the gentlewoman

The Reader

It was Sharon Rooney’s uncommonly frank performance in the TV series My Mad Fat Diary that put her on BAFTA’s 2013 Breakthrough Brit list, but since then she's steadily worked her way from breakthrough to bona fide with crowd-pleasing sitcoms such as Two Doors Down and Mountain Goats and the critically-lauded performance as Lady Percy in Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Henry IV at London's Donmar Warehouse. Now Sharon, 27, is currently lighting up television screens in Brief Encounters, a series set in early 1980s’ Sheffield about four Ann Summers party planners. Frankie Mathieson chats with Sharon on the phone.

Sharon Rooney

Frankie: Do people still go to Ann Summers parties?

Sharon: Yeah, they’re still going strong. And I can see why, they’re dead fun! We met two women who’d been Ann Summers reps in the ’80s when rehearsing for Brief Encounters – it was so interesting. That period doesn’t feel that long ago, but people really didn’t talk about sex in the same way as we do now. I didn’t realise how much of an impact these parties had on women.

F: What’s going on in the background there?

S: Oh sorry, that’s the hotel cleaner with the Hoover! I’m in London, right now, but I’m going back up to Scotland soon. Glasgow will always be home for me. I love being with my family and friends and then coming back down south refreshed and ready to work. I think if I lived here permanently I’d just be out partying all the time.

F: Is it true that people thought your Scottish accent was fake after watching you do an East Midlands one for My Mad Fat Diary?

S: Yes, they still do! They were quick to tell me how shite my Glaswegian accent was by comparison, which I suppose is a bit of a backhanded compliment. I love doing accents. I enjoy working with just my voice, which was what was so great about doing the series Bad Salsa for BBC Radio 4, no one can see what you’re doing. My face sometimes has a mind of its own so with radio I don’t need to think about my expressions.

F: My Mad Fat Diary was make or break for you, wasn’t it?

S: Yeah, I was ready to give it all up and become a nurse. But I believe everything happens for a reason and I must have been meant for that role. I’ve been lucky I’ve not really stopped working since then. That was my first TV role and then I got my first professional theatre role in the all-female Henry IV at the Donmar. I’d never done anything like that before and, to be honest, I didn’t really know about Henry IV so I had to blag my audition a bit. I read for a few parts, but didn’t think I’d be cast. But there we were, two tours later… I guess I’m in the habit of throwing myself into things.

F: Had you done any other theatre before Henry IV?

S: When I was younger I was part of a theatre and education group that toured schools. One of the strangest performances we did was a play about flood awareness – the audience just ignored us. But that tour taught me to appreciate every aspect of theatre because you had to do your own sound, your own lights, your own costume. So it’s a bit of a treat now, turning up for work and someone else doing that for you.

F: I've been following you on Twitter since My Mad Fat Diary and at first you were replying to literally every tweet you received. When did you realise that would no longer be feasible?

S: Ha, that’s right! It became difficult to keep that up as the series went on. I do always try to reply though: it’s nice to be nice, isn’t it? Even if it’s just a smiley face.

F: I read that when you were a teenager you went through a Goth phase...

S: Well, I tried lots of different looks when I was younger: Goth, NED… I guess it was just my way of trying to get in with every crew at school. But I never quite found my niche. The only phase that really stuck was just being myself.

Interview by Frankie Mathieson. Photograph courtesy of Sharon Rooney. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!