Keeley Hawes is a great deal of fun. She laughs frequently during our meeting – a full, hearty cackle somewhat at odds with her cut-glass tone of voice – and she jokes mischievously about everything in her life from her husband and fellow actor, Matthew Macfadyen’s, height, to motherhood and the London Mayoral elections next week. “I’m team Boris,” she tells me. “I think he’s great. It’s a fun job being the Mayor, and Boris makes it seem like that.”
Keeley's job sounds pretty fun, too. She has played a vast array of characters since she stepped into the limelight and onto our TV screens some 18 years ago, and each role seems more daring than the last. Her latest will be as the mother of the eponymous heroine, Mariah, in the upcoming adventure film, Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box, and it is sure to involve a bit of action.
“I’m not that adventurous, so I’m not sure how it’s happened,” she says, laughing. “But one of the lovely things about what I do is that you can be offered something with rooftop jumps one day and the next it’s a period drama set in the Twenties."
“Film feels like a luxury to me,” she says. “You spend days and days shooting a specific scene which would be over in hours on a TV set, and you have a real chance to build some strong relationships with the cast and crew.” What about her time on the stage, I ask. “I liked it,” she says, with a hint of reservation. “I wouldn’t say I fell in love with it. I’m used to people saying ‘bring it down, bring it down’ whereas in the theatre they were always telling me to ‘bring it up’. But I’d like to do some more of it, because I think it’s growing on me.”
"Film feels like a luxury to me. You spend days shooting a scene which would be over in hours on a TV set."
Finding the time for acting, however, is the difficult part for Keeley right now. She has three children under the age of 12 and a husband who is away filming in Dublin. I ask her how she juggles the different demands in her life. “Not that well,” she laughs again and then sighs. “We don’t have a nanny, so it’s a matter of getting my mother on board and being very organised – and I am very organised. It sort of falls into place really,” she says, explaining how on certain weekends she and the children visit Dublin, and on others Matthew will come back to London to see them all at home. “I love Dublin,” she adds. “We don’t get recognised as much when we’re over there, apart from in this one amazing restaurant called Tribeca, where I’m sure they say ‘there’s that chicken family again’ when we walk in. We’re trying to go somewhere else, but the chicken wings in Tribeca are just too delicious!”
Back home in London, Hawes’s life also seems completely normal. “Matthew cooks a lot,” she says. “There’s nothing we like more than staying in and having a Thai. We don’t go out very much either,” she giggles, when talking of her husband of eight years. “Because our jobs are so full on, when the two of us are free and together it’s like ‘Yay! We’re together!’ The idea of going out isn’t so appealing.”
"We don't go out very much... There's nothing we like more than staying in and having a Thai."
This summer, however, sees Keeley do something quite different from her usual line of work. She has been signed up as an ambassador for the P&G Capital Clean Up initiative; a project which sets out to get London ready for this summer’s Olympics. “The campaign really struck a chord,” she says, when I ask her how she feels about her new role as a philanthropist. “I’ve never lived anywhere but London, my father is a London cabbie from Marylebone, and in every area I’ve lived there have always been corners that I’ve wished someone would do something about. Hopefully above and beyond the Olympics, this project can leave people with improvements in their areas.”
It sounds like an admirable effort, I tell her, and she smiles genuinely. “They’re all ‘Team 2012!’ in my house at the moment,” she says. “Matthew is slightly mental in that he thinks he’s going to get tickets for the 100m final. We’ll see about that!”
Her Blackberry rings. She takes a quick look at it, tells me that it’s Matthew, and politely puts it face down on the table. I ask her what have been her best and worst jobs in her career. “My worst is easy,” she says. “I worked in McDonalds for a bit when I was sixteen in the evenings, and then I worked in Sainsbury’s on Saturdays. I wanted a car, and I’ve always been very hard-working, so I figured I would save up for one by working.” When asked to think about her best job, though, Keeley is less certain. “I enjoy each new role as and when I work on them,” she says, tactfully. “But there is nothing better than getting a big old frock on and rollicking around. When you’re working with brilliant people, like the designer on Upstairs Downstairs, it’s all fun.”
Keeley Hawes is currently working on the Febreze Fresh Havens, part of the P&G Capital Clean Up, helping London become a fresher, greener place for the London 2012 Olympic Games and beyond. Click here to join in.
Interview and words: Sophie Haslett. Picture Credit: Rex Features and Hill & Knowlton Strategies.