New Tricks actress Tamzin Outhwaite shows no signs of stopping in face of adversity
Tamzin Outhwaite is a little breathless when negotiating the first question of our interview – whether it is the frenetic nature of her schedule or genuine excitement about the imminent West End play in which she appears is not initially clear.
Despite experiencing all facets of show business, thanks to a career which has spanned nearly two decades and stretched from London to Hollywood, her enthusiasm certainly is unabated.
Surprising really, when you consider how – with two young daughters, Florence, six, and two-year-old Marnie – she was forced to end her seven-year marriage to actor Tom Ellis.
It has been reported widely that despite the pair attempting to carry on for the sake of their children, Outhwaite divorced Ellis after an alleged infidelity when filming in America.
I have been warned away from raising the subject with the Crouch End actress by her representatives, but she happily confirms a year on after the separation that her two children are her main priority – above any of her acting jobs.
“It is not a breeze, but I think I have just been particularly lucky,” says Outhwaite, on being able to juggle being a mother-of-two and appearing in television roles and on stage.
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“I now have to be working in London,” she explains. “I think if I go away to film, I can’t go away for large chunks of time because of school and stuff.
“I probably could, but, while there is work in London, I would like to keep it as stable as possible.
“My children are quite young. I want to be around at this stage of their lives – they are not young for long.”
She is signed up to do two more series of BBC crime drama New Tricks, in which she plays DCI Sasha Miller, too.
Although not all critics have warmed to the show, it seems likely it will not lose its core fans with Outhwaite, arguably a nation’s sweetheart thanks to her spell on EastEnders, at the helm for the foreseeable future.
Next week, Ben Ockrent’s Breeders, will open at the St James Theatre in Victoria. The comedic play follows a same-sex couple – one of whom is played by Outhwaite – trying to understand the nuances of artificial insemination.
The plot, Outhwaite admits, was one of the motivations for getting involved in the play and playing Andrea.
Intriguingly, Ockrent wrote Breeders following a real-life experience where he was asked by friends to donate his sperm. Outhwaite, 44, has sought advice from friends on the subject.
“The storyline is quite a modern idea,” she continues. “My dad was reading the lines with me the other day at home and he could not get his head round the whole concept.
“The whole contemporary edge about how they were actually going to make this work was extremely attractive to me because it is something, I think, which has not been done before.
“The other thing is the dialogue is really witty and fast. It crackles at a speed and it is also extremely dark – because it is so dark, that makes it even more humorous.”
It is clear that Outhwaite has not suffered from the same fate as some of her peers who have spoken of a lack of exciting and innovative roles for women of a certain age.
She says: “[Ockrent] has managed to make quite a serious subject quite funny. He has been there since day one changing things, moving things – it is a moveable feast really when it is such a new play.
“He is not precious about the play, he is a very clever boy.”
Outhwaite says rehearsals are going “absolutely stupendously”: “It is a relief to get through them without laughing,” she reveals.
“We are all at the height of giddiness at the moment every time we look at each other.”
She stars alongside Ockrent’s fiancée Jemima Rooper, Nick Burns and Angela Griffin, formerly of Coronation Street, Waterloo Road and One Man, Two Guvnors, who plays her on-stage partner.
Rooper and Burns were another attraction for Outhwaite as she is a “massive fan” of both.
So how has she fared being back on the stage after filming New Tricks? “Being on EastEnders was the best training ever,” says Outhwaite. “Sometimes you can walk around with 16 scripts in your hand on a show like that.”
But she confirms with each appearance and the passing of each year, learning lines has become more of an issue than it once was.
Just last year, Sir Michael Gambon publicly admitted to feeling the strain in learning lines for The Habit Of Art by Alan Bennett, so much so he received hospital treatment. He now wears an earpiece in case of memory loss when performing.
Even at her age, Outhwaite explains the trouble actors face: “As I get older, it gets much more difficult to learn – it is more difficult to retain information – I think it is quite natural.”
“If you stopped worrying about that you are probably in the wrong profession.”
This is a rare sombre moment in our conversation. For the most part, this Ilford-born actress is lively and engaging. Thankfully, none of her characteristic fire, fuelled by her Italian heritage, has been quelled by any domestic strife she has suffered.
She has got both eyes on the road ahead professionally speaking and certainly does not look to be averting them unless it is to attend to the needs of Florence and Marnie.
n Breeders is at St James Theatre, Palace Street, SW1, from September 3 to October 4. Booking on 0844 264 2140.