Katherine has embraced playing a variety of characters during her career
She’s of striking appearance and has a string of awards and accolades to her name, yet actress Katherine Kelly’s isn’t an easy face to place. Although you’ve probably seen her in 10 or so different TV dramas over the last seven years, you’d be forgiven if you struggled to name three – and it’s cheating to answer Coronation Street, in which she played Becky McDonald for six years. It’s not because she’s failed to make a lasting impression. Quite the contrary. Katherine is probably one of the most versatile actresses in British TV drama, having appeared in several hits including Mr Selfridge, Happy Valley, The Night Manager and Cheat.
Actress Katherine Kelly stars in thrilling Netflix show Criminal
“I embrace playing a variety of characters,” says Katherine, 40. “I’ve always been cast in different roles, different genres in TV, film or theatre. It’s what I enjoy. If a director wants me to chop off my hair and dye it black, then I’m all for it if it adds to the character’s authenticity. I’d rather do that than fake it with wigs. But seriously, I’ll do whatever is necessary.”
It also works in her favour when she’s off duty as she can slip under the celebrity radar.
“Yeah, no one really recognises me, but that’s OK. That’s the way I like it,” she admits.
It’s clear from talking to Katherine during our phone interview that she didn’t embark on a career in acting to play the fame game. Her RADA training comes through as she peppers our conversation with words like “artist” and “craft”, but this Yorkshire lass is no luvvie.
She’s not one to shy away from gritty roles or difficult subjects and is willing to graft until she’s nailed a character. Which is just what she did when taking on the main role in Netflix hit Criminal. It’s now back for a second series and you’ll find Katherine sporting said jet-black blunt bob to resume her role as the steely and stoic Detective Inspector Natalie Hobbs – or “Guv” as she’s known to her peers.
DI Hobbs heads a team of detectives whose job it is to pin down the evidence on a suspect in the interrogation room.
Katherine has enjoyed spending time with her children during lockdown
Katherine says, “It’s less about fist-thumping-on-the-table inquisitions like I grew up watching in crime dramas in the 80s and 90s, and more about quiet mind games. I find the psychology fascinating. It’s all filmed between three rooms with no cuts to a car chase or flashbacks. It’s very different in that respect. The mental conflict between the detective and the suspect is intense. I love the suspense.”
A self-confessed perfectionist, she reveals how she put time into researching the role. “Strangely, there’s a lot of true-life crime detective interviews available on YouTube and they go on for hours and hours,” she says.
“The detectives are trained to catch every look and smile and work on instinct. It’s so clever. And that’s what you get in Criminal. You get the most exciting bit, the showdown, which makes it so different to other police procedural dramas.”
However, this is not Katherine’s first television detective drama. You might have recently seen her playing Detective Inspector Karen Renton in the ITV thriller series, Liar, with Ioan Gruffudd and Joanna Froggatt.
“Playing Karen was so different. We made a bold choice. We wanted her to have many attributes of the male 80s TV detective and to see how that would land. She had a scatter-gun approach. She’d throw the chessboard in the air and see where the pieces landed,” Katherine explains.
“Criminal’s Natalie is far more forensic, neurotic and probably OCD. She prefers to work behind closed doors. I liken her to a player-manager in a football team. She heads up a great team, which she’s carefully selected and hired, but she also likes to get on the pitch and strike, too.”
Katherine as Becky McDonald in Coronation Street
Naturally, Katherine is excited about the second series, which includes some brilliant star guests such as Game Of Thrones’ Kit Harington, Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan, The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar and Chimerica’s Sophie Okonedo.
It’s no wonder, either. Like many people across the country, lockdown saw her unemployed and out of touch with her co-stars. She hasn’t been near a film set or in front of a camera for months.
“During the pandemic, I was offered a few lockdown dramas but I actually said no, because I felt like I couldn’t do it to the best of my ability,” she reveals. “Like everyone else with young children at home, I have very little free time. I felt that with all the restrictions I couldn’t give my best. So I thought I’d embrace this situation, be with my children 24/7 and not try to do what I usually do, which is do seven things at once.”
Katherine has two daughters Orla, six, and three-year-old Rose with husband Ryan Clark, with whom she split earlier this year after seven years of marriage. Lockdown presented Katherine with an opportunity to “recalibrate”, as she puts it.
“I was very fortunate to be able to make that choice,” she says. “I’m very conscious of the fact that a lot of people were – and continue to be – having a terrible time of it. Some dealing with life and death. We’ve all had our struggles during the pandemic but for some people, it’s been a truly horrific time and I carry that with me.”
The Liar actress is a familiar face in British TV dramas
“When it comes to parenting, I think we’re all doing the best we can aren’t we?” she adds. “I’ve struggled with finding the right balance in life in the past. Before I had children
I lived to work – but I’m getting better. I’m not completely there but it’s a fluid reality, not a destination. I try to focus on what’s in front of me and enjoy it, whether that’s time with the kids, a dog walk, or a yoga session.”
“There’s always a lot of pressure to feel like you should be doing things, and that’s partly to do with technology enabling us to achieve so many things. But I’m really just trying to focus on the present. I’m teaching the kids to do the same, too. That you don’t have to always be achieving something. It’s OK just to be bored. I spent a lot of my childhood being bored and good things can come from that.”
Life at the Kellys doesn’t sound too boring in reality. They’ve just taken in a new puppy called Poppy.
“My eldest daughter, Orla, has wanted a sausage dog since she was three,” says Katherine. “I think she’d probably asked me every week and I promised her she could have one when she turned seven. It seemed a long way off back then. Anyway, I put my name down with some breeders and then one came up available so I said yes. Orla’s completely devoted and knows Poppy’s very much her responsibility.”
Which is just as well, as this month Katherine heads off to film a new ITV drama, which she’s remaining very tight-lipped about.
But she does say, “It’s nothing to do with the pandemic. We were supposed to have started filming back in March but, like everything, it’s been delayed. It’s a big part that I’m really interested in playing. I’m lucky in that sense now that I can choose roles that are of a huge interest to me.”
“I’m looking forward to it – and having my kids back in school. Any anxiety or adrenaline in the build-up to this change out of lockdown doesn’t faze me. As an actor, you roll with change a lot and you just deal with it. It’s part and parcel of my life really.”
The test for Katherine is whether she can maintain this life balance in the new normal. “Routine is tricky as an actor, as no two days or two weeks are the same,” she says.
“I don’t follow an exercise or health regime as such when I’m working. I live my life at 150 miles an hour. But I’m lucky to have good genes I guess. I’m from a pretty fit and active family.”
Katherine grew up in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, where her parents still live, but moved to London at 18 to attend RADA. “London feels more like home to me, I’ve lived here longer than up North,” she says.
“I absolutely love everything about our capital city – it’s rich in culture and a real melting pot of diverse backgrounds. I’ve been away from it for filming, but it’s always been my base and it’s only two hours on the train back up North, so I have the best of both worlds.”
Friendships in the acting world can be fleeting due to short-term filming schedules or location working, but since having her family Katherine’s more likely to be found dishing up pasta at home than downing prosecco on a night out. “I remember saying to a friend in a drama once, ‘You know, if we’d met at school, we would have been best mates.’ But the fact of the matter is that she’s a busy working actress with a family, and I am, too.”
“The big plus of my job is you’re always meeting people every time you start a new show. I love that. I love people. Whereas I’m really bad at social media. My contribution is limited. I’m a bit old school in that sense. I don’t like to be checking my phone all the time, I prefer talking to people in front of me.” Maybe in a post-pandemic world, we’ll get that pleasure…
Series 1 and 2 of Criminal are available on Netflix now.