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Sheridan Smith is best known for her comic roles in Two Packets Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, Gavin & Stacey and the musical Legally Blonde. But in the ITV1 drama Mrs Biggs she’s playing Charmian Biggs, the real-life wife of the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs. She tells TV Choice more…
Is this quite a different role for you?
I love comedy, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve not really done a big drama, especially not a lead like this. It is scary. You don’t know how people are going to take it.
What was it like landing the part?
I remember when I got the phone call. I cried, because I just could not believe that I’d got it from one audition. I was like, ‘They’re never going to go for me,’ so I was so over the moon. And because it’s a real-life story, I just want to do her story justice.
What is the real Charmian like?
When I first met her, I was quite star-struck, because I’d done lots of research on her, and to see her in the flesh was quite scary and intimidating at first. But she was so lovely. She totally put me at ease. She’s been on-board from the start, so she’s been really helpful. Any questions we wanted to ask — me and Danny Mays [who plays Ronnie] — we could ask her. She came on set a couple of times.
At the read-through, Charmian was sat right next to me. It was terrifying, but she was lovely and supportive. But it must have been very odd for her, I think, because we had to re-enact a car crash where she loses her eldest son.
Do you think the viewers are going to be sympathetic towards a woman who stands by a great train robber?
I don’t know — maybe the audience will be split. The thing is, she was a middle class girl from a very well-to-do family. Her dad was a headmaster and her mum was a teacher. She met Ronnie on a train and he was a lot older then her.
So she’s not your typical gangster's moll?
No, she’s not. She’s sophisticated and intelligent and they just connected. Ronnie’s also intelligent. He quotes Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare all the time. It’s basically a love story. But, especially when the children came along, she was a good mum and she wanted them to have a dad, so she was very forgiving and loyal.
Does she change a lot through the course of the drama?
Oh God, completely. She becomes a single mum when Ronnie gets put inside for 30 years and she thinks, ‘That’s it!’ She’s looking after the boys. But then he escapes. She never knew about that until the very last minute. Then, they’re emigrating to Australia and always looking over their shoulders. They’re constantly on the run, so she has to toughen up.