Interviewing people is genuinely one of my favourite things to do in life, and I’ve been very fortunate over the past few years to have been able to indulge in that passion, both at Coronation Street and elsewhere. I love the uniqueness of each act of sitting down and conversing with someone, and what the encounters have the capacity to reveal.
I was never more sure of my feelings on this than when I travelled to Coronation Street studios in Manchester for a chat with Sophie Thompson about her new role as clairvoyant Rosemary, a character set to surprise both Audrey and Gail with news of husbands past. Sophie has a very impressive career behind her with roles in films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, (1994), Emma (1996), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (2010) and parts in television shows including Eastenders, Detectorists and Inside No 9.
As soon as Sophie entered the set of Roy’s Rolls and gently observed, “I’m picking up some dodgy vibes”, I knew we were in for a treat. Psychics not wishing to encounter any spoilers may wish to put their crystal balls away now.
Once settled in, Sophie told us about Rosemary’s beginnings on the street. “I seek out Audrey in the salon as the customer and then start to reveal that I have information and that I am a clairvoyant.” she says. “So that for her is surprising and intriguing and we have a session together but I reveal that I want to give information to Gail.” She adds, “I kind of go via Audrey to get the message to Gail initially. There isn’t at this point anything specific, it’s just that (Richard Hillman) is in the ether as it were, and she’s picking up stuff. And she has information that is surprising about Alf, for instance.”
Asked what it’s like to be the woman bringing such an iconic villain as Richard back from the dead, Sophie says, “Well, it’s lovely being Rosemary – she’s quite a mysterious bird who’s clearly got information but she is, or purports to be, psychic, and who knows whether she has genuine gifts. So it’s all in a very vague basket at the moment. But it’s just delightful to be Rosemary, I’m fond of her already.”
She rises to the challenge of describing her character in three words as ‘curious and vague’, explaining, “Well that’s what I’m channelling at the moment. That’s who I feel. You know, she’s giving things away, but only so much. And it is curious that she has this information”. She continues, “She could be real, whether you believe in that kind of stuff or not.”
So what will the message mean for Gail? “I think it’s just genuinely disturbing and obviously this guy was not a very nice person and effected her life quite profoundly, so to hear even his name, it must chill her bones” Sophie says, adding, “she’s disturbed, but it’s like you want to know more but you don’t want to know, so she’s in that place I think at the moment with very mixed feelings.”
Asked if she has based the character on anyone, Sophie tells us “Well really, you know, it’s the writing and it’s so lovely on Corrie, it’s just so lovely. She’s indigenous, she’s northern” she continues “I suppose in a way, in my heart I’m trying to channel little elements that I can reach of all the wonderful women I’ve watched on this show over the years, and Hilda being a particular favourite. But sadly Rosemary wasn’t going to turn up with a headscarf and a duster and that’s my sadness. But I’m trying to, I suppose, channel that kind of spirited bird that we, I think, all know and love from Corrie and Weatherfield, and that’s where I think she’s from. I think she’s indigenous.”
Asked what it’s like working with Sue Nicholls and Helen Worth, Sophie says, “I literally feel like I’ve won some sort of prize. My first day was in the salon with Sue and I was so happy and also for some reason we both got quite giggly and she’s just got amazing life going on behind her eyes and I was corpsing and thinking oh god, you know, I’ve only just arrived and I’m being really unprofessional. But she is just so funny.” She continues, “And Helen as well was just so kind and calm. Joining any soap is like getting on to a moving vehicle and it’s quite a large vehicle, like those old buses where you’re hanging on – if you were a picture, your legs would be flying out behind, but you’re trying to look dead calm and not let the side down. So I couldn’t have been luckier to find that my story was with these wonderful women, just literally, I’m so delighted.”
So excited was she to meet Sue that she now regrets not running up to her in London on seeing her there once, and grabbing her by the ankles. “I told her I managed to resist doing that. I’m sorry I didn’t now, we’d have had a laugh” she grins.
Sophie is particularly chuffed that this is a very classic Corrie story, humorous and female led, saying “We were in the salon the other day and I thought, oh, this really feels like Corrie.”
