A big ask: Helen McCrory

Gabriel Tate talks 'Skyfall', Scorsese and the Amazon jungle with the 'Leaving' star

Helen McCrory as Julia Ranmore in 'Leaving' Helen McCrory as Julia Ranmore in 'Leaving'

First powerful piece of TV you watched?

‘I grew up in Africa without a telly, but I’d have to say “Tiswas” and “Morecambe and Wise” in the evening.’

Most memorable audition?

‘Being phoned and asked whether I’d like to meet Martin Scorsese in the Dorchester next Thursday. Um, yes please… So we had a cup of tea and chatted, but I couldn’t figure out who he wanted me for, because there was a 13-year-old, a 70-year-old and a 21-year-old in the script [for ‘Hugo’], and I’m not right for any of them! At the end, he said how enjoyed my work, and referenced all these different moments from my career, and how he was thinking of me for the 70-year-old and the 21-year-old, because “you’re an actress, aren’t you?”. He’s so thorough, he’d seen our 40-year-old focus puller’s graduation tape from school. He’s a true film geek, in the best possible sense.’

Piece of work you’re most proud of?

‘On screen, an independent film called “Streetlife” by Karl Francis. It was set on a Cardiff estate and I had a bleach-blonde crew cut and my nose pierced. In theatre, “Twelfth Night” and “Uncle Vanya” with Sam Mendes.’

And most embarrassed about?

‘Douglas Hodge directed me and Lennie James in a piece with all the National Theatre schoolkids, set in the Amazon jungle. All the kids pretended to be the animals and the trees. I’ll leave it at that, but my first line was, “Hey, gringo!”. It doesn’t seem to have dented our careers, luckily.’

Which dramatic role do you covet?

‘I’d like to do the hefty Ibsens, Cleopatra, “Much Ado…”, Kate in “Taming of the Shrew”… But really, I’d like to do a great big stonking comedy part. Once directors know you can cry, they quite like using that.’

Who would you interview on your own chat show?

‘Peter Sellers, Bette Davis and Groucho Marx, with music from Bob Dylan.'

Ever Google your name?

‘Certainly not! It’s very dangerous. The Imdb.com forums are bad enough. Mine starts, “What? No!”, then the next one is “I’m sorry, but no!”. That was it for me. The public don’t like me, so let’s keep them at bay, shall we?’

Tell us a secret about ‘Skyfall’.

‘Sam Mendes had a choice whether to kill me or let me live, and he let me live. Now someone’s killed Voldemort [McCrory played Narcissa Malfoy in ‘Harry Potter’], I need a new series to pay the mortgage. I’m not too old for Tintin, am I? I want to give my Haddock.’

Helen McCrory stars in 'Leaving', which airs from Monday September 10, 9pm, ITV1