Joanna Scanlan

Joanna Scanlan

Joanna Scanlan’s enjoying an incredible purple patch right now, having graced our screens in The Thick Of It, Getting On and Stella over the last few years.

Now we get to see her in the role of Toria, a bubbly life coach in Sue Perkin’s fantastic return to TV comedy Heading Out.

We caught up with actress to talk about her character Toria, having biscuit breaks with Sue Perkins and Ralph Fiennes.


So, what can you tell us about Toria

Well, Toria is an uninhibited human being. She is possibly even disinhibited. She’s very, very warm and caring but she doesn’t really mind what people think about her as she’s not a people pleaser. She’s a little bit eccentric and I don’t think she’s ever worked out that other people aren’t quite as strange and she needs to conform.

She’s all heart really and her heart’s in her job of being a life coach. She really wants to help her client Sara the vet and in her own strange way, she does.

You and Toria alike at all?

Not in the least (laughs). I would have to consider Toria a role model compared to how I behave. Although people would say it’s not the case, I always feel like I’m shy and I’m certainly not as jolly and larger than life as Toria. I’m much more aware of what people think.

Do you think all of us should embrace a little Toria in our lives?

Absolutely, I think if everyone lived like Toria, the world would be a much happier place. She has no shame, she just feels that everybody should be themselves and not be embarrassed about what that is and embrace what their natural response is, rather than try and control it by perhaps not telling the truth.

Did you have to do any research for Toria’s job?

Well, to say she’s working as a life coach is technically true but it’s not really what a professional might do as far as I understand. Toria’s just her won world up, bought various qualifications on the internet and cobbled together all her life experience into an unlicensed form of life coaching.

So, that makes approaching it easier as you just go in at a character level, you don’t have to do much research on life coaching as she doesn’t really practice it.

What’s it been like working with Sue Perkins again?

Absolutely brilliant, really a delight. I think Sue’s a genius and an incredible talented person as well. She’s so entertaining in herself and her screen persona is fabulous so all the times we had waiting for things to get set up were just a delight. I was actually dying for them to say cut so we just go and have another natter and a cup of tea. Sue’s got such a great line in wisecracks; it’s like watching the world’s best stand-up 24/7.

You used to be a part of the prestigious Footlights club in Cambridge, what was that like?

Oh my goodness, you’re really raking over the coals there, that was a very long time ago! Well, I never really felt I was a member of Footlights. It might be a prestigious club in some ways, but I never felt comfortable there.  

I was always torn between doing straight drama and being a part of Footlights and when I was a part of that, there wasn’t many women writing at all. I found that very difficult, as I wanted to write but didn’t know how to do about it, so it was easier to not deal with the stresses and just go off and do a play for someone else. The most stressful audition I’ve ever had was my Footlight audition.

This has been a tremendous run of form for you over the last couple of years, what’s that been like from your angle?

It’s funny isn’t it because that’s how you perceive it but to me it feels the same as life ever was. Of course they’re great shows and writing Getting On was a whole new experience but in a way it feels like any other year. I’m lucky to have a job, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, hope I can get another job, it hasn’t felt different for me.

Maybe there is a sense of an accumulation and a culmination of a few years working, but having said that it’s all been fantastic. I was so sad the The Thick Of It ended and it’s so good to write your own material and to be a part of organising it all with Getting On. I suppose if I really stepped back and looked at it I might see that it’s been an extraordinary few years but on a day to day basis it feels like business as usual.

Speaking of The Thick Of It, what’s it like on the set of that show?

It’s extremely hard work on set. It’s really great but it’s like being in an Olympic arena. You have to limber up and keep your mind absolutely tip top so you can contribute as much as you can. There’s a lot to assimilate, lots of changes and lots of characters.

Particularly for my character, as I’m generally in the offices, I go in early in the morning and come off at night and you haven’t stopped for a second. Technical reasons mean you never have to stop as you normally would, where I go and have a biscuit with Sue Perkins. So the cameras are just constantly rolling and you just don’t stop. It’s Olympic!

After all this comedy, tempted to throw it off and do some serious drama?

I already have, it’s just waiting in the wings. It’s a film with Ralph Fiennes that he’s also directed called The Invisible Woman. It’s a story about Charles Dickens, Ralph plays Dickens and I play his wife. It’s a very sad tale and I do proper straight acting, it’s nowhere near comedy.

We all know Ralph’s an amazing actor, but what’s he like as a director?

He’s an amazing director. For an actor he’s amazing because he himself is an extraordinary actor. For me it was like being bewitched, I felt like I was under his spell. I was in another place altogether from usual work.

So apart from that, what else have you got in the pipeline?

Well, we’re just about to start shooting a pilot I’ve written with Vicky Pepperdine from Getting On which about dog training for the BBC so we hope that that gets green-lit later this year. I am a bit dog obsessed myself. I’ve got a rescue dog from Battersea who’s been very challenging to train, but she’s more or less there now.

Heading Out continues tonight at 10pm on BBC Two