Perhaps best known for her performance as “Duckface” in Four Weddings and a Funeral opposite Hugh Grant. Anna Chancellor has also been noted for her work as Caroline Bingley in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and as Questular Rontok in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
In 2005, she joined the cast of the popular BBC One television drama series Spooks as a new regular character, Juliet Shaw. She has also appeared in The Vice, Jupiter Moon, Karaoke, Cold Lazarus, The Dreamers, and Tipping the Velvet, and has a starring role in the satirical black comedy Suburban Shootout. In 2011, she took a supporting role in the thriller serial The Hour.
Is it still strange to talk about Pride and Prejudice almost 20 years on?
No, it’s not odd. I think time’s a funny thing I think people sometimes think that if they’ve done something a long time ago they’re not going to be able to remember it. Like going out with someone a long time ago and not being able to remember them. But that’s not true, is it? In fact it’s still incredibly real in your mind and somebody you met yesterday you can hardly remember. Memory and time, and things like that… I’m beginning to think they don’t actually mean that much!
What do you remember about Pride and Prejudice?
The thing was that these six scripts from Andrew Davies arrived, and he had managed to do something that was genius – to construct it, to distil it and to add to it, and make into these episodes. I think it was unbelievable what he did, and when I read them I couldn’t stop reading them – he’d cut out all the difficult bits of Jane Austen a lot of people might stumble on, and he managed to bring it up to the present day while keeping really closely to
her genius. He put in wit and a lightness.
Tell us about Miss Bingley…she was delightfully snobby. She must have been a hoot to play…
Can you imagine how hilarious it was?! In your life you sort of have to go around and be nice to everyone – or at least you’re meant to – but with Alison Steadman I could just look her up and down and say anything. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me! There were times when I was on with susanna Harker and I would be telling her to go and live in Cheapside or something like that, and we just laughed so much. In the end we had to be separated.
What was the whole filming process like for such a distinguished ensemble cast?
But do you know what that means? You have to get up really, really early and it’s hard. I remember being really annoying because I’m very untidy by nature. so they would do your hair and then come back to you three hours later. By that time I would’ve had a sleep in the corner and it would all be messed up. as a cast… well, you know what english actors are like – there are pictures of us sitting around with some reading or doing tapestry or something. They’re really sweet, and it really shows that we probably did all fit in in almost an old fashioned theatre company. We weren’t mollycoddled at all, in fact we didn’t have any dressing rooms – we had to sit in a big room together. I think Colin and Jennifer had their own space, but the rest of us were just shoved together and did the crossword!
What do you remember about Colin Firth and how he handled such an iconic role?
I don’t think Colin even minded. By that time we were all thrilled and impressed by Colin, and he was already a star because he’d already done a lot of good work. I remember thinking on these intense close-ups – and that’s why so many people fancied him I think, not just him coming out of the water – what his incredible talent is expressing inner thoughts during a closeup. Not every actor can. I used to look at him and think, “Is Colin doing anything?!” and then you realise he’s doing everything!
Is it true Jane Austen is your great-aunt eight times removed…did you know before you got the role?
I think I maybe did know, but I didn’t take it all in. I did a documentary about Jane Austen later and that’s when I
realised I really was properly related. The funny thing is that my grandmother remembers her great aunt talking about
their great aunt Jane. so within a lifetime she was within memory, which you wouldn’t have thought.
Did that give your appearance in Pride and Prejudice an extra frisson?
Jane Austen was an incredibly conscientious aunt. she had no children of her own, and every now and then I like
to think she’d be looking down from above willing me on.
Why do you think she’s still so popular?
Because she’s brilliant. alot of the male writers at the time were interested in big political topics, but she was interested in the domestic and she was interested in people. she was like a fine portrait painter – her characters are gloriously defined and they’re hilarious. They’re true and moving… they’re very real. she wasn’t that popular at the time, and she’s grown and grown.
UKTV’s brand new channel Drama launches on Freeview Channel 20 and Sky on Monday 8th July