Interview: Action woman gets set for new stage and TV roles

Heather Peace is not worried about being typecast as a tomboy. After being "one of the lads" first in the hit television drama London's Burning and then alongside Ross Kemp in the SAS series Ultimate Force, she relishes the roles.

"They are great fun to play," says the super-fit 34-year-old. "I'm not worried about typecasting at all."

However, her two latest ventures – John Godber's musical adaptation of Jules Verne's 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea and BBC3 drama Lip Service, about a group of lesbian woman, could not be more different.

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But Heather says there are similarities in the roles.

"In 20,000 Leagues I play a girl playing a boy and everyone thinks I'm a boy, and in the original book the character was a boy. And in Lip Service I play a pretty butch police sergeant. But that's okay; they are great parts."

Heather was destined to be an actress from an early age. One of two children – she

has an older brother – growing up in Bradford, she says she wouldn't have achieved her dream if it hadn't been for the support of her parents.

"You just didn't go up to your careers teacher and say 'I want to be an actress', but my mum and dad always said that you could be whatever you wanted to be, and that gave me the self belief to succeed."

At the age of ten Heather was singing in the local Catholic Church and attended the council-run Bradford Youth Players.

"I was really lucky that I had a piano teacher who taught me for nothing, and the Youth Players cost about 20p. If it hadn't been for that, we never would have been able to afford it and I wouldn't be here today."

Heather also loved English, and at 14 developed an obsession with Shakespeare and she felt her fate was sealed.

But ever the pragmatist, if her applications to drama school failed, she had decided she would study English and History at Goldsmiths College in London.

She needn't have worried; she was accepted on the Acting BA (Hons) course at the then Manchester Polytechnic, whose alumni include Julie Walters, Steve Coogan and Emmerdale's Jeff Hordley.

"I had a pretty traditional path into the business," says Heather. "I worked really hard, but I also had some luck. I don't know how I feel about the current X-Factor route into the business. I feel that you need to the apprenticeship; you do it because you love it, not because it pays well. I was 21 and loved every minute of it."

Her first role in rep was Eliza Doolittle in Harrogate and then other stage jobs followed, as well as a few television roles, but it was auditioning for and then being cast at Sally "Gracie" Fields in London's Burning that catapulted her career.

"It was a life-changing job," she admits. "I was lucky that 'Northern' was the big thing at the time and they were looking for a northern actress. I had to move from Manchester, where I was living, to London. We had no idea the show was going to be so massive. At one stage we were getting 13 million viewers, which just doesn't happen any more."

That was the start of her

all-action girl roles. London's Burning was followed by the military drama, Ultimate Force, which again attracted big audiences.

"I've always been very sporty. I was very good at football but there weren't really any professional female football teams around, so I thought I'd better become an actress."

She believes keeping herself fit is important and when not on the stage or filming she will be found down the gym or running along the sea front in Brighton, where she now lives.

"I do a lot of running. I am part of the TV Times team who run at least 10 times a year to raise money for Leukaemia Research."

Her parents still live in Yorkshire, although they have moved to Halifax, and Heather says she tries to get back to see them when she can. It is one of the reasons she really enjoyed being in the Kay Mellor drama The Chase which was filmed in Otley.

She played a murderous veterinary nurse and a single mum, a departure from her other roles which gave her the chance to use her acting skills to good effect.

She laughs that Kay couldn't have seen her other roles when she cast her.

At the moment she is appearing in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at the Hull Truck Theatre.

"I don't think I would have done it if it hadn't been for John Godber. He is amazing to work with. When he said that he was doing a musical version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea I did think he must be joking. But it is going to be tremendous.

It is very ambitious but

great fun."

She took the role after filming her latest TV drama, Lip Service. A BBC 3 six-part drama series about a group of lesbian women living in Glasgow, it is due to be screened in the autumn.

As a patron of Manchester Pride it is a subject close to Heather's heart.

"I think BBC 3 is such a fantastic channel. It allows the BBC to take some brave decisions and commission drama they may not have commissioned before.

"We really hope that it will draw a wide audience beyond the gay community."

Heather admits that up until she saw the script for Lip Service she would always have said her first love was the theatre, and in many ways it still is.

"I love everything about the theatre: the places, the people, everything. And normally you would get better scripts than on television. But then I got the script for Lip Service and I was blown away."

But with the recession hitting the television industry hard, Heather realises that drama series like this may be fewer and far between.

"I wish the television companies would continue to be brave. Good drama can be sold abroad, especially to America, but it takes brave people to do it."

Recognising that acting work may well start to dry up, Heather had turned to her first love, music, to help pay the bills.

"I have started gigging again," she says. "I used to play in a jazz band when I was younger, but now I do more acoustic sets similar to Eva Cassidy. I like playing small venues and I am really enjoying it and it also helps pay the mortgage."

She had thought about trying to make it in America, but this northern girl is not sold on the idea.

"It is a very expensive business. I did go over there a few years ago. But you never know."

To find out where Heather is playing, visit her website

Heather Peace will be appearing in John Godber's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea until June 19 at Hull Truck Theatre. Box Office 01482 32363 or [email protected]