Geordie dancing queen dreams of the silver screen - an interview with Jill Halfpenny
Posted: 09 Sep 2009
Dancing queen dreams of the silver screen
Geordie actress Jill Halfpenny, who starred in the BBC detective series Inspector George Gently, set in Northumberland - she is also in Legally Blonde: The Musical at the Savoy Theatre, London from December 5 - talks about her acting ambitions
Interview by Michael Hamilton
Family picture courtesy Jill Halfpenny and Ray Laidlaw - Jill with husband Craig and son Harvey
TV beauty Jill who made her name in Coronation Street and Strictly Come Dancing now has her sights firmly set on the silver screen.
‘I’d love to do a film like Lost in Translation or The Matrix or Young Victoria. There’s not one area of acting that doesn’t interest me,’ she reveals.
‘The problem and the frustrating thing is you rarely get a chance to do all of these different acting ambitions.
‘Actors are always frustrated by the lack of versatility of the casting people who see you for roles. They do pigeonhole you.
‘We are all grateful for the work but as actors we want to do different things. People get to know you in a certain role and casting people have so many different actors to choose from.
‘They often don’t take a chance because they don’t need to. “We’re not going to take a chance on Jill because we know someone else who can do it.” It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just that they haven’t seen me do it.’
Gateshead-born Jill and actor husband Craig Conway, both 34, are busy juggling their acting careers and parenthood with baby Harvey,two.
‘It can be difficult juggling work and being a mum but I’m fortunate because Craig is an actor and we’ve been lucky in that when I’ve been working he hasn’t so he’s able to look after Harvey.
‘And if we both happen to be working on the same day my mam and Craig’s mam help out.’
Jill and South Shields lad Craig originally set up home in East London. But homesick for their family and friends in the North, they moved back to a new home in Stocksfield, Northumberland three years ago.
‘I lived in London for 13 years but it’s nice to be back living in the North East with our family and friends to support us. It’s great having that network around you especially when you have children.
Craig played tearaway teenager Christopher Collins – who fathers but abandons a son – in the 1996 BBC award-winning drama Our Friends in the North. But he’s a model dad in real life.
‘Craig is great with the baby – very natural. He was there for the birth too – all 36 hours of it!
‘We aren’t planning any more at the moment. Harvey is just 11 months and we are happy getting used to our first at the moment. It’s hard work but very rewarding.’
The couple met while working on a stage version of George Orwell's 1984 and got engaged in December 2005.
They wed at St. Andrew’s Church in Newcastle in February 2007 and son Harvey was born in 2008 weighing in at a healthy 6lb 8ozs.
‘Craig and I were mates first. It’s nice to meet someone like that. You are friends first then the attraction comes. That’s how it happened with us.
‘These blind date situations are all too nerve-wracking for me.’
BBC detective drama Inspector George Gently – starring Martin Shaw in the lead role – is set in Northumberland but ironically is shot in Ireland.
‘It’s cheaper to film in Ireland. It has a big film industry with all the facilities you need.
‘It’s such a shame we can’t film it in the North East because we have fantastic scenery and amazing locations. It’s frustrating because we have beautiful countryside, great seaside and urban locations all within easy reach of Newcastle.’
‘There are so many views I love in the North East but my favourite is probably Tynemouth Priory. It’s gorgeous. Up in Northumberland where we live in the Tyne Valley we have some really beautiful scenery too.’
For her role in Inspector George Gently – set in Northumberland in the Sixties – she teams up with award-winning North East writer Peter Flannery, who also penned Our Friends in the North.
‘I play a girl called Cora who is a property developer, originally from Hexham. She comes up to Northumberland to buy a big property, which is a former orphanage.
‘We don’t know why she’s buying it but she wants to demolish it. There’s a murder and she becomes a suspect.’
Strictly Come Dancing champion Jill started the year with a live tour of the hit TV show, which kicked off at Newcastle Metro Arena, and reunited her with dance partner Darren Bennett.
‘It was great fun doing the live show. You can enjoy it more because it’s so nerve-wracking doing it on TV. Although it’s a competition it’s much more of a celebration.
‘Every single person in the audience is a fan which is great. And it’s fantastic to start in Newcastle.
‘If they asked me to do it again I think I would say yes. It was such a lovely way to start the year. I love dancing and you get really well looked after on tour.
‘There’s a lot of practice involved but you’ve already done the routines for TV so you don’t have to learn brand new stuff. I would love to tell you I trained for ten hours a day, but I didn’t!’
Jill, who began her acting career with Ant and Dec in Byker Grove and also starred in Waterloo Road, was a model pupil herself collecting 9 GCSEs and 3 A levels at St. Edmund Campion school.
She did two series of the hit BBC school drama Waterloo Road with pal and fellow Geordie actress Denise Welch but was pleased her character Izzie Redpath was killed off.
‘I loved doing it and I loved the people. In fact there wasn’t anything about the programme I didn’t enjoy. But I thought it’s now or never. If I don’t go now I’ll probably stay for the next 10 years.
‘I’d love to do the Lady Macbeths and classic roles like that. I could read off reams of women’s stage roles that I’d like to do but any brand new piece of brilliant writing interests me.
‘You have got to be open to new things. I just want to keep pushing myself, moving on and seeing what’s out there.’