As Tom Hollander’s Rev. prepares for its first airing tonight, I battled a rather crackly Skype line to chat to the lovely, giggly Ellen Thomas, who plays church matriarch and ‘cassock chaser’ Adoha.
You’ve appeared as a school secretary in Teachers, guest starred in numerous popular TV shows and currently act in Eastenders. What appealed to you about the role in Rev.?
It’s an opportunity to play some of the women that I’ve seen as a child growing up in church. I’d see these women and there was always talk about these ‘cassock-chasers’, but of course as a child you don’t know what that means. You didn’t know what it meant but they were always after the reverend regardless of whether he was married or single. It was about attention, the attention of an important person in church. There’s a whole world of that.
Explain your character a little bit.
The type of woman I play – they look after the church. My character, Adoha, they’re the people who do the cards, the flowers, she does the tea – all that type of work, just because it’s something that needs doing. And if the vicar is a good looking young man as well – that helps a lot. I loved playing her.
Did you go to church as a child?
As a child and as a teenager. I was a Sunday school teacher at one point as well.
How about now?
Oh no! Hahaha!
Do you only take roles that you like or that you can identify with?
I’m not as selective as that, because I’m a character actress. I’ll take roles that challenge me sometimes and roles that are interesting, and if there is a type of role that I know, people that I know, people that are in my community, then it’s even better. It becomes a point of reference.
What’s the main difference between appearing in something like Rev. and something like Eastenders?
They are a little different. Rev. is a production company and they were wonderful to work for. Lovely company to work for – they took care of all our needs. Working for the BBC is kind of like a regular job because it kind of becomes like a 9-5 thing. That’s the only difference.
Who was the best actor to work alongside?
That goes without saying; Tom (Hollander) is the best! Such a lovely actor. Brilliant actor. I’ve seen him in other things, and to find he’s a lovely man as well is such a bonus. Work every day was a joy!
You were aware of church from your childhood. How much did Tom and James (the creators) know about their subject matter?
They did quite a bit of research. With me, they certainly wanted an African woman of a certain age. They knew what they wanted. They wanted to reflect the diversity of that community, that urban community in Shoreditch.
How much free reign were you allowed as an actor on Rev.?
There was no going off script because of time. There’ll be someone on your case unless you’re word perfect. No improvisation – the time for that would have been in rehearsal. Anything you feel strongly about – say in rehearsal and they will often work in what you say then.
Were the parts written for specific people?
He wrote the characters then they auditioned. I auditioned 3 times. First time was without the director, and then you get shortlisted. Then I auditioned another time when I met Peter (director) and Tom, and finally there was one more casting. It was a process of elimination.
Who’s your favourite character in Rev.?
It’s so hard! They’re all…I’d have to say Steve Evets – the character he plays – the church vagrant Hahaha!
Was the location on a busy East London intersection a problem?
They had some interesting things happen the days I wasn’t there with traffic and parking and other problems. They don’t particularly care that you’re filming. But we had a fine time filming.
The comedy in Rev. comes from a source of religion. Was there ever a worry of offending people?
No, because I think if it was we’d have had difficulty with that. Tom was very clear that there wasn’t going to be any kind of ridicule. It was just seeing what can happen in an inner city church. And things do happen. But there was never any question of there being ridicule. I think a few of the actors wouldn’t have got involved otherwise. What’s funny is that people recognise the situations that happen. It would be interesting to come from a country parish to an inner city one.