Tag Archives: Jane Cobden

MIDNIGHT TRYST AND BLACK MAGNETISM: Ripper Street interview with Leanne Best


An exclusive Ripper Street interview with Leanne Best

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015

My first interview with Leanne Best was in November 2013 as the second series of Ripper Street was broadcast on BBC1. While she was a respected, and indeed award-nominated stage actor, she was less well known to television audiences at that point despite screen credits that included Casualty, Wire in the Blood and Doctors. Since then however, and with appearances in such high-profile projects as The Worricker Trilogy, Lucan, Fortitude and, most recently, The Outcast and Home Fires to name but a few, there has been an explosion of love for the increasingly prolific Leanne who seems hell-bent on turning up in almost every TV show – not to mention a promising new career in the movies, having played the title role in last year’s The Woman in Black: Angel of Death and soon to be seen in some exciting new films that are either currently filming or in post-production.

I wanted to interview Leanne for a second time to discuss the third series of Ripper Street, on being a Hammer Horror Monster and breaking bread with Bryan Cranston. Most of all, however, I just wanted to speak to her again while she’s still answering my calls because I predict Leanne Best is going to be something of a star…

Damian: Hello again Leanne and thanks for doing this. So much has happened in your career since our first interview but the last time we chatted was over drinks at the Brown Bear while we drowned our sorrows lamenting the demise of Ripper Street. Not only has Ripper Street returned for a third series (with the promise of two more!) but you have managed to land roles in many well-received and much-admired television dramas, big-budget Hollywood films and, if all this were not enough, also been Willy Russell’s personal choice to star in the 35th anniversary stage production of Educating Rita! – what’s going on?

Leanne: Ah that’s all very lovely of you to say! There’s a fair bit going on at the minute… Second series of Homefires is underway and I’m filming a drama for the BBC in London.

Damian: How much of this success would you put down to the exposure gained from Ripper Street?

Leanne: Well it certainly didn’t do me any harm I’m sure! Ripper Street is such a classy production and so loved by its viewers. I felt very grateful to be in such good company across the board from the actors to the writing, the direction and design. The whole thing is impressive so to be a part of that I’m sure has served me well.

Damian: Before we discuss series three, I’d like to talk about your character Jane Cobden (daughter of Richard Cobden) of Bow and Bromley Division and the adopted candidate of Liberal and Radical Association for the London County Council Election. We first meet her around the time of the public meeting of electors in the Bromley Vestry Hall, Bow Road so, at a very rough guesstimate, I’d say this was Wednesday, January 14th 1890. Your character is, of course, based on the real Jane Cobden (1851 – 1947), who was indeed the first elected female councillor and is best remembered as a pioneer of the suffragette movement. Let’s remind ourselves of how she was introduced in the third episode of the second series, Become Man (written by Marnie Dickens)…

JACKSON: I just saw the damnedest thing. This woman I just passed in the street. No, scratch that. She was not a woman. Uh-uh. She was a goddess, Reid, to make even a heathen like you believe… You should have seen her. She had gentle eyes, perfect face and the body that one imagines under the…
REID: Yes. Thank you, Captain.
COBDEN: Oh, no, please – do continue on, sir.
REID: I apologise, Councillor Cobden. He is American and therefore lacking in manners or propriety.
COBDEN: Well, then, we shall get along famously.

Jane Cobden could have possibly been an overbearingly moralistic and righteous character but the way in which she is written, and indeed performed, is simply a joy to watch and, even in her first episode, there is an immediate chemistry between her and Reid. It must have been so much fun to play her?

Leanne: I love playing Jane. In reality she was quite a firebrand who bucked most trends of the time for a woman so that coupled with the writing allowed me to be quite free with her. Part of her attraction for Reid I think was her lightness and willingness to be open to what life has to offer.


Damian: Another scene which I love and think is so indicative of your character is the following scene that comes towards the end of Threads of Silk and Gold (S2: 05 written by Toby Finlay):

REID: It is a rare thing to find a friend in this world, a true friend. Rarer still one that might become more. There are some that do and risk all for it and, even though the world and all its might may seek to snuff out their love they burn with it, fierce and bright, like the sun. The love that I have known, the strength needed of me was not there. I failed my wife Miss Cobden. I would not have that pain visited upon you. You said the past was naught but black magnetism. If I allowed, you would help me resist it. I have had enough of the darkness if you would help me know the sun.
COBDEN: Well, Edmund, I do hope you’re not going to launch into sonnets every time you wish to take me for dinner and a dance. I should find all the swooning quite tiresome.

