Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Una Stubbs, actor – portrait of the artist” was written by Interview by Laura Barnett, for The Guardian on Tuesday 14th January 2014 15.59 UTC

When did you realise you wanted to act?

I was a dancer for years, but I knew that for longevity I would have to move on to acting or choreography: dancers have quite a short career. Acting felt like the natural choice. I’d always believed that when you dance, you should tell a story.

What was your big breakthrough?

Till Death Us Do Part (1). It was pretty light television, but I was with it for a decade.

What have you sacrificed for your art?

As a dancer, aching bones; as an actor, worrying about whether there is going to be another job. But so far, it’s been good; I’m sometimes quite relieved to have a gap.

Which of your roles has been most challenging?

My first Shakespeare: Twelfth Night, directed by Michael Grandage (2). He has a very good way of working with Shakespeare. He just insists that you do it at the speed of thought. “Just say it,” he said. “If you’ve got any rhythm, you’ll pick it up from the words on the page.”

Are there enough good parts for older women?

I suppose it’s natural that they dwindle, but it’s a shame. People are beginning to catch on that older actors still have an appeal, though: just look at a film like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. There could be much more. I remember that Coronation Street, for instance, used to be all little old actors. They were so funny and truthful. We shouldn’t underestimate the capacity of the young to enjoy the company of old people.

What work of art would you like to own?

Hogarth’s painting of The Shrimp Girl ((3). I take shortcuts through the National Gallery, from time to time, to go and look at it. She just seems to be taking such joy in her job.

Is there an art form you don’t relate to?

Tiddly-pom jazz. I just don’t understand what they’re doing.

Is there a downside to fame?

Being doorstepped. I had journalists doing that after a divorce (4). But I suppose they were just doing their job.

What’s the worst thing anyone ever said about you?

That I looked like a chicken. A critic wrote that about my performance in Twelfth Night. I think it was something to do with my costume: it flipped up at the back.

Is there anything about your career you regret?

I don’t think so. I’ve done a lot of rubbish, but it’s all learning, isn’t it?

How would you like to be remembered?

To be remembered at all would be enough.

In short

Born: Welwyn Garden City, 1937

Career: TV includes Till Death Us Do Part, Worzel Gummidge and, most recently, Sherlock. Has also worked extensively in theatre, including at the National Theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory, and in London’s West End.

Low point: “Some really bad pantomimes. But I had to take them to earn a living.”

High point: “Michael Grandage spotting me and giving me work. And doing Worzel [Gummidge].”

Footnotes

(1) The long-running BBC sitcom about a working-class family in London’s East End. Stubbs played Rita, the daughter of patriarch Alf Garnett. Back to article

(2) The former director of London’s Donmar Warehouse, currently directing Jude Law in Henry V Back to article

(3) Hogarth is believed to have painted this street-seller in around 1745. She does look pretty chipper. Back to article

(4) Stubbs has been married twice – to fellow actors Peter Gilmore (the late star of The Onedin Line) and Nicky Henson (who recently appeared as Charlie Grigg in Downton Abbey). Back to article

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Frank

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