As a child, Natascha McElhone wasn’t much of a football fan. But when she was offered a role in Believe, a new film about Reds legend Sir Matt Busby, she felt obliged to say yes for her 11-year-old son, who is “obsessed” with the beautiful game.
Set in the early 1980s, the fictional film sees former United manager Sir Matt (played by Scottish actor Brian Cox), come out of retirement to coach a team of young working class boys for an upcoming local league cup.
Star of the team is Georgie (newcomer Jack Smith), a gifted but unruly 11-year-old whose widowed mum Erica (McElhone) is more worried about him landing a place at a top grammar school than winning a junior football league.
“I think it’s quite a good allegory for other stories about realising your dreams and overcoming obstacles, and balancing your desire to do something with listening to your head a little bit.”
A mother of three boys (Theodore, 14, Otis, 11 and five-year-old Rex), McElhone, who was widowed herself when her husband Martin Kelly died suddenly of heart problems in 2008, could relate to Erica’s concerns and worries for Georgie.
Not least “of having to be the bad guy and pull rank”, she says with a smile.
Born in Surrey, McElhone was raised in Brighton and attended drama school in London.
She went on to land roles in the Jim Carrey comedy-drama The Truman Show, the sci-fi film Solaris alongside George Clooney, and the hit TV show Californication.
Her private life seemed just as golden as her professional one, with a loving marriage to Kelly, a leading plastic surgeon, who she wed in 1998, and two beloved boys.
But a decade after their wedding, when McElhone was pregnant with their third son and working in the US, she received a call informing her that her husband had died on the doorstep of their London home.
But despite her grief, as a parent, she realised she had to grab life “by the throat” and try and keep things fun for the boys.
She has just finished a run on London’s West End in a stage adaptation of Fatal Attraction playing the bunny-boiling mistress made famous by Glenn Close.
With the post-show adrenalin keeping her awake until 1.30am and her youngest son up at 5.30 or 6am, she admits theatre is “not very conducive to domestic life”.
“I’ve just been living off very little sleep for the last four months and feeling a bit...” she says, pulling an exhausted face.
Believe is released in cinemas on Friday, July 25.