Quite understandably, Reid is such a sombre and melancholy character but I wonder if you could tell us what it is like to work with Matthew Macfadyen during such scenes and give us a general sense of the atmosphere on set?

Leanne: He’s a brilliant actor and a lovely presence on set and it really is a pleasure to work with him. He also does a pristine scouse accent which cracks me up.

Damian: In the grand finale of series two, Our Betrayal, thanks to the odious Fred Best (David Dawson) having written a charming little piece for The Star with the headline, “Councillor Cobden and Detective Inspector Reid in Midnight Tryst”, Chief Inspector Abberline orders Reid to end the relationship. I suppose considering this and Reid’s later dark journey, it was perhaps inevitable but do you share my disappointment that there wasn’t more scenes that showcased the delightfully playful and flirty banter between the two of you in series three?

Leanne: I think it’s an interesting dynamic. Although I’m sure she still has feelings for Reid it’s perhaps more dramatically honest at this juncture to see how they are with each other as friends and allies when he has made it clear he can’t or won’t ever be able to be with her because of a world in which they both have very different paths to tread… I’m an old romantic but this is Ripper Street so I’m not too surprised they didn’t skip off into the sunset together, or not yet they haven’t anyway!

Damian: Reid writes Cobden a letter which we see her read presumably breaking off the relationship, can you remember if there was anything actually written on it – I’m just wondering if there was any information regarding the contents that might have been cut?

Leanne: I can’t remember what day it is most of the time so I couldn’t tell you to be honest! No content was cut as I recall. It was simply that he didn’t feel he could be with her.

Damian: The final moments of series two were stunning with Drake and the villainous Jedediah Shine (Joseph Mawle) slugging it out in the boxing ring with Reid screaming at Drake to finish him off. There is no dialogue between you and Matthew but the scene is just so powerful. Cobden simply stares at Reid as he shouts “No, Sergeant! You kill him!”. Was it a look of disappointment, disbelief or even disgust – what was going on inside Cobden’s head at that point?

Leanne: Despite what Reid had told Jane about who he was and the world he inhabited she refused to ever see him as a monster. In that moment I imagine she did see, and was devastated by it.


Damian: It’s crazy to look back and consider this scene could very well have been the last we saw of Reid and friends. At what point did you find out that Ripper Street had been saved by Amazon much to the delight of the thousands of fans who petitioned for its return?

Leanne: I heard through my agent. I was genuinely chuffed to bits. Irrespective of my connection to the show or whether we’d see Jane again, I felt it was the wrong thing to take away from its very loyal fan base, the opportunity to see what would happen to a world they had really invested in. It’s a great drama, and what a testament to that that its fans saved it from the chopping block!


Damian: I’d like to take a moment to discuss some of your other work. How  flattering was it to be cast as a Hammer Horror Monster?

Leanne: I’ve played a few dead women now… I must have that glow! It was really good fun. Hammer Horror is an iconic part of British cinema so it was a lovely thing to have the opportunity to do.

Damian: Given the intense make-up effects and FX prosthesis, were you not worried about your eyebrows?

Leanne: My eyebrows were OK surprisingly but I lost a layer of my epidermis I’m sure when the face came off after a long day.

Damian: Is it true that the original script was quite different from the film that was shot in that the idea involved the government acquiring the Eel Marsh House and converting it into a military hospital for the insane?

Leanne: I’m not sure about that. The draft I worked on was the one that made it on screen. It’s based on the second Susan Hill book but how that idea was developed for the film I don’t know.


Damian: Were some scenes cut because I’m sure I saw images either from the trailers or stills that featured you, particularly a scene at the grave in the woods where we see you quite closer than the way the scene appeared in the film?

Leanne: I think I know the still you mean and I think that was a press shot not an actual scene from the film. That being said there are always things that are lost in the edit so maybe?

Damian: Do you believe in ghosts?

Leanne: I do actually, yes.

Damian: What can you tell us about your role in Bryan Cranston’s new film The Infiltrator and how you became involved?

Leanne: I’m not sure I’m allowed to say too much about the film but it was a pinch myself moment working with him as I’m a proper fan. And he was such a gent. Bloody brilliant. And it was a good old fashioned audition that got me the gig. I did a self tape on a matinee day doing Educating Rita so no one was more surprised than me when I got the gig!


With Con O’Neil in ‘Educating Rita’

Damian: I want to talk more about Educating Rita because I’m a fan of Willy Russell and along with Blood Brothers and other plays, I think his writing still has some very powerful things to say about social mobility and class structure. I imagine from our previous interview that some of the themes and motifs of Rita have a special resonance with you personally?

