Anna Maxwell Martin interview

Star of Becoming Jane, Anna Maxwell Martin hits our screens in new BBC drama White Girl

BAFTA-award winner and star of Becoming Jane, Anna Maxwell Martin returns to the small screen as a struggling single mum in the new inter-racial drama, White Girl.

‘The religion issue is just one part of it,’ says Anna Maxwell Martin of the new BBC drama, White Girl, in which she plays Debbie, a white mother raising her family single-handedly in a Muslim-dominated community in Leeds. ‘There’s also Debbie’s alcoholism, the fact that she’s illiterate, and her abusive relationship. Unfortunately, she’s one of those people who kind of slipped through the net.’

Screenwriter Abi Morgan (whose previous credits include Sex Traffic and Tsunami: the Aftermath) penned the story, and Martin believes her fellow BAFTA winner’s talent lies in her ability to explore, rather than exploit, sensitive subject matter. ‘Abi could have picked anything to illustrate this family’s torment and it would still work,’ Martin explains. ‘But I think there’s something to be learned about the wonderful peacefulness of the Islamic faith, which becomes a spiritual safety net for Debbie’s daughter, Leah, in the film – and a way of reaching out to her mum.’

Best known for her roles in lavish costume dramas, Martin is not often seen out of a corset and crinolines. ‘I know!’ she laughs. ‘This character is completely different. Debbie’s always like, “Rahhhh!” and she wears a lot of tight, revealing stuff that’s totally not me. But this is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been waiting for.’

And the 29-year-old isn’t stopping there. Easter sees her appear in a new C4 film, Poppy Shakespeare, as N, a long-term patient of a psychiatric hospital. Is it emotionally demanding playing these characters? ‘It is draining, but it’s lovely not being preened and made to look pretty all the time, like I was in Bleak House and Becoming Jane. I’m forever being told that I’m an odd-looking actress, so it’s great playing parts where there’s no vanity. You just look as rough as you possibly can!’

White Girl is scheduled to be shown on BBC2 in early 2008

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