"I’m still a girl with insecurities"

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Stylist Team
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She was approached by Dustin Hoffman to appear in his directorial debut and is on first name basis with some of cinema's finest talent but Sheridan Smith's feet won't be leaving the ground anytime soon, as Stylist discovers

Photos: Rex Features

The first thing that strikes you about Sheridan Smith is that she's a real girl's girl. Funny, warm and self-deprecating, she's more than happy to spill the beans on how she cried when Dustin Hoffman turned up in her dressing room and how nervous she was to appear alongside an army of A-listers in his film Quartet.

ABOVE: Sheridan with Dame Maggie Smith in Quartet

The comedy marks Hoffman's first effort behind camera and tells the story of four elderly opera singers (Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins) confronting the indignities of ageing at a home for retired musicians as they prepare to perform together one last time. Hoffman approached Smith for the role of Dr. Lucy Cogan, the resident medic, after seeing her perform in West End play Flare Path with Sienna Miller.

"I couldn’t believe Dustin Hoffman was in my dressing room," Smith says of her first meeting with the Hollywood heavyweight. "Apparently he was crying, because the play was quite emotional then he said something lovely and I burst into tears. Then I rang my mum and I was on the verge of crying for ten minutes. Then I got the call about the movie and it’s every girl’s dream really. Dame Maggie, Sir Tom, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon [who is brilliant as a cantankerous resident musician] – absolute acting royalty and then little old me."

It was, she admits, a daunting prospect to put herself among such a seasoned crowd of thespians.

"I thought 'God I don’t think my nerves are going to hold out here.' Because being on-set with them, they’re my idols, they’re such huge talent. They just looked after me and took me under their wing because they knew how nervous I was, they could see how nervous I was. They totally put me at ease."

ABOVE: As Hedda Gabler at The Old Vic

That sense of camaraderie is translated on-screen as well. Smith's character is inflected with comedy - there's a brilliant scene where Connolly touts himself as "seasoned wood" in a misfired attempt to woo her - but it's also very moving and the filming of it clearly struck a chord with the 31-year-old actress.

"We bonded so much that there’s a speech at the end of the film where I talk about how they’re inspirational," she says. "And Dustin said to me, 'Think how you’ve felt working on this film, being with these people, how you’ve told me every day that you can’t believe you’re here and how inspiring they are to you.' It’s completely from the heart, in fact we had to do a few takes as I was so inconsolably crying that we could use it. It was ridiculous, but I was so upset that this amazing journey I’d been on was coming to an end."

Unusually, Smith has stayed in touch with all her co-stars after the project wrapped. When she appeared in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic last year, Dame Maggie sent her a good luck note and present and Hoffman flew over to surprise her.

"He didn’t tell me, he booked over a different name," she recalls. "He came backstage afterwards and the man said, 'There’s a Mr Hoffman here to see you,' and I was like, 'Oh my God’ - I cried again. I’m so overwhelmed by him, I basically cry every time I see him. He now says (putting on an American accent) 'Don’t cry.'"

ABOVE: Sheridan on the red carpet

Despite the affection Dame Maggie and co. clearly hold for Smith, you get the feeling she still doesn't quite believe in herself.

"It’s nicer to just be real in yourself and I can’t do anything else, that’s why I act," she says at one point. "I don’t even know whether I’m that good at this but I’m doing what I love at least."

Such uncertainty is rare to come by in the self-promotional whirlwind that is showbiz but it's an approach that has seen Smith prized on Twitter, where she interacts with "a lot of young girls."

"I’m always really honest on there – at the end of the day, acting’s just a job and I’m still a girl with insecurities," she says. "So the girls are like, 'God, I can’t believe you feel like that too' because I think sometimes acting – I don’t know, you feel quite distant from people or people you see in magazines, you know, that type of thing.

"They give me advice, I help them out and it’s just like having a little cyber world of friends and family. I don’t know them all but it’s still nice, it’s kind of comforting. I live on my own with my dogs… tweeting!"

It's unlikely this way of life will change, even now Smith has Hoffman on speed-dial. When I suggest Hollywood is beckoning, she laughs it off and is quick to downplay her latest - and most prolific - foray into mainstream cinema.

"It’s been a one-off, it’s been a really special job," she says. "I don’t think I’ll get one like that again."

Watch this space, we say.

Quartet is in cinemas now