Leanne: I could write a thesis on why it’s still a vital beautiful tragic essential piece of work. I was given that play at drama school to read when I was really struggling. I hadn’t done much acting and was on a scholarship to study drama when I didn’t have a clue who I was or what I was doing there. I sat in my college library and cried as it resonated with me on so many levels, and it does that with so many people for so many reasons. I loved it.


Damian: What is Willy Russell like in person and why did he want you specifically to play Rita?

Leanne: Willy is amazing. He’s a brilliant fascinating man with so many stories and a hero of mine. I was thrilled to be the choice for the anniversary production with Con O’Neil who is an extraordinary actor but far be it from me to guess why. Maybe he’s a Ripper Street fan!


The Woman in Green! At the ‘Ripper Street III’ premiere with MyAnna Buring and Charlene McKenna

COBDEN: Five acres, in which reside 6,000 individuals, and the rate at which they die here is four times that of the rest of this city. As you know, I plan to replace these shanties with modern and sanitary dwellings in which people might live out of choice, not obligation. However, this I cannot do unless the party, or parties, that own these lands permit it. Currently, all our surveyors encounter is violence from hired thugs. It is for this reason, ladies and gentlemen, that I invite you here today – to urge you, in print, to shame these opaque and hidden powers into good faith and negotiation. To ask them to stand forward and have a care for the future lives of their tenants. I thank you.
REID: Councillor. The investigations I have made for you. You wish to cause men shame, it’s better for you to have a name with which to do so – Obsidian Estates…
(Our Betrayal Part I – Richard Warlow)
SUSAN HART: Know this Duggan. Every moment I felt your foul breath on my face, your murderous fingers on my body, I thought of this. Dreamt of it. Your lawyers, your estates and holdings – all will now be made to work for me. Everything that you have built, I will make it mine…
(Our Betrayal Part II – Richard Warlow)

Damian: And so back to Ripper Street. What can you tell us about Obsidian in series three and Jane Cobden’s part in it?

Leanne: Long Susan is now the sole owner of Obsidian estates in series three and has used the money and prestige to create many opportunities to educate and employ vulnerable women in Whitechapel. She has sought Jane’s council and support to legitimise the enterprise.

Cobden with Mathilda Reid (Anna Burnett)

Cobden with Mathilda Reid (Anna Burnett)

Damian: I discussed the role of women in Ripper Street in my interview with MyAnna Buring. She said that characters like Susan and Cobden were integral characters in the show and that they challenged the perceptions of what women can do. However, I’m wondering how the completely incorruptible Cobden could justify going into business with Susan given her unforgivable actions in series three?

Leanne: There’s a lot of information that Jane isn’t privy to about Susan’s past and her actions. In her haste to help her do good she may be guilty of being naive about the situation. Fundamentally she respects Susan and the work she has undertaken to improve the lives of the impoverished of Whitechapel and may be guilty of having done harm in order to do good. As a woman in a man’s world I’m sure she sees Susan as a kindred spirit.

Damian: Seeds were planted for series three’s story arc as early as episode four in the second series (Dynamite and a Woman) with particular reference to Cobden’s mission to improve working class education, the renovation of St. Paul’s Wharfside and housing for the poor. Were you aware of Richard Warlow’s grand plan for Cobden when you first joined the show?

Leanne: I wasn’t no, but it’s been great to watch it all unfold and always nice to be asked back.

Damian: In discussing the character of Cobden and her battle to protect the poor, the reader may be forgiven for drawing contemporary political parallels with many of the issues highlighted in Ripper Street. With the recent Conservative victory at the general election still fresh in their minds, issues such as relocating the poor away from London to more “suitable and appropriate” areas or “social cleansing” as some might call it, in addition to what some perceive as an ideological war against welfare might resonate more than perhaps they should. I wonder who you consider to be the Jane Cobden’s of today?

Leanne: Well that’s a question! I’m a firm believer that whether it’s the front bench, back bench or park bench, you will always find inspiring women from all walks of life trying to make a difference in or out of the public eye… I’ve come across many and it’s always galvanising I have to say. Give it time and I might have a go myself!

Damian: Miss Best, my thanks. Time with you is, as ever, educative.

Leanne: Always lovely to talk to you.


Ripper Street series three concludes tonight at 9pm on BBC1


My first interview with Leanne Best can be found on the link below:

Leanne Best talks Ripper Street


Leanne in rehearsals for ‘Educating Rita’




Ripper Street Interview with MyAnna Buring

Hard Medicine and Bad Money

An exclusive Ripper Street interview with MyAnna Buring

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015

Damian: At the conclusion of our previous interview for series two of Ripper Street, we briefly mentioned the stage production of Strangers on a Train produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson which you’d just begun rehearsing. What was it like to work with the custodians of the James Bond franchise?

