Tuesday 24 October 2017

Sally Phillips - a face better known than her name

Sally Phillips. Photo: PA
Sally Phillips. Photo: PA

Kate Whiting

With three sons, comic actress Sally Phillips knows all about the demands of parenthood - which makes her perfect for her new family-based sitcom

Sally Phillips is one of those actresses who slips so effortlessly into her roles that her face is much better known than her name.

The bubbly blonde co-creator and star of sketch show Smack The Pony has been Alan Patridge's receptionist Sophie, Bridget Jones's best mate Shazza and Miranda's posh-irritating friend Tilly.

Now she's the mum-of-two who has to crawl back home to her own mum and dad when she loses her high-flying job, in Sky's Parents.

"I honestly loved making it - it's a relief to be able to say that and not lie," she says, chuckling, after apologising profusely for being in a "sleep-deprived fug" thanks to her seven-month-old baby Tom.

"Inevitably you take the mood of a show home with you, so taking a happy family home was an awful lot nicer than taking home being an abused wife."

The show follows fortysomething Jenny Pope, who gets sacked after punching a colleague and then has to deal with her home being repossessed. She's left with no choice but to move back in with mum and dad, Alma and Len (Susie Blake and Tom Conti), along with her two teenage kids and wannabe entrepreneur husband (Darren Strange).

Along with Starlings, it's the latest in a string of quirky family-based sitcoms hitting screens.

"I think it's where you're worst-behaved," says Phillips, 42, who is also mother to Luke, four, and Ollie, seven, as well as baby Tom.

"You're your most childish and you can lie to your family with ease. 'No, I'm just doing that, I am saving for my pension, I have an appointment saved with a financial adviser, no I HAVE!'" she says, drifting into Jenny's anguished tones.

"What was interesting to me about Jenny was to play somebody who's been very high status, but it's all kind of been on credit. Posh house, posh job, nice clothes and they've been unmasked.

"That's the interesting thing about the recession, people losing their jobs and all the things that gave them a sense of self-worth are gone and they have to find out who they really are."

Phillips can definitely relate. "I've spent the last 10 years having kids. Most women have to take a step down from their career when they do that and I've been there.

"One year you go in for auditions and everybody thinks you're the queen of comedy and the next year, you're so 'yesterday' and it's not because you've done anything, or your ability has changed, you haven't been in work because you've been putting on weight and then trying to lose it."

She admits that her own priorities have changed, too. "I don't leave London really and I don't do theatre, because I want to put the kids to bed," she says.

"You have to be careful, you can't turn down too much. I think it takes a while to adjust to that loss in status. The show is about the rediscovery of what's important."

This is something the actress had already experienced in her personal life, after having Ollie, who has Down's Syndrome.

"I'm a big fan of community and I think independence is over-rated," she says.

"A friend of mine said, 'I really hope [Ollie] can live independently' and another said, 'What, a single male and be like me?' He lives on his own - he's 'independent' but he's very lonely, and I thought, he's got a point. It's over-prized.

"We're social creatures, so dependence is not such a dreadful thing, so when in episode six it looks like they're going to be able to move out, Len and Alma go through a grieving process and buy a violent cat because they think they won't be able to cope with the hole."

Phillips is very close to her own family. Born in Hong Kong, her father's job took them all over the world.

"We moved every two years and we were quite a close little unit, because our family was the only thing that stayed the same - we changed friends, school, house, pets so often. So we're very close now and all live within 10 minutes of each other," she says, smiling.

Though Phillips has been immersed in motherhood over the past seven years, she's still making time to write, and earlier this year her first feature film screenplay was shown on the big screen. The Decoy Bride stars David Tennant, Alice Eve and Kelly MacDonald.

"Your first screenplay should never get made, but I'm very proud that it did," she says.

"I get a lot of self-esteem from writing and being in control of my destiny, but I'm never happier than than when I'm performing comedy and making the cameraman laugh so loudly he can't use the take."

She'd jump at the chance to play Shazza again in a rumoured third instalment of Bridget Jones, based on the novels of Helen Fielding, but she's still not sure whether it's happening.

"I got booked to make the third film in September last year then they postponed it until January, and then cancelled it, so I literally know nothing.

"But I absolutely loved doing it, I think Helen's a genius and in all those films, the friends have the best time. There's no pressure and it's a really nice environment. If I was in one again, I'd be thrilled.

"My only concern is that I'm ageing at a slightly different rate to Renee [Zellweger]," she adds, a glint in her eye.

"So if they don't do it soon I am going to have to play her aunt."

:: Parents continues on Sky 1 on Fridays

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