Sheridan Smith has been named as one of the highest-achieving Britons and is one of the most in-demand actresses on screen and stage. Critics may well be running out of superlatives for her performances but she still stays true to her down-to-earth Doncaster roots, writes Jen Foster
IN her own words, until recently Sheridan Smith was mostly cast in roles as “chavs and slappers”.
But in a whirlwind 12 months, the South Yorkshire-born actress has barely taken a break as directors have fallen over themselves to offer her some of the most sought-after roles on stage and screen.
The former star of TV’s Gavin and Stacey and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps has now proved to critics and audiences alike that she is far from a flash-in-the-pan talent.
Her Laurence Olivier award-winning performance in the title role of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler - often considered to be the ‘female’ Hamlet - in London’s West End marked a pivotal point in her career.
She has barely stopped rehearsing or filming since, with starring roles alongside John Bishop in ITV’s Panto!, with Hugh Bonneville in an adaptation of David Walliams’ kids book Mr Stink on BBC1 and as a guest on the Jonathan Ross chat show.
January heralded the cinema release of Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, in which Sheridan plays a doctor at a retirement home for talented musicians alongside such acting greats as Dame Maggie Smith, comedian Billy Connolly and Harry Potter’s Sir Michael Gambon.
One critic, writing in the Guardian, said that it was Sheridan who “stole the film”, with others lauding her performance as yet more evidence of her versatile acting skills.
She recently said that playing Mrs Biggs in a 2012 TV drama series about the wife of Great Train Robber, Ronnie, was her favourite role yet, adding: “She is an amazing lady. It was a privilege to play her”.
Despite her new-found superstardom, Sheridan has clearly not forgotten her working-class roots and she still loves to come back up North from what her Twitter profile page describes as “That London”.
Sheridan’s mum Marilyn - who still lives in Station Road, Epworth, Doncaster - said: “She takes it all in her stride. Sheridan’s father Colin and I went to the premiere of Quartet and met all the stars.
“They’re just ordinary people really and we got on really well with them all.
“Dustin went along to see Sheridan in Hedda Gabler in the West End. He gave a different name as he knew she’d be nervous if she knew he was watching.
“She was quite surprised when she got a call to her dressing room that a Mr Hoffman wanted to see her!”
Both Marilyn and Colin are well-known on the Lincolnshire musical circuit as country and western duo The Daltons and as a result, Sheridan was very young when she first found her way to a stage. She played her first lead role as Annie at Doncaster Civic Theatre.
Though her acting skills have now catapulted her far beyond the girl-next-door image on screen, Sheridan remains warm, grounded and funny out of the spotlight for her 340,000 Twitter followers.
Marilyn added: “She’s a lovely girl and when she’s back home, she always goes out and catches up with her friends. She’s still very normal and would have a chat with just about anyone she meets.” Sheridan says it’s her “common face” that makes her seem down-to-earth and that most people who stop her in the street think it’s because they’ve had a pint with her somewhere.
It is also clear that she battles with occasional nerves and a lack of confidence, even as she continues to amass some of the most prestigious drama awards going.
In the last few months alone, she has been named as one of the Telegraph newspaper’s top 25 Britons in 2012, among the top 100 in the annual power list for influential arts publication The Stage, and been short-listed for a second What’s On Stage award.
Yet the 31-year-old often tweets that she’s struggling to sleep and the night before she was due to be filmed for the Jonathan Ross Show, she said: “Don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous. Watched it for years, never dreamed I’d be on it. I’m scared.”
On another occasion, she says: “Hate myself sometimes, just can’t be myself. I can only play characters. Wish I had more confidence when I’m being me.”
Her loyal fans are quick to tell her to take strength from some of the characters she plays, with one telling her to put her Mrs Biggs head on.
Sheridan also shares some of what she calls “Frank Spencer” moments that other starlets might take great steps to hide from their fans.
On the trip to Paris, she tells how she turned to her friend in a panic and asked if they had any francs with them.
She also jokes: “I’ve been home less than an hour and I have flooded the bathroom, smashed a vase and burnt a pizza. I’ll make a great wife”.
She finished filming in December for The Powder Room, in which she plays a young woman whose life is turned upside down on a big night out.
Also appearing is singer Kate Nash and Oona Chaplin - the granddaughter of the legendary Charlie Chaplin.
In 2013, fans can also look forward to seeing Sheridan return as Joey Ross in a new episode of Jonathan Creek due to hit screens at Easter and in September.
Among other projects yet to be announced, she will also be playing Titania in Midsummer Nights’ Dream alongside David Walliams as Bottom.