As the star of E4’s My Mad Fat Diary, Sharon Rooney is used to fans approaching her in awkward places – “the doctor’s, the dentist when you’re half sedated, you name it”. A recent encounter, however, proved stranger than most.
“My gran passed away at Christmas, and one of the people in the funeral parlour recognised me,” the Glaswegian actress recalls.
“She was like, ‘I know you! You’re on TV, aren’t you?’ We ended up chatting about the show while my family looked at me like, ‘Shall we just get back to the task at hand?’”
But Rooney is proud that the E4 comedy drama, in which she plays Rae, an overweight teenager struggling with mental health issues, has struck such a chord with viewers.
“It just shows that whether you’re young or old or middle-aged, it doesn’t matter. These are universal problems.”
Set in Nineties Lincolnshire and based on the real-life diaries of writer and broadcaster Rae Earl, the show follows its 16-year-old heroine in her attempts to return to normal after a spell in a psychiatric hospital.
Rooney’s performance in series one earned her critical acclaim and a place on Bafta’s roll call of Breakthrough Brits last year.
The 25-year-old, whose background is in stand-up comedy, was touring Scottish schools giving talks on water safety when she landed the role.
The self-harming, over-eating Rae first appeared on screen last January, and Rooney has received numerous letters and tweets from people who relate to the troubled character - along with the occasional online troll.
“At the beginning, everyone was having a go on Twitter... But you learn that not everyone’s horrible. Most people are nice,” she says.
“I set out to be an actor and do a good job, but to be part of something that’s really helped people is great. I’m so thankful.”
It’s easy to see why people feel comfortable sharing their stories with the warm, full of life actress. But Rooney doesn’t always feel equipped to give advice to fans.
“At first I did feel like I was responsible for every single person in the world who’s ever had a mental health issue,” she admits.
“I wish I had the answers and I wish I had the advice to give to people. But I don’t. I’m not trained in psychology; I’m not a counsellor. All I can do is point them in the direction of people that can.
“It can be really hard when you’ve got people constantly asking for help and you can’t help them. They don’t see me as me, they see me as Rae,” she adds.
The second Mad Fat Diary instalment sees Rae facing the daunting prospect of college as the summer of 1996 draws to a close.
The teenager is also on a mission to lose her virginity to handsome friend Finn (played by Nico Mirallegro), which Rooney warns leads to some rather cringeworthy moments.
While Rooney is much more confident than the character she plays, she does admit to “hiding behind my eyes” when watching herself on screen.
“I didn’t know that my face does half the things it does,” she confesses.
“I think I’m just sat there being a listener, but my face is doing all these wacky things and my eyebrows seem to have a life of their own. I don’t know who controls them, because I clearly don’t.”
Those expressive eyebrows are serving Rooney well. Over Christmas, she starred in BBC One drama Two Doors Down, and in the New Year’s Day instalment of Sherlock, playing a super-fan of the detective. She’s also keen to make a third series of Mad Fat Diary, “if they’ll have me”.
Top of the actress’s wish list is to act alongside double Bafta winner Olivia Colman, star of Broadchurch and just about every other great British drama in recent years.
“She is my inspiration,” Rooney enthuses. “That’s the career I’d like to have.
“I want to continue to do jobs that have a heart, and never be chasing the fame or any of that nonsense. Just always keeping it real.”
My Mad Fat Diary, E4, Monday 10pm