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Hampshire actress Sarah Parish talks about her new role in TV's Atlantis
UNLIKE millions around the world, Sarah Parish hasn’t been able to bring herself to tune in to the fantasy series Game Of Thrones.
“Mainly because I’m angry I’m not in it,” says the actress, with a big laugh.
And the actress who lives in Hampshire is not just talking from a professional perspective – because she’s something of a self-proclaimed “fan boy”.
“Oh, I’m a huge sci-fi geek, always have been, and I’ve been desperate to be in something like that,” she says. It’s why she was the perfect candidate for BBC One’s lavish new fantasy show Atlantis, which she describes as “a slightly younger version” of Game Of Thrones.
The 13-part series perfectly fills the TV spot vacated by Merlin, a similarly fantastical show that Parish popped up in (in 2009) and which ended in 2012. The show brings to life the vast store of Greek myths and legends.
At the story’s core is Jason, who descends to the ocean floor to try and find out what happened to his father. After a strange incident in his submarine, he wakes, washed up on the shores of the mythological land of Atlantis where he meets Pythagoras and Hercules.
They embark on a voyage of discovery, which sees them come face to face with the Minotaur and even do battle with the dead, all the while carefully watched by the queen, Pasiphae, played by Sarah, who’s concerned that Jason and pals could ruin her plans.
“Her main aim is to have as much power over Atlantis as possible,” she says. “She’s one of my more evil characters,” adds the actress, whoalso played the conniving Regan Hamleigh in The Pillars Of The Earth.
Parish was also attracted by the prospect of being cast in a brand new series.
“I love being a part of new things, breaking a mould if you like,” she says. “I’m not really one to go into things that have been going for years.”
She can’t deny she was also looking for something glamorous, having “just come out of scrubs” in the medical drama Monroe, which also starred James Nesbitt, and was unexpectedly cancelled after two series.
“I don’t want to put myself out of a job with regards to commissioning editors, but I think it was a bizarre decision,” she says. “Peter Bowker’s one of the best writers, and James Nesbitt was in the role of his life. We were all like, ‘Wow, can’t quite believe it’.
“But that’s the business, isn’t it?” she adds, shrugging. “You’ve just got to put a smile on your face and go ‘OK’, otherwise you’ll end up really angry and bitter and sad.” On that note, it’s back to the matter of Pasiphae’s costumes, which are stunning, if a little restrictive.
“At the beginning I was on a strict no carbs, no pudding policy but that’s slowly disappeared. Now, I now sit in my dressing room, scoff Haribo and wonder why the costumes feel tight.”
The actress is glowing and, unlike her co-stars, it’s not from a bottle.
“No, I’m not spray-tanning. This is from being in the garden in Hampshire,” she explains.
That’s where she lives with her husband James Murray, who she met on the set of Cutting It, and their three-year-old daughter Nell. Their other daughter, Ella-Jayne, died of a heart defect at the age of eight months in January 2009.
The couple backed the Daily Echo’s award-winning Have a Heart campaign, to save children’s heart surgery in Southampton and have helped raise funds for Friends of PICU, which supports the paediatric intensive care unit at Southampton General Hospital.
While Nell is too young to watch Atlantis, she has shown appreciation of her mum’s onscreen wardrobe.
“I FaceTimed her the other day – she saw my costume and her eyes lit up. She wanted to wear the crown,” says Sarah.
It’s been an epic six-month shoot for Atlantis, which involved the cast and crew travelling to Morocco to film outdoor scenes (though the main set is in Bristol).
“I thought I was a really old granny out there, but I did have two nights where I stayed up and, yeah, when I stay up, I stay up! It was a lot of fun,” she laughs.
She credits the show’s producers, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps, who she knows well, for making things run smoothly.
“When you get a bit older, when you’ve got a family and other responsibilities, you want to work with people who you really get on with,” says Parish, who was offered the role while she was in Los Angeles doing pilot season, when actors from all over the world audition for new shows.
“It was a brilliant excuse to get out of doing pilot season, which is horrendous,” she admits. “I took the job and thought, ‘I don’t have to do any more horrible auditions, I can just sunbathe!’”
She was also given two months off during the shoot to go and make Breathless, another medical drama, this time set in the 60s and starring Jack Davenport.
“That was fantastic, because although the queen’s in it a lot, she’s not in it all the time. I could come back after two months and I was fresh and ready to go again.”
She doesn’t think she’ll travel to Los Angeles for pilot season again.
“Although it’s lovely to go out to LA early in the year, as it’s so dark and horrible here, it’s also incredibly stressful doing pilot season and I think maybe I’m too old for that.
“You know – changing in cars and laybys between auditions. I don’t think I’ve got it in me anymore.”
Besides, she’s had more luck auditioning via the computer in her garden shed than in Tinseltown, she reveals.
“I have to say, I always have more success from my shed. I think the whole process is changing. It’s no longer important for actors to go out to LA.
Everything’s on the computer, which means I can stay here, where my home is.”
Apart from Atlantis and Breathless, Parish will also appear in an upcoming Poirot episode called The Final Four, another project she filmed earlier this year, so it's little wonder she's now going to take some time off.
“Yeah, it’s been a bit of a year, so I think I’ll have a little break and see what happens in January,” she says. “If Atlantis goes again, we’ll be back in April, but you never know what’s going to happen. You’ve just got to go with it.”
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