GINA McKee’s keeping everyone on their toes with her latest career choice, as a bubbly mother in a new Gavin And Stacey style comedy.
It’s quite a contrast for the actress who has starred in Our Friends In The North, The Forsyte Saga, US series The Borgias and most recently BBC police thriller Line Of Duty.
It’s not in a gritty drama but a gentle comedy.Directed by Gavin And Stacey’s Chris Gernon, Hebburn is a sitcom which follows Jack, played by stand-up comic Chris Ramsey, as he returns home to his hometown to introduce new girlfriend Sarah (Fresh Meat’s Kimberley Nixon) to his family.
What he doesn’t quite know how to tell them is, he and Sarah are actually already married.
Jim Moir play his unsuspecting father, and McKee plays his mother.
The comedy, written by comedian Jason Cook, who also stars as Jack’s best friend, is inspired by Cook’s real family and his hometown in the North East - Hebburn.
Much of the series is filmed on location in this small town on the River Tyne, but scenes inside the family home are filmed in a studio and it’s here in the canteen that we find McKee, with her hands wrapped around a mug of steaming tea, wearing Ugg boots and a Puffa jacket over her costume.
“Pauline is the antidote to a few characters that I’ve been playing recently, so that was very appealing,” says the 48-year-old, flashing a warm smile and charming all with her gentle Geordie accent.
“You think it’s time for a change or it’s time to frighten myself. Just so you don’t find yourself in a comfortable cul-de-sac.”
The actress admits she was concerned initially about playing a character based on her co-star’s mother, but Cook soon set her mind at rest.
“I’m told that Pauline is based on Jason’s mother, but having seen a little bit of Jason’s mother, on a tiny, tiny bit of film and then met her very, very briefly, I’m not entirely sure,” she says.
“I think the spirit of her might be there, but it isn’t by any means an impersonation of her.”
For his part, Cook insists his mother doesn’t mind being the subject of comedy.
“To be honest she’s more blown away by Gina Mckee. She says, ‘Ooh Gina’s very glamorous, Jason, that’s not me, that’s not me at all’.”
Pauline wears her heart on her sleeve. In contrast, McKee is very reserved. And while Pauline is content with family life in her hometown, McKee swapped home for the bright lights of the big city as soon as was possible. But she’s enjoyed returning to her roots.
“There’s something really interesting about going back, particularly when you’ve been away for so long.
“It’s similar to when you get to your Forties, you’ve got enough history and enough future to enjoy the present. You can apply that geographically as well. Experience of living away, experience of living there, it helps you to appreciate things in an objective and integrated way - which is a kind of lovely position to be in.”
Despite being known for her drama work, McKee has done her fair share of comedy too. She starred in In The Loop, the film spin-off of hit political satire The Thick Of It, and in Chris Morris’s controversial Brass Eye.
“And many, many years ago I did the Lenny Henry show,” she says.
“But this is quite different, because we’re not doing it in front of a live audience, but it’s lovely to be in a comedy.”
McKee adds that choosing this role was also in part because once in a while she likes to give herself “a scare” by doing something a bit different
• Hebburn, BBC Two, next Thursday, 10pm