Joanna Scanlan: ‘People do seem to ask me to take my clothes off all the time’May 16, 2021
Loved for her biting comedy roles, the actor is enjoying a late-blooming career. She talks about playing a convert to Islam in After Love, and her TV series about women’s sex lives during lockdown
Joanna Scanlan is sitting in splendid isolation in a country house hotel in Sussex, where she has been transforming herself into HE Bates’s voluptuous matriarch, Ma Larkin, for a six-part ITV miniseries. But we’re not here to talk about the Larkins, or any of the other TV roles that have earned her a place as one of the UK’s funniest actors, from hopelessly disengaged press officer Terri in Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It, to gobby Detective Inspector Deering in Paul Abbott’s No Offence, and status-obsessed ward sister Den in her own award-winning hospital comedy, Getting On.
I’ve dropped in remotely on her filming bubble to discuss a role that could not be more different, more heart-wrenchingly serious, even as it draws on the very qualities that have so often made us laugh. In After Love, a beautifully restrained debut feature from writer-director Aleem Khan, she stars as Mary, a devout middle-aged convert to Islam, whose quiet certainties are torn apart by a betrayal that comes to light after the sudden death of the husband for whom she converted.