on Thursday May 20. The series will be then available on ITV Hub and BritBox UK.