From Abigail’s Party to Gavin & Stacey, Alison Steadman has been a mainstay on British screens since the Seventies. As BBC sitcom Boomers returns for a second run, she talks to NL WOMAN about approaching 70, roles for her age-group and cherishing every minute
Alison Steadman’s 70th birthday is on the horizon, and she’s feeling pragmatic about entering a new decade.
“It’s a weird thing because people go, ‘Oh, I only feel this [age]’, and well, that’s not true,” explains the actress, who reaches the milestone in August.
“I haven’t got the energy I had, that’s for sure, but I really do enjoy life.”
Not least because, “touching wood”, her health is good.
“So many of my friends have died over the last couple of years, it’s been awful,” explains Steadman, who is taking a break from filming the second series of BBC One’s Boomers to have a chat in the catering van.
“It’s particularly been with cancer, it seems to be everywhere, so I thank God every day I’m alive and I do my best to enjoy it, because you never know the minute someone’s going to say, ‘Sorry, but it’s your turn now’.
“That’s the reality of life, I’m afraid,” she adds.
“Make the most of it and have a bit of fun.”
Certainly, it seems that Steadman does make the most of her time.
She is keen on mini-breaks in Europe with her partner, the actor Michael Elwyn, always has a number of craft projects on the go (“I like art and if I’m feeling a bit low, I’ll do something like that and it always picks me up”), a large circle of old friends and two treasured grown-up sons with her ex-husband, director Mike Leigh.
Then there’s the conservation causes, bird watching (she even popped up on the Springwatch sofa for a chat about her passion last year), and of course, her impressive roll-call of work.
Growing up in the suburbs of Liverpool, Steadman worked for the Probation Service before studying at the East 15 Acting School in Essex.
That’s where she met Leigh, later starring in his TV plays Abigail’s Party and Nuts In May, as well as films Life Is Sweet and Confetti.
Steadman also made scene-stealing performances in the 1995 BBC Colin Firth-fronted adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, as pushy Mrs Bennet, in ITV comedy Fat Friends, and as doting mum Pam in Gavin & Stacey.
Recently, she popped on her pinny for The Great Sports Relief Bake Off.
It’s a wonder that between all this, she had time to appear in the Dad’s Army film (“I wasn’t terribly keen on the uniform, not the most flattering”), and crack on with filming Boomers.
Following the lives of three retired couples, and also starring Russ Abbot, Stephanie Beacham, Philip Jackson, James Smith, June Whitfield and Paula Wilcox, the second series will see Steadman’s character Joyce and husband Alan (Jackson) become grandparents.
But the road to becoming a perfect grandparent is a rocky one...
“It’s that thing my aunt used to say: ‘If you have a son, he’s your son until he gets a wife’,” explains the actress.
“There’s some truth in that, and that’s what’s happened with their son Lee.
‘‘Obviously they do see him, but Joyce wants to be hands-on all the time and the daughter-in-law’s a bit, ‘It’s fine, no we can do that’, so Joyce is always trying to get the baby.”
Although her real sons Toby and Leo haven’t had children (“One day!” Steadman says with a laugh), she’s hopeful.
But she’s also pleased that when it comes to today’s crop of TV comedies and dramas, her generation is realistically reflected.
“It’s great there are shows, not just Boomers, where actors our age are playing leads,” says Steadman.
“And there’s more work, without a doubt.
‘‘As I’ve been going around, I’ve met quite a few ladies of my age or older, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, we saw that Bloomers’,” she continues with a laugh.
“I always used to say years ago, say I got to 40, most actresses would think, ‘That’s probably my career finished, because there’s not that much going on’ - and it was true.
‘‘Everything was written for 25 to 35-year-olds or younger still, but that’s now changed and there’s more respect for older actors.”
Although things are changing in screen portrayal of older people, she hopes that if Boomers runs for a third series, they explore different aspects of ageing.
“When I’m with my friends, more or less one of the first thing that’s said is, ‘Oh God, I had a terrible back this week’,” she explains.
“That becomes the norm, and we [the characters] don’t say things like that.
‘‘They [the writers] don’t seem to want to go down that route. I would like to see more of it.
‘‘I don’t mean dwell on illness, but it is that thing of a good moan and sharing the latest fads.”
As for technological trends, Steadman is comprehensive.
“My partner was working in New York for six months and doing Facetime on our iPads was brilliant,” she says.
The actress is hopeful a third series of Boomers will come to light, but as with everything else, is a realist about it.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Steadman.
“It twists and turns. I’ve done series in the past and we’ve been sure there would be another and it hasn’t happened, and you go, ‘Right, OK’, let it go and move on, so we’ll see.”
:: Boomers returns to BBC One on Friday, March 26