MyAnna: Great fun. Barbara was very hands on and has a work ethic, generosity, and positivity that is simply extraordinary. I know that might sound over the top but she is a very impressive human being and great to work with. Having met them it is not surprising that her and Michael have managed to keep the legend of Bond flourishing all this time.

Damian: While we’re on the subject of trains… No, I’m only joking – it’s more than my life is worth to reveal too much for those who haven’t seen it yet. However, I’m reminded of our discussion about the series two opener last year when you said that “the episode should bring Ripper Street crashing back into people’s living rooms”. Do you think Whitechapel Terminus, the first episode of series three tops this?

MyAnna: I think it does. I must have some sixth sense to have phrased it so last year – or maybe my phrasing last year planted some seeds, subliminally, in the writers minds? Or not… In any case, the show is definitely coming crashing back into living rooms once again.

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Previous press releases have promised that we will see you returning in more of a “starring role” this time. Was this something that you personally championed for or is it simply the natural evolution of Long Susan’s character given the story and plot lines for series three?

MyAnna: No – you can’t champion for such things… if the story doesn’t have a place for you then it doesn’t. You can’t force it to, and it is not my place to force writers to write for me if they don’t feel it’s right – I would never even attempt such a ludicrous thing! Having said that, I have always felt that Rose, Susan, and Cobden were integral characters in the show, so it makes sense that we continue to be so… Richard Warlow and the producers had always had an idea that this is where Susan would end up in her character arc – a kind of Godfather of Whitechapel is how they put it to me – and as Richard, Toby [Finlay], and Will [Gould – executive producer] mapped out this season they felt it was right to go there and I am very glad and grateful they did, as she, as always, was such fun to play.

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Series creator/lead writer, Richard Warlow, and Toby Finlay, who has written more episodes than any of the other contributing writers have provided Susan with many outstanding dramatic scenes and dialogue over the past three years but I’m wondering who knows your character best. Do you ever give Richard or Toby notes on their scripts with reference to Long Susan Hart?

MyAnna: Toby and Richard both get Long Susan and as they’ve gotten to know me I have definitely found Susan using language that I myself use – for example, words such as ‘delicious’ crept into Susan’s vocabulary this year which is a very me thing to say… Also I think they know all of us actors so well now – not only personally, but also what we can do as actors – and they seem to have written very much with that knowledge in mind – this season in particular I’ve noticed that… I’ve never given them notes, although we’ve had chats about where we feel Susan is emotionally – just to confirm that we are on the same page.

Damian: You’ll undoubtedly remember some negative comments regarding the portrayal of women when the first episode of Ripper Street was broadcast back in 2012 and before such hasty commentators had even given the show, or indeed, its female characters a chance to evolve. So, it’s with a certain degree of amusement to observe that Susan, in addition to exhibiting enormous strength and determination herself, has chosen to align herself with some incredibly powerful women such as Jane Cobden (Leanne Best returning in her role from series two) who was the first woman to be elected to the London County Council and helped shape the women’s suffragette movement, and also Dr. Amelia Frayn (a new character played by Sherlock’s Louise Brealey) partially inspired by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Whitechapel-born political campaigner and the first Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor. “Obsidian” was introduced at the end of the last series, can you tell us a little bit about how this has now transformed into a clinic and Susan’s relationship with Jane and Amelia?

MyAnna: Yes even as a feminist – I struggled a little with the misogynistic comments… It is absolutely important in our industry that we keep an eye out for the messages we put across in our story-telling: we do still live in a society where there is inequality and in a culture where casual sexism, racism, prejudice does not help to address this inequality… we need to insist on change.

It is to be celebrated that we can voice our concerns, and as valid and right as that sometimes is, I would argue that at other times this right allows us to make bold statements about whether or not something is or isn’t misogynistic based on a crumb of evidence: one scene, one image… a little more attention may reveal the context in which the scene is shot and may flip our initial knee jerk reactions to it.

RipperStreet is at its core, structurally, a procedural cop drama set in the streets of Whitechapel – streets still reeling from the violent aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s horrific murders of local prostitutes. At its helm is a male police officer flanked by two “helpers” – one brains and one brawn – (there were no female police officers at the time, and even though the show takes liberties with the truth – there are certain constraints by which it abides in order to make the “world” of the show believable).