I asked her if she had scenes with anyone else so far and she told me “I’ve had one with David Neilson and Peter Gunn and, David as Roy, he’s very skeptical as you can imagine, I mean he’s like, ‘oh dear’. So that was really fun, and they are quite cheeky and naughty on set which is really fun and very relaxing.” She adds, “I have met David over the years, but we’d never worked together. So it was lovely in a myriad of ways to be on set with him.”
It became apparent very quickly that Sophie is a genuine Corrie fan. I asked her if she could bring back anyone else, who might it be. “Oh so many; Hilda, Jack and Vera, Bet, I mean so many of them” she told me. “Ena, crikey, all those ladies who used to drink milk stout in the Rovers, I wish I could bring them back and sit with them and have a milk stout with them in black and white with a headscarf.” she says.
Sophie explains how she had to wean herself off it when life became too busy “But the beauty of soap is that you can then return and to some familiar faces and obviously loads of new faces” she says. “And Corrie will always have that spirit and will always have those strong women, and always have those great storylines. And now, they’ve got so much going on, it’s brilliant to plug back into it. It’s very exciting to be a part of it now.”
Asked if she remembers the first big story that resonated with her, she says “I was just really happy with the day to day stuff. I don’t have favourite moments, I used to just love been immersed in that world.” She continues, “I haven’t bought anything in the Kabin yet but I hope I do, and I haven’t had a roll here yet but I hope I do. But I was in the pub the other day with Helen and I was like ‘I’m in the pub with you Helen’, and she was going ‘it’s okay, keep calm’. But she was pointing out where the ladies used to sit, like Ena and all that, because the set has slightly changed from the olden days, but I could just picture them there, conjuring them up in my head sitting around in their brilliant hats. I remember Barbara Knox being brilliant with something awful that had happened, I can’t remember what, but she was just brilliant. And I felt like I learned watching people on Corrie I learned about the craft really because I knew that the restrictions, in a way, or the working conditions of a soap is very very different from anything. It’s very much its own world, and it operates under a very specific dynamic that you don’t get on any other job, and I was always so impressed by people’s performances, particularly in heightened situations cos I think, crikey, they grabbed that.”
With regard to clairvoyance and psychic powers, Sophie claims to have a healthy respect for the whole thing, but at the same time keeps her distance from it. “I think the sixth sense is something that is sort of there – in a kind of pagan way, I think I do believe something and that you can pick up things and I think that there are genuine qualities that someone like Rosemary could have” she says. “She’s got an extra sensory sort of perception that she’s very empathetic, that she can pick up on things, whatever that means. I don’t really know what it means and I sort of don’t want to know – like magic tricks, you know? I don’t want to how it works, but sometimes I hope it’s really true.”
Asked if she has a sixth sense herself, Sophie reveals, “Well I have actually bumped into a couple of ghosts in my time, I think, yeah. I worked at the Bristol Old Vic years ago, and it’s meant to be haunted and I did have a very weird experience there on the dressing room corridor. And an old house I used to live in I felt was quite, there was a powerful presence, as it were, from another time, and I think time isn’t linear, so that’s an interesting thing. I think sometimes you can bump into strange atmospheres and weathers that you think, well what’s that from, and there’s lots of things that aren’t explained, and I like that.”
By way of a strange coincidence, Sophie described a part she had just played when the Corrie role came up. “Weirdly, literally before I got this job I’d done a short film for some great graduates from the London Film School and I played a clairvoyant” she says. “And I read the script and said, I know it’s not written necessarily, but I feel like she’s northern and would that be acceptable if I played her from up north? And they said yeah. It was so strange. And so I did this short over three or four days in Greenwich, and I had to be this weird psychic woman, and a few days later, this came up. And I went, that’s spooky.”
Sophie will watch her episodes, as she’s so proud to be in Corrie and will be so excited to hear the theme tune knowing she’s in it.
Chatting with Sophie was a genuine delight. If she describes her face as “a sort of untrained pet” she’s worked to calm down over the years, then I can utterly relate, as I imagine I sat grinning like a rapt puppy as she regaled us in her own lovely and inimitable way.
My own psychic powers, as yet, untested, and with no knowledge of how Gail and Audrey’s encounters with Rosemary, Richard and Alf will play out, I’m still going to predict that this story will be a joy to watch.
This interview was conducted on behalf of the Coronation Street Blog.