Kathy Burke is probably the UK’s most versatile actress; whether playing Linda in Gimme Gimme Gimme or portraying a victim of domestic violence in Nil By Mouth, the plaudits are all hers. Yet now she’s turned to her other love, and has her West End directorial debut with Betty, starring Geraldine McNulty at the Vaudeville Theatre.
How crazy is it seeing yourself on screen?
It’s horrible. People started to get really body-conscious when camcorders came along. They suddenly saw what they really looked like. You look in the mirror and see what you want to see but when you find out how other people see you, it’s a bit of a shock.
Is it nice to be on the other side now?
Yes. The reason I decided to focus on directing and to take a break from acting – and I know it sounds awful – is that I didn’t have a buzz for it any more. I found it boring and that’s a bad way to feel about a job which is so brilliant to be in. I was turning into a whingy actor. So, I thought I had to do something about it.
Do you enjoy interviews?
Not at all. I find it a bit embarrassing. You sit there talking about yourself and it’s all a bit poncey but you have to do it.
Do you still consider yourself a ‘non-pretty member of the working classes’?
God, yeah. Though I’m probably considered middle-class now. I did an interview recently about food. It seems as though the food I like surprises people. They expect me to be all down to earth, eating jellied eels and stuff. I’ve been a veggie for 20 years but I’ve always eaten well. I remember eating Brie when I was ten and thinking: ‘There is no other cheese.’ I’d been eating packets of processed stuff and it just tasted so different – it was amazing.
The ‘non-pretty’ comment surprised me. You’ve more fansites than Jo Guest.
A Page Three girl who gets her tits out.
Well I’ve had my tits out too. And my fanny. I’ve had it all out at some point, mate. Only the once and it was horrible. Me saying I wasn’t pretty was a direct quote to something that madam said. [Kathy wrote a letter to Helena Bonham Carter via Time Out about comments she made about the working class].
Did you regret it?
Sometimes – and especially the sign off [‘shut up you stupid c**t’]. A friend of mine who’s a journo phoned me up and said: ‘That’s great but it will follow you for the rest of your life.’ I thought: ‘No it won’t. No one gives a damn about me.’ But it has. I keep thinking: ‘Oh God. Me and my big mouth.’ I did meet her once and we talked it through…
Did you chin her?
She’d probably chin me first. It’s me that’s the lady [laughs].
You acted with Eric Cantona. Do you rate him as an actor?
We were in the same film [Elizabeth] but we didn’t work together. And I’ve never even seen the film. I didn’t have to publicise it, so why watch it? If I’ve got time to watch a movie, I’d rather watch something that I like rather than something I’m in.
Isn’t it useful to check on your own performance?
I couldn’t give a damn. If the director tells me I was OK then I trust their judgment. I know you have to watch yourself sometimes but I only do if I’m publicising it.
Do you read your reviews?
Never. It’s one person’s opinion and a person I don’t know, so I couldn’t give a flying f*** what they think. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t necessary. Just that I don’t pay any heed to them.
Will you do any more Gimme?
Jonathan Harvey, James Dreyfus and I would only do it as a live stage show. I think we’ll leave it for a bit until the fans – ‘cos there were some – are really missing the characters.
Why did you say ”cos there were some’?
I know there were loads but it did get panned. There was a lot of criticism: it was one of those ‘loved it’ or ‘hated it’ things. It was one of my favourite things. Linda was loosely based on someone Jonathan knew. There was a woman at college with him who wasn’t attractive but thought she was and was also a compulsive liar.
Was part of you thrown in too?
Oh yeah. It’s my sweet side in Linda [laughs]. I love her childishness. I’m glad it didn’t go down some safe Will And Grace route. That bores the pants of me. I just wanted to get back to being a punk.
Do you like a drink?
I love drinking. I did stop about three years ago but now I’m back to having a tipple. My current poison is vodka but it used to be beer. I had to stop drinking it as it turns me into such a fat f**ker. That’s what makes me fat: the booze, not the grub. I can’t drink wine or Champagne as I’m allergic to them.
Do you get recognised a lot?
I do but not in a hassly way. I think you learn tricks to not get recognised. I don’t know who it was that said if you don’t look at them they don’t look at you. So I walk around with my head down quite a lot [laughs]. But it’s fine. I don’t mind it – most of the time people are so nice. They just shout hello to you. You’re never lonely in this country.
Was there a point where you thought: ‘Hey I’m a star.’
No [laughs]. Star is such a strange word. I got to a point where I knew I had got some sort of respectability within the business and that’s all I aimed for. I just wanted to be taken seriously. But I do remember thinking: ‘Now I’ve enough respect to be able to be responsible for other people working.’ Which is nice.
Did being so versatile help with that respectability?
Yes, I suppose so. When I first started directing about ten years ago, I did it as I wasn’t happy with the work I was getting as an actor. It made me feel as though I had to prove myself rather that sitting around doing the same old parts. Right from the off, I knew that I always wanted to do different things.
Are you maternal?
Not really, but I do love babies. I can’t help but look at them and I do find them very funny.
Have you a preference in the stuff you’ve done?
Not really, I just prefer whatever I’m doing at the time. I do live in the ‘now’ – I just try to enjoy myself at what I’m working on at that time.
I love the way your agent lists your skills as ‘London accent’ and nothing else.
[Laughs] I think we put that in just to throw people.
You went to Anna Scher stage school. How come you never ended up on EastEnders?
Because I never wanted to go for it. I was never interested, even when I was younger. Working on a soap sounds like a nightmare to me. I wanted to be versatile and most people seem to end up finding the soap tag hard to shake off. Plus the hours are dreadful, especially now that it’s gone up to four nights a week. I know someone who’s on it and if it’s their storyline they have to be there constantly.
Did you do any of the classics at school?
No, although I do like stuff like Shakespeare if it’s done well. The problem is that a lot of the time it’s just done really badly. When it’s done well it’s different. I saw Kenneth Branagh do Richard III in Sheffield and thought he was amazing. He so knows what he’s talking about – he made it really witty and dark.
Does the luvvy set annoy you?
I don’t really go to many parties. I’ll only go if I have to, if I have to sell something. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good fun when you’re there. If I’m going out, I like to do it properly: get pissed and have a laugh. At those kind of events you can’t do that.
By James Ellis. Original article.