This is the core structure of Ripper Street and it is the streets of Victorian Whitechapel – this dirty, poor, socially unjust back drop against which all the Ripper Street characters wrestle out their lives… it is against this back drop that the characters question and challenge, and try to fight the misogyny, the corruption, the social and moral bankruptcy – without the images of inequality all around them the show could not make a case for the importance to fight it… the characters are not necessarily any of those things themselves – Reid, Drake, and Jackson are all supporters for the most part of the women in their lives, I feel they are quite evolved in this respect, and the women they are surrounded by are to a large extent written as fully fleshed out humans like the men are as opposed to simply caricatures – if they are victims of their circumstance then I would argue that all the characters in Ripper Street – male and female are fighting those very circumstances.

The nature of a TV show means that some characters develop quicker than others in order to drive the story telling – which is perhaps why some of the female characters may have felt less developed to begin with… It takes time to get to know some people, the same goes for characters… We always knew Susan was at odds with the limitations her society placed on her sex and that she would always be drawn to people and situations who challenged them, the writers had discussed this at length and that was why I was drawn to the project in the first place three years ago… The inclusion of the characters of Cobden, and Frayn was not, I believe, a response to the critics of the first episode, but the natural evolutionary result of a story based in this particular place and this particular time with these particular characters.

So, like I said, Susan always struggled with the injustice of the world she was born into and for her, especially towards the end of the last season, she becomes clear in her conviction that to swing the pendulum of power to favour a woman she needs money and a financial hold over people. She tells the dying Duggan that she will amass his wealth, make it her own, and with it take his place as the most powerful person in Whitechapel.

Cut to season three, four years later she has done just that… however, her dream is to use this power to build a better Whitechapel for its people…She builds a clinic – Obsidian clinic – and brings in a female doctor to run it, and is in the process of building affordable housing for which she has received governmental support in the shape of Jane Cobden. Two women who, like her, are challenging the perceptions of what women can do – however, in the case of the first she is doing it, not through business, but through her education and medicine, and in the case of the last through the means of politics: political campaigning, engaging with and drumming up the support of the disenfranchised people she represents… all equally impressive means to achieve the same end…

Damian: In previous interviews with female Ripper Street cast members, I’ve discussed the Gilbert and Gubar feminist theory concerning how women during the Victorian period were portrayed in fiction as either “angel” or “monster”. To be absolutely clear on this, I have always defended the women of Whitechapel as depicted in the show as incredibly complex and multifaceted but I found Susan’s actions in series three, with particular reference to end of the second episode, The Beating of Her Wings (by Toby Finlay) to be unforgivable and, indeed, truly monstrous. Does the end always justify the means and, on a moralistic level, has Susan passed the point of no return?

MyAnna: It is an incredibly monstrous act she commits… I would argue it is no more or less monstrous because she happens to be a woman – wouldn’t you agree?

Damian: I dare not do otherwise!

MyAnna: It is written – as are so many of Rippers’ scenes – precisely so, in order that we question whether the end justifies the means – that is one of the over riding themes of Ripper – we keep coming back to it… There is a wealth of source material in the world to draw from; look around us at the acts committed everyday in the world – that we, our communities, politicians and bankers justify… what is justifiable? Ripper does beg the question, however, from whose perspective are you shown the series of events? And how does this influence our judgement of them? Susan is driven, due to the world she has suffered in and for, by a vision of a greater, safer, fairer world – an altruistic vision – which without her to ensure it’s manifestation will simply never materialise – not in the way she sees it.

She feels incredibly strongly that she needs to protect this vision. Also, she has been presented with information that makes her question the behaviour of Inspector Reid – and until she is certain his actions were innocent she will definitely NOT risk losing all she has strived so very hard for to protect him – but it’s not as if it doesn’t cost her…

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Although I fully empathise with Susan’s history, ambition and protective loyalty towards her friends such as Rose Erskine, why can’t she forgive Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) despite his copious collection of flaws and certain peculiarities of temperament?

MyAnna: Come ON?!?! The love of her life, her husband – the only man she has ever truly loved – has due to his idiocy, gambling, and inability to take clear action (that doesn’t involve running away), forced her to essentially sell her body to the filthiest, most corrupt and vile human being in all of Whitechapel. I’m sure if you had that dirty corruption hammering away over you and into your body, taking physical and financial ownership of you, stripping you of your precious independence, turning the only small place of safety you had in the world to ruin, you would feel pretty resentful of the person who you feel helped make it happen… or perhaps you are more forgiving than Susan? Or perhaps Jackson’s sweet charms would mean you wouldn’t mind taking one for the team for him?

