All rise for Crouch End actor Josette Simon

Crouch End actor Josette Simon plays Angela Regan QC in Netflix's Anatomy of a Scandal which starts on April 15

Crouch End actor Josette Simon plays Angela Regan QC in Netflix's Anatomy of a Scandal which starts on April 15 - Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

From playing Shakespearean leads at the RSC, to pointing foil-covered hairdryers at aliens in sci-fi, Josette Simon's career has been fabulously varied.

The Crouch End actor is about to feature as a tough defence QC in Netflix thriller Anatomy of a Scandal, but it all started when she accompanied her teenage friend to audition for the musical Joseph in her native Leicester.

"I didn't do drama at school. I had absolutely no interest and had never been to a theatre," she recalls. "But my friend saw an ad for kids to audition for the children's choir. She was nervous so I went along and got in."

It led to more parts; in panto and a play. Then, when Joseph was revived, Alan Rickman, who was playing one of the brothers - offered some life-changing encouragement.

Josette Simon by Pip

Josette Simon has lived in Crouch End for 40 years - Credit: Pip

"Joseph was enjoyable and instilled a real sense of professionalism but I was focused on studying languages at University and acting was just an after school thing. People like Alan kept saying: 'You are really good you should be an actress.'

"One day I had a road to Damascus moment and suddenly knew I wanted to be an actor. It wasn't arrogance or impetuousness, I had to push through in spite of not feeling confident. I've learned you feel nervous but do it anyway, you just have to focus on doing something to the best of your ability."

Not only did Simon get into Central School of Speech and Drama, but she was cast in TV Sci-Fi Blake's 7 before leaving.

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"I'd never done TV before and didn't watch science fiction. I didn't know what the programme was or that it had a huge following so I didn't have that on my shoulder and just went with the flow."

She laughs about the genre requiring actors to spout gobbledegook. "You do it with as much conviction as possible. The budgets weren't that high so a hairdryer sprayed silver would be masquerading as a complex piece of machinery."

But looking back, the BBC's answer to Star Trek was progressive in its casting.

"I didn't realise at the time but I was cast as Dayna the weapons expert, not Dayna the Black weapons expert. Just a member of the team. Many people have said that there was no other representation like that on TV at the time. If there was a person of colour in a part that was of colour it was mainly quite derogatory. Having a wonderful female character who was there because of her qualities and didn't have to explain her presence - that hadn't been seen before."

Acting at the RSC alongside Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon, Simon's mesmerising stage presence led to bigger parts - from Titania to Cleopatra to Isabella.

"My whole career is about not being confined to stereotypes. I play parts that are about the person. If the person happens to be Black and it's a great part, then good, but I've been fighting a battle the whole way through 'you won't be able to play that'. No, I will be able to play that because it's a person. As Shylock says: 'If you prick us do we not bleed?'

"We go through every human dilemma and I wanted to be able to play any part that was a human being."

But being the first Black leading actor in an RSC history play came with a bruising level of scrutiny.

"We have made much bigger strides now but it honestly provoked a huge amount of controversy which followed me for years - should I be in it? Will it affect the meaning of the play? It's hard enough trying to do something well without having this massive spotlight on you. And it was a huge responsibility, if I failed, they'd say actors who are Black can't do Shakespeare."

Simon went on to land parts in prime time dramas and movies from Wonder Woman to The Witches, but says: "For a while I couldn't do anything without there being commentary, or 'this part is played by Black Josette Simon', as if there was a white one. It was almost crippling. The only way I could deal with it was to focus on the material, do it well and tune that stuff out.

"It set me up well to play classics, parts I'd seen Maggie Smith or Judi Dench play, it taught me a great lesson to tune out other people's voices and listen to the voice in your head."

Playing Angela Regan in Anatomy of a Scandal offers plenty for Simon's ample talents. Penned and produced by David E Kelley of Big Little Lies and The Undoing, and starring Sienna Miller, the six part courtroom thriller deals with an MP's affair, and pits Simon against Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery as competing barristers.

Anatomy of a Scandal is on Netflix

Anatomy of a Scandal stars Rupert Friend and Sienna Miller and is on Netflix - Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

"Angela's fab. She's formidable, ballsy, frank and a bit of a maverick. But she also has warmth and a dry sense of humour. She respects the legal process but has an anarchic streak. She's utterly brilliant at her job - she's come a long way to get there - and has a lovely relationship with Michelle Dockery's QC. They are good friends, but inside the court, they are adversaries who have to win."

And Simon, who bought her first flat in Crouch End for "two pence and a toffee apple" and has lived there for 40 years, absolutely loved working on the "female heavy" set. She says the show is "suspenseful and insightful about issues around privilege and consent".

"It's a story of our times. The whole narrative centres on how women are represented and perceived and the issue of what is consent and what isn't. It also highlights themes of entitlement passed down through generations, through the class system, government and wealth. It's about power feeding entitlement, for men to do whatever they want – most likely to women."

Anatomy of a Scandal

Anatomy of a Scandal - Credit: Ana Cristina Blumenkron/Netflix

Anatomy of A Scandal starts on Netflix on April 15.