Alexandra Roach, becoming one of the UK’s most exciting young actors, talks swearing, Tinder and violence with Tom Ellen
"Some people haven’t got it, have they? The whole ‘interview thing’. But I can tell you’ve got it. So, I’m looking forward to this.”
This is Alexandra Roach’s opening statement to me as we sit down for a chat. Clearly it would make a lot more sense as my opening statement to her. Roach, as you’ll realise by the end of this article, has definitely ‘got’ the whole ‘interview thing’. In conversation, the Welsh actress is whip-smart, frank and very, very funny (see that tongue-firmly-in-cheek opening line, for starters); the perfect antidote, basically, to the po-faced pretentiousness that traditionally goes hand-in-hand with her trade.
Not that this comes as a surprise, of course. Here at ShortList, we’ve been well aware of the 27-year-old’s blistering potential for a while. In fact, we even gave her a prominent place among the most exciting young UK talent on our inaugural Brit List last year. The reason was simple: since her breakthrough role as the young Margaret Thatcher in 2011’s The Iron Lady, Roach has been energetically stealing the show in projects as varied as James Corden’s Paul Potts biopic One Chance and Julia Davis’ bleakly brilliant sitcom Hunderby.
But the most exciting of her post-Thatcher ventures has been Channel 4’s Utopia. The drama, if you’ve not seen it, charts a motley crew of conspiracy theorists, including Roach’s headstrong Becky, who are trying to uncover the secrets surrounding a mysterious graphic novel, while fending off the blood-spattered advances of a shady group called ‘The Network’. It’s cool, funny, and unlike anything else on British TV. The same, of course, could be said for Ms Roach herself…
First things first, you swear really well in Utopia…
Yeah. Well, wait until series 2; I swear so much more. That’s what everyone tweets at me about the show: “Swearing sounds so good in a Welsh accent!” I think [the writers] were like, “It’s funny when she swears, so let’s do more of it”.
Are you foul-mouthed in real life?
I’ve become more so since playing Becky. It obviously works, y’know, so why mess with it?
What attracted you to the series in the first place?
It’s totally unique. I read the scripts for the whole first series in one sitting; I’d never read anything as bold or different. The ideas it tackles, the cinematic way it’s shot; it’s just dead exciting. And series 2 has the same violence and dark humour, but on a much bigger scale. We thought we’d figured out The Network’s plans in series 1, but we’d only skimmed the surface.
Do you get real-life conspiracy nuts approaching you?
Oh yeah. “Do you think Jay-Z and Beyonce are part of the Illuminati?” I’m not really into all that.
There was a brilliantly awkward sex scene between you and Ian [Nathan Stewart-Jarrett] in the first series. Was that fun to film?
Yeah. I’d much rather do those than the steamy, “Look into my eyes and make love to me” ones. I’ve only had to do funny [sex scenes] so far.
What’s been your most awkward dating moment in real life?
One guy was supposed to take me on a date, and he called me at the last minute and said, “I totally forgot, I said I’d go to a musical at my old school. Do you want to come?” It was actually quite fun, but when we got there, everyone thought I was his dutiful, long-term girlfriend, when really it was our first date. I didn’t realise Sweeney Todd was so long, though. Hours, it went on. There’s only so much wine from paper cups you can drink.
Are you a fan of Tinder?
It’s great if you want to go out and meet people. When I was newly single, it was a good way to get back into that dating world.
Did anyone recognise you?
I did go on one date where I turned up and the guy was like, “Oh my god! It’s you! I love Utopia!” I was like, “OK, I’ve gotta go”. I made my excuses and left [laughs].
Any Tinder tips for our readers?
Some guys are clever. They’ll hold a puppy or a cute kitten. Some guys hold babies. Not so clever. Because, y’know, “Is it yours?” And then there’s the selfies with the muscles… That kills me.
In a bad way?
Oh god, it’s terrible. I want nothing to do with that.
Do you feel you’re getting more tabloid attention now? You were ‘papped’ last year coming out of a club with Harry Styles…
Yeah, I literally walked behind him, once. I was sat next to him at this dinner and he’s like, “We’re going to a party, do you want to come?” All these paps ran at me as we walked out, elbowed me over, and my bag fell on the floor. Apparently, paps do this trick, if you’re a girl, where they’ll push your bag under a car, so they can take photos of you as you’re bending down to get it back. Harry knew this trick, so he was like, “Let me get that”, which was so lovely. I just got a lift with him, basically, but the next day, my Twitter went berserk: “Die! Die! Die! You’ll never be Harry’s girl!” In various different languages, as different countries woke up. I wasn’t that into it, really.
You studied at Rada. Was it a total luvvie-fest?
It’s like Hogwarts, honestly. On the first day, we all had to hold this blue stick. We stood in a circle and passed it between us, eyes closed. Then, when you were ready, you told everyone your name.
“When you were ready”?
I know, right? Everyone was taking it dead serious, but I was like, “Why isn’t anyone laughing?” I couldn’t not laugh.
I’ve got to ask about Hunderby. Will there be a second series?
It’s all down to Julia [Davis]. There’s money on the table, but Julia’s so busy that she hasn’t put pen to paper yet. She texted me the other day, saying, “Any ideas for series 2?” I was like, “No, mate. That’s sort of your job.”
Do you have any ambitions to write your own stuff?
Yeah, I write on and off. What I love is romantic comedies. The rom-com section on Netflix, I smash that up.
You’re still probably best known for The Iron Lady. What were your preconceptions about Thatcher before you played her?
There were three mines in the vicinity of the town where I grew up [Ammanford], and they all got closed during her time. My grandfather was a miner from the age of 13 till when he retired, so I’d heard a lot about her when I was growing up, and it was never positive. So, I have no connection with her politics, but the things I learned about her when she was a young woman interested me, and I never thought they would.
I read an interview where you said your ideal man loved small dogs and could mix cocktails.
Where did you read that? I’m pretty sure that’s b*llocks [laughs].
Brilliant. I’ve got three questions here about cocktails.
I wouldn’t say no to a cocktail, but I wouldn’t automatically say ‘yes’ to a man that could mix one, either.
So, what is your real type, then?
I thought I had a type, which was very much the ‘thespy’ actor. But I’m off them. I’ve got a boyfriend now, and he ain’t an actor. Actors can be quite competitive. So, two of you together… Some people can do it, but not me.
Utopia continues Tuesdays on Channel 4 at 10pm