Damian: *Clears throat*

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

MyAnna: Having said all this there is and always will be an inexplicable bond between these two characters – that unquantifiable and mysterious connection, gravitational pull some people just have between them… so the question lingers will that ultimately pull them together despite the deep hurt between them? Or have the actions of the past cut scars too deep and wide to overcome?

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: It seems to me that almost all of Jackson’s actions leading up to the shocking climax of series two were made because of his love for you. There were some truly heartbreaking scenes between the two of you as evidenced in the following excerpts of dialogue between the two characters from the last year’s grand finale, Our Betrayal (by Richard Warlow):

SUSAN: A moment comes in a woman’s life when she may no longer deal in dreams. This? This is fantasy… or is it death? – and it might well be both. No. Captain Homer Jackson. Matthew Judge. Husband. No. I will have no more of you and your dreams. The world is what it is. And I must live with that.
JACKSON: Look, whatever it takes darling, till my blood be spilt, I will find what it takes to make you smile again. Only allow it. Allow me the opportunity, this opportunity.

Without any more pain to feel, has Long Susan Hart become the heartless or might she smile again?

MyAnna: I don’t think anyone ever becomes heartless, but the protective wall Susan has built around her heart, is thick and tall… She cannot allow herself to feel too deeply, because to do so is too painful…she wrestles with this, but, ultimately, the best she can hope for is to help those in need and less fortunate than herself, to create some kind of monument to make her existence worthwhile, and to protect herself, make herself infallible to all the people who threaten her independence, her dignity, and to the man who took her heart and smashed it to smithereens…

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: For me personally, and I’ve told you this before, one of the many pleasures of the show is watching the relationship between Susan and Rose, played so wonderfully by the voice of gaiety herself, Charlene McKenna. I remember thinking that one of the tragedies of cancelling Ripper Street, and I genuinely mean this, was the thought of your two characters not sharing the screen again. Did you and Charlene keep in touch during the show’s hiatus?

MyAnna: We are all aware of your soft spot for dear Rose and Charlene – we all share it with you and join the queue! She is simply joyful. Rose is one of Susan’s few close friends and luckily for me Charlene is one of mine. We all keep in touch – it is a very close show…

Damian: Charlene painted a wonderful portrait of the relationship you both share when she told me that the two of you “snot, sing and laugh all over each other”…

MyAnna: Yup – pretty much sums it up!

Damian: MyAnna, it is always a great pleasure and a privilege to do these interviews – thank you very much indeed.

MyAnna: Thank you.


Damian Michael Barcroft



All interviews and articles on this website are copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015

Leanne Best talks RIPPER STREET

Damian Michael Barcroft previews tonight’s episode of RIPPER STREET in an exclusive interview with Leanne Best

Leanne Best plays Jane Cobden, the first woman to be elected to the London County Council as councillor for Bromley and Bow and upon whose shoulders the suffragette movement was formed. Cobden returns in tonight’s episode which its writer, Jamie Crichton, tells me will also feature the War of Currents, Irish Home Rule (championed by Parnell and Gladstone – one of the most divisive and consequential political issues of the time), Special Branch (now Counter Terrorism Command – formed in 1883 to combat The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) – a precursor to the IRA. The IRB’s bombing campaign of England in the 1860s has been described as the inception of republican terrorism…

“Episode 4 concerns two compelling conflicts: the War of Currents and the police’s struggle to win the war against Irish republican terrorism. Detective Constable Flight plays a critical role but will he pass the test…?”

Jamie Crichton, writer of Ripper Street: Dynamite and a Woman



Photo copyright: Matthias Heurich

Photo copyright: Matthias Heurich

Damian: Hi Leanne and thanks for this. I wanted to begin by saying how lovely you looked in last week’s episode but I’m afraid you might go all Women’s Lib and hit me with your handbag…

Leanne: Thanks very much! I can’t take much of the credit I’m afraid as there is a whole lot of talented people responsible for my appearance in Ripper Street… and for the record I’ve got one hell of an aim with the ole hand-bag.

Damian: If I were to take you out on a date – and I’m not promising anything! – is it still OK for a gentleman to open the door for a lady and pay for the meal or is this so last century?

Leanne: It’s tricky isn’t it gender politics in the modern age! I think I’ll go with ‘if you ask me out you pay, if I ask you out I pay, if we end up going out let’s take turns o’ piece’. And I’ll open my own door ta.

Damian: Miley Cyrus – feminist icon or twerking twit?

Leanne: Oh Miley! Well I’m not fussed on twerking twit, but feminist icon makes me want to weep!

