As Last Tango In Halifax returns to our TV screens, Sarah Lancashire takes time out to talk to Susan Griffin about her character in the popular series.
SARAH Lancashire celebrated her 50th in October, but she doesn’t pay much attention to landmark birthdays, or ageing, for that matter. “I live in a multi-generational extended family, and as my mother says, ‘You’re still young, it makes no difference’,” she says. “I think this country is terribly, horribly obsessed with age, and it really is just this country. If you’re still living and breathing at 50, then count your blessings.”
While Lancashire believes there are less roles as you get older, “it’s important to remember it’s not exclusive to acting”, she adds. “It’s journalists, directors, teachers, lawyers. I don’t bang on about it, because it’s not the exclusive domain of actors. We’re just one tiny cog in a huge ageist wheel.”
Lancashire’s on the set of the third series of Last Tango In Halifax, a show she believes has been “a quietly groundbreaking piece”, in terms of facing ageism head on. At the story’s centre are the lovestruck Alan and Celia, played by Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, the former childhood sweethearts who reunited as septuagenarians and enjoyed a Christmas wedding in the last series.
But they’re not the sole focus of the plot. Sally Wainwright’s script also follows Alan’s troubled daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker), and Celia’s uncompromising daughter Caroline (Lancashire) and their subsequent relationships.
“It’s a joy doing Tango. I’d do it ’til the day I die, frankly,” enthuses Lancashire. “It’s so beautifully written, I’d turn up to read two lines a day just to be part of this piece.”
She’s keen not to divulge too much about her upcoming storyline, but does reveal that despite a tumultuous start, thanks to Caroline’s insecurities over her sexuality, she and partner Kate (Nina Sosanya), who’s now heavily pregnant through sperm donation, have found contentment.
So much so, that Caroline pops the question. “I suppose they’ve just settled into this life of domesticity, really,” explains the Oldham-born actress. The ceremony takes place at a registry office but with one notable absence, her mother Celia.
“She refuses to go, admitting she just can’t handle the idea of them marrying. It’s one step too far for her, which is great, because it shows there’s an integrity and continuity to Celia.
“She’s always been very reserved about the relationship, accepting but cool, and marriage is one step too far.”
The mother and daughter have had their clashes over the years but share “a very deep abiding love”. “So Caroline’s deeply wounded by this admission of non-acceptance,” says Lancashire.
But “catastrophic events” are set to take place this series, which will ultimately reunite Celia and Caroline. Lancashire can’t say what they are – “I’ll be shot” – but notes that viewers will “see the full spectrum of who Caroline is”.
“That’s the brilliance with Sally [Wainwright], just when you think it’s all settled and lovely, something will come out of left field that you haven’t anticipated at all.”
Although notoriously private, there are times when Lancashire is required to face the flashbulbs, such as the Baftas, where she won the award for Best Supporting Actress for Last Tango back in May.
“I don’t promenade down the red carpet, I run down it very quickly,” she says, laughing. “They’re like the office party, to be honest, because when you’re in the doors, you’re there with a lot of friends.”
She says the award came as a complete surprise. “What a lovely thing, to have your work recognised by your peers, but it was a big shock and wasn’t expected.”
• Last Tango in Halifax returns to BBC One on December 28.