Interview : Tanya Franks

Interview : Tanya Franks

Actress Tanya Franks is a regular face on TV, from the BAFTA winning Broadchurch to hit soap EastEnders. She is often cast as characters that behave badly, but luckily she’s not typecast and recently starred as the refined Sybil Burton in Lifetime’s biopic Liz & Dick.

Did you always know what you wanted to do for a career when you were growing up?

I knew from being a child what I wanted to do and I’ve ended up doing my dream job. I followed a pathway and at the age of 12 or 13 I went to amateur theatre school and then when I turned 16 I went off to drama school. When I came out of drama school I then produced shows on the fringe to get my career going. I then went on to do theatre and TV work.

Did you have any role models growing up?

Yes. I was, and am, a massive Peter Sellers fan. I became quite obsessed with him. He was a big influence on me during my teenage years. I loved the diversity of his characters.

My secondary school drama teacher, Jane Widmer, really inspired me too. I’d love to track her down and say thank you. She gave me lots of attention in my early years.

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Was your move into TV an easy one?

It took a long time. I wasn’t always that interested in working on TV. I did theatre for fourteen years. That view changed though and I remember saying to my agent that I wanted to get into TV and their response being ‘You and everyone else’. That wasn’t a good enough answer for me and was my driver to making sure I landed a TV role. I then got the role in the Channel5 show ‘Family Affairs’ and spent three years doing that. I played a fab character and I learnt a lot. It was very fast paced, five shows a week. A real baptism of fire. And back then half the country couldn’t get a Channel5 signal so I wasn’t too high profile. I was cutting my teeth. I’ve never looked back.

Has your career been all plain sailing?

Not at all. In my tenth year of acting I actually had no work. I always managed to get down to the final two or three actors for a role.

Saying that, I always believed I’d be ok. I was getting so close to getting the roles and had a high hit rate, I just wasn’t getting to the next stage for the job. I persevered. My agent said to me, ‘It’s a numbers game. The more jobs you go for, the more chance you’ll get something.’ I had to be patient.

Saying that, I always believed I’d be ok. I was getting so close to getting the roles and had a high hit rate, I just wasn’t getting to the next stage for the job. I persevered. My agent said to me, ‘It’s a numbers game. The more jobs you go for, the more chance you’ll get something.’ I had to be patient.

What do you enjoy most about being an actress?

I love the diversity of the job. The diversity of the characters I play. They’re all so different to me. I love the stretch and I’m always learning new things about humanity through the characters.

In EastEnders your character is the drug addict Rainie Cross. How did you prepare for the role?

I did so much research. The drugs scene is not something I have ever been a part of. It was really important for me to understand the effects and the stages an addict goes through. Eastenders were great and they helped me. I had an ex addict on the set who guided me and helped me understand and portray the physical and mental challenges of drug addiction. My character has moved on from heroin to crack addiction over the years.

“No one is perfect and we all make choices that perhaps aren’t the best ones in life.”

I have put in a lot of time to really understand the effect this has on people. The organisation DrugScope really helped me too. I also did a lot of reference reading and I watched as much footage, and spoke to as many people as I could.

I can’t say whether there is enough support for drug addicts out there. It is very easy to judge people who are in that environment. I would like to think people try to understand each individuals circumstances before making sweeping judgements. Whatever the reasons someone got into drugs, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is realising that most addicts want to make their life better without drugs. They need help and for society not to judge them. No one is perfect and we all make choices that perhaps aren’t the best ones in life. Playing the character Rainie Cross has really made me understand this more.

“It’s a numbers game. The more jobs you go for, the more chance you’ll get something.”

What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you?

It was given to me by the actress Glenda Jackson. I was fifteen years old and she was the patron of the drama school I attended. I managed to speak to her and she said to me, ‘Be prepared. You’ll spend 80% of your career unemployed, no matter what level you’re at.’

I immediately thought to myself, ‘Yep. OK. I’ll do everything I can to avoid that.’ It made me a harder worker and was a driver to me having my own projects to work on if I wasn’t acting. I’d always keep myself in work, even if it was from an external source. That piece of advice goes down as the most productive I have received.

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About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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