Damian: Before we talk about Ripper Street, I really want to ask you about your critically acclaimed one-woman play, The Match Box, which was written by the celebrated Irish playwright and poet Frank McGuinness and directed by BAFTA nominated Lia Williams. Can you tell me about your character Sal, because there were aspects of the story which were quite ambiguous at times?

Leanne: Sal is a single mother who was born in England to Irish parents. When the play begins she is living alone in a house on Valencia Island after her only daughter has been murdered in crossfire during a shooting whilst walking home from school. Sal strikes matches continually throughout the play referencing hell and the smell of sulphur and as the story unfolds the audience learn that the boys who are suspected of the shooting have died in sinister circumstances, and that something more than grief may be compelling Sal to share her story. There is something terrifying and dark about what the death of her child has done to her and what she may or may not have done to avenge her.

Got a light? Leanne as Sal in The Match Box

Got a light? Leanne as Sal in The Match Box

Damian: I just want to make this clear to the readers; there were no other actors, no props (except a single box of matches) so you were alone on stage for about 1 hour and forty minutes with only accompanying lighting and music. As someone who did quite a bit of acting myself during my student days, I’m both intrigued and terrified by this – was there ever a point where you wondered if you were up to this enormous challenge?

Leanne: Only every day! When I first read it I was floored by Frank’s astonishing play and Sal, so I was pretty consumed with landing the job as I really felt that I had to play her. It was only after I’d been cast, (and had a little jump up and down!), I realised I’d have to do it at some point in front of an actual audience… and cue panic attack! Seriously though, it was the challenge of it that was one of the reasons I wanted to do it and I learnt so much from it as an actor. I miss it and Sal a lot.

Damian: Describe the minutes leading up to the very first performance – just how nervous were you?

Leanne: Lia Williams is the most amazing director and we had a pretty intense bond working together so she gave me the most inspiring pep talk before I went on stage, but that final hour before the first preview was one of the loneliest of my life! I think I went into some sort of trance because I genuinely don’t remember the walk from the dressing room to the stage! Once the lights snapped up it was like someone clicked their fingers and I was off. It was one of the most special nights of my life.

Damian: You’ve said in a previous interview about the play that your body was registering grief during every night of the performance, what exactly did you mean by this?

Leanne: It was a pretty all consuming process, and the story was so devastating that it was one of only a few jobs where I carried the play around with me all the time. The final moment on stage embodied of all of the pain and anger and despair this woman felt at the murder of her daughter and it culminated in a sort of primal scream and a total physical collapse. After the show every night I would have to take a bit of time to steady myself as I felt sick and dizzy, and just a bit out of it. I think going it alone every night made it unlike anything I’d ever had to do before.

Damian: What’s this I hear about you performing on stage for Ben Elton in your pants?

Leanne: Aha! Where did you find that! It was my first job out of drama school in a production of Ben Elton’s play Popcorn. I played a news anchor covering a hostage situation and came out about 10 minutes before the end in my knickers and bra. Just to clarify it was a stage direction not a character choice and there was a good reason!

Damian: In addition to receiving rave reviews for your tour de force performance, you were the only female nominated for best performance in a play category at the Theatre Awards UK for your role as Sal in The Match Box, did this lead directly to your part in Ripper Street?

Leanne: The award nomination didn’t but the play definitely did. We had opened at the Liverpool  Playhouse sold out and extended for a month, then we transferred to the Tricycle Theatre in London the following summer.  The brilliant Kate Rhodes James who casts Ripper Street was at our press night in London and brought me in a few days later to meet for the part of Jane Cobden. I love that this job which I loved, came from The Match Box.

Leanne at the Theatre Awards the bloody show-off!

Damian: Let’s talk about Jane Cobden. I understand that she was quite a complex character who is perhaps best remembered for her pioneering political work in women’s rights and highlighting late Victorian concepts of gender. However, there was a lot more to her than that wasn’t there? – for example, she was never a single-issue politician and displayed an equal passion for causes such as Irish independence, anti-imperialism, free trade and Congo reform to name but a few. Given the much discussed shortage of strong female characters in television, it must be a huge thrill to play such an iconic figure in Victorian history?

Leanne:  It really was! My Auntie Nelly was a Suffragette, and it’s become a bit of a running joke in my family which is full of very strong, independant, eccentric women, ( I have a picture of my mum with Germaine Greer on my wall!). The lovely thing about researching Jane is exactly as you said, she was really complicated. As well as being a socialist and a feminist, she was also a bit of a card, whose social circle was full of artists and bohemians and people who were really frowned upon by ‘decent’ society. Lots of what I read painted a picture of someone devoted to her causes, and really bloody good fun! I’d like to sit down with our Jane over a few lemonades and chew the fat.

