Her detective alter ego isn’t known for her people skills – quite the opposite, in fact – but Brenda Blethyn is always keen to put her co-stars at ease on the set of ITV crime drama Vera.
“I do joke about a bit, especially if there’s a young actor who’s joined,” says the star, who’s been nominated for two Oscars (for Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies in 1997 and the musical Little Voice two years later). “They’re a bit nervous, they haven’t done much, and they’re meeting this character [Vera] who can-be rather abrasive. I crack a few jokes just to make it feel easier.
“It’s a job,” Blethyn adds with a laugh. “It’s not life and death.”
It might not be life and death off-camera, but the crimes investigated on the show – based on the novels by author Ann Cleeves – can be pretty grisly.
Over the show’s five-series run, we’ve seen DCI Stanhope tasked with investigating the stabbing of a pensioner on a rush hour train, the murder of a woman in a hedgerow, and a drug dealer found dead on a beach.
The new series, filmed on location in Northumberland and other parts of the North East, looks set to be just as intriguing, starting with a deadly fire ripping through a holiday park.
What’s more, Vera is dealing with the departure of her right-hand man, Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth (David Leon), with whom she had developed a close bond over the years.
“Joe’s been promoted and he goes off to pastures new. So, we have to have a replacement in the office and along comes DS Aiden Healy [played by the “absolutely adorable” Stella star Kenny Doughty],” says Blethyn, looking sharper than her rather unkempt character in a tailored lime green jacket.
“It’s a different kind of relationship to Joe and Vera’s, but it’s an enjoyable one. He thinks he’s a bit of a joker – he’s not – and he rubs Vera up the wrong way a little bit. But she gets to grips with him. She’ll soon sort him out.”
The 69-year-old, who is married to art director Michael Mayhew, has grown very fond of her detective character over the years. “I think it’s great a character like Vera is playing a commanding role because she’s so ordinary. She’s not a fashion model, she’s not reliant on lipstick to be taken seriously, and she very much is taken seriously in the role,” says Blethyn. “She’s not abrasive for the sake of it, there’s generally a reason for it. And she has an equal amount of warmth and acknowledges something well done... [although] she doesn’t much like people who ask for compliments all the time.”
Blethyn enjoys “throwing in some witticisms” of her own to the mix, but says her work is mainly “just taking the ingredients that have been created by Ann Cleeves and the writer of each episode”.
She adds: “I read on Twitter a couple of days ago somebody asked Ann if the series of Vera influences her writing of the books and she said no that doesn’t happen, but she hears my voice when she’s writing Vera. So that’s very, very flattering.”
Vera, ITV1, Sunday, 8pm