It’s an afternoon in August and on a rare day off Vicky McClure is catching up with normal life.
By the time we speak, she’s completed a bit of admin and is just back home after taking in her dry cleaning. These days are few and far between for the Bafta Award-winning actor Vicky McClure. The previous day she was donning academic gown and mortarboard to receive an honorary doctorate at Nottingham Trent University.
“No, that’s not normal at all,” she laughs, “It was a real honour and a brilliant day, it was lovely because Shane [Meadows – writer/director of This is England] got one as well. We graduated at the same time.”
McClure most recently might be most associated with the runaway success that was series one of the ITV show Broadchurch or the BBC police drama Line of Duty but it’s her This is England character Lol for which she now has the longest association. Originally a film, written and directed by Shane Meadows, after its release in 2006 it was then extended into three separate Channel 4 TV series: This is England ’86, ’88 and ’90, the latter of which will air on September 13 and be the last.
“It’s quite sad really,” says McClure, who has lived with Lol for more than a decade. “We can all hold out a little bit of hope but I’m told it’s the last one. When we made the film I was 21 and now I’m 32. You can’t help but thinking, ‘if I’d have known then what I know now’ and all those cliches.
“It is brilliant though because we’ve all grown up together, we know each other’s families and we’re all really close. When we meet up we all revert back to being that age again. Going back to do ’90 was just so much fun, there was so much joy to be around everyone again and spend some quality time with them and go out in Sheffield.”
With the majority of the filming all being done in the city over the years, Sheffield has become something of a second home for McClure and the cast and crew of This is England.
“Sheffield has been brilliant to us and not only is it a beautiful place to film because cinematically it looks incredible with all the hills, but the city still has flats which look like they are straight out of the 80s. There are some amazing looking properties in this series that I think are being torn down, actually. They just look incredible, it’s quite sad that they are boarded up because they look beautiful and it goes to show that there was a real sense of community there once.
“I think Sheffield has now come to terms with the fact that if we’re in town you’re going to see us all at some point, if you want a picture, an autograph, to hang out and have a drink, then come along. We’re just ordinary people that have become well known for doing the show, but we’re all just like everybody else.
“Sheffield is one of my favourite, favourite cities because it’s just so beautiful and artistic. The people are so friendly, it’s got so much going for it and they’ve welcomed us with open arms, it’s home. It’s a massive part of the show. And there’s an added bonus for me. I live in Nottingham, so when I’m filming in Yorkshire I can easily get home for the weekend.”
During the ’86 and ’88 series Lol had something of a hard time, struggling with serious mental health problems in the wake of an abusive relationship with her father that culminated in a violent sexual assault. To watch those scenes is traumatising enough but how much of a mental and physical strain was it on McClure to go through them?
“When I worked with Shane on ’86 and ’88 the only way possible to remain in that headspace was to keep her at the forefront of my life. It seemed easier to wake up every day and feel that way than trying to have to find that emotion everyday. Mentally it was exhausting. The scene with Johnny Harris, who plays my dad, was physically horrendous.
“We both really go for it and there wasn’t a strategy, it was pretty much improvised and took about two days all in all to shoot. Shane doesn’t overshoot things, which is brilliant, but both Johnny and I were battered and bruised after it.”
Taking on a role that portrays such debilitating mental health issues, McClure felt a responsibility to those who go through that in real life.
“You’ve got to be aware of what you’re playing. There are people out there who have experienced those things, so you need to get it right, you need to do the part and the issues justice. There was a rape scene in ’86 which was as harrowing to watch as it was to film, but the following series was equally challenging
“When you got back to a part there’s that scary moment where you wonder, ‘Have I got it? Am I going to get it again?’ It is scary, but I always know that I’m in good hands with Shane, so it’s a good kind of fear.”
It was what McClure put herself through in ’86 that saw her win a Best Actress Bafta in 2011 and a few years on she still says it was a turning point in her career.
“Oh my God, it was huge and always will be. That night was incredible because Shane was there and Johnny Harris and my mum. I didn’t think I’d win, I was up against people who have been in the business for years, big players, people who have turned out really good dramas and then there was me. When we won it felt like we’d all won, it was fantastic.”
Each time McClure returns to play Lol, the character has a tendency to take over her life.
“It is a demanding job. Whereas other jobs you can go home and put the telly on and put your feet up, meet your family and friends, when I work with Shane it becomes my everything. This time it was a little bit different, because Lol is thankfully happier than she has been in previous series. When we see her she’s got a baby with Woody, as ever the family set-up is dysfunctional, but it seems to work for them.”
This final series focuses more broadly on the whole gang of friends rather than one underlying story as in ’86 and ’88, with the explosion of rave culture and the ‘Madchester’ music scene being the cultural backdrop to the four-part series. Is there a sense of pressure to go out on a bang and to meet the high expectations?
“You always want the show to get better and better for the audience but we don’t feel the pressure when we’re on set, we just do what we always do and do it with the same amount of love. We’ve all worked our bloody socks off, Shane and everyone else involved has really tried to create something special and unique with this being the last one, but I don’t think it’s changed the way we worked. We don’t feel cocky about it, but we believe in what we do and I think the audience will enjoy it.
“Some of the scenes we’ve shot are just hilarious, it’s always nice to have a bit of a laugh on screen.”
So, as McClure says goodbye to Lol, a character she has lived with for a third of her entire life, what is next for her?
“I’m filming series three of Line of Duty but then, in all honesty, at the moment I’m just concentrating on booking a holiday, somewhere where I can sit beside the pool and try out different cocktails throughout the day but that’s my only plan for the minute.”
• This is England ’90 begins on Channel 4 on September 13.