The real Jane Cobden – not bad but not as fit as our Leanne!

Damian: I’ve mentioned Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s work, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), before in my writing on Ripper Street but I think it’s worth highlighting here again with reference to your character. Their text examines Victorian literature from a feminist perspective and highlights the male writer’s propensity to portray female characters as either “angel” or “monster”. It argues that women were written as either pure and angelic or rebellious and a threat to the more “reasoned and intellectual” man. Given the diverse range of female characters in Ripper Street, what would Gilbert and Gubar make of Long Susan, Rose and Jane Cobden?

Leanne: Well for the record I’m not sure that’s just a Victorian issue, or even one confined to drama! I think Ripper Street is really clever in it’s approach to female characters. At a glance they do conform to a stereotype, the prostitute and the madam for example, but the writing immediately subverts that. Yes they are  women who are defined by their circumstances and often the men around them, but they are striving constantly to break away from those constraints as best they can with what they have, in what is very definitely a man’s world, whilst the actresses who play them, (MyAnna and Charlene), do it with a grace, strength and complexity that makes them anything but cliches. I also think context is really important. The show is set during a period in history where there was little or no help for those born into poverty, and social mobility was almost non existent. Most likely if you were born poor you died poor and violence towards women especially those who were most vulnerable whether they worked in a brothel or the workhouse was commonplace. People like Jane Cobden devoted their lives to social reform to try to change that and I’m glad it’s touched upon as it can’t all be bonnets and high tea on the lawn. I also think it’s great that we see Jane Cobden not only as a politician, but as a woman who isn’t afraid to be forthright in her personal life at a time when the ideal woman was supposed to resemble a shrinking violet.

Damian: What can you tell us about tonight’s episode?

Leanne: I won’t give too much away but Reid and the boys are working on a case that involves the Irish independence movement and the ideologies that pitted the ballot box against the bomb. Flight goes undercover trying to infiltrate the organisation in London, and Reid finds himself in need of information that takes him back to the offices of a certain Jane Cobden.

Damian: Did you know that one of Jane Cobden’s sisters, Ellen Millicent Ashburner, was married to the artist Walter Sickert who is now a popular Jack the Ripper suspect?

Leanne:  I did not know that, and it makes me feel a bit icky.

Damian: Could make for an interesting spin-off – shall I have a word with Richard?

Leanne: Do it. Do it now. Do it quickly.

Jack the Ripper suspect Walter Sickert

Jack the Ripper suspect Walter Sickert

Damian: Now there was more than a little chemistry going on between Jane and Inspector Reid in last week’s episode. The good inspector has been particularly morose of late, could you be the one to finally lift his spirits?

Leanne: Listen, our Jane is all about public service and if the good Inspector is in need of a lift, I’m sure she’s the woman for the job.

Damian: What can we look forward to seeing you in next?

Leanne: I’ĺl be appearing in ‘Lucan’ as Sandra Rivett at the end of the year, and I pop up in the third installment of David Hare’s ‘Worricker Trilogy’ with Billl Nighy and Helena Bonham Carter. I’m currently filming The Woman in Black: Angel of Death in London playing the Woman herself. Back in a corset again except this time I’m dead!

Damien in a scene from tonight's episode, Dynamite and a Woman

Damien with Charlie Murphy in a scene from tonight’s episode, Dynamite and a Woman

Damian: Final question and possibly the most important. Whitechapel just ain’t big enough for two chaps with the same first name – so, it’s either Damien Molony or me! Let’s dish some dirt and be rid of him – tell me something bad about him – does he kick puppies or steal sweets from little children perhaps?

Leanne: All of the above. What else begins with D??? Diva that’s what… (actually the rumours are true… he’s a lovely bloke and a brilliant actor but don’t tell him i said so).

Damian: Leanne, thank you so much indeed for this interview – you’re the best!

Leanne: B’Boom! (love what you did there D…thanks) xx

I would also like to express my thanks to Jamie Crichton

 ~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~



RIPPER STREET II: Character Profiles

 Introducing Leanne Best as Jane Cobden ~

Jane Cobden was the first woman to be elected to the London County Council as councilor for Bromley and Bow. One of the giants on whose shoulders the Suffragette Movement was to stand, she is a bohemian and a committed defender of the downtrodden and abused.

The above extract was taken from the official Ripper Street II press pack which I have edited slightly to avoid spoilers. My thanks to Tiger Aspect Productions for providing me with publicity and promotional materials.

– Damian Michael Barcroft

All images and content are the copyright of BBC/Tiger Aspect Productions