Bridgerton actress Polly Walker, 54, opens up on shaping up for period corsets, Beehive hair and returning after years in the US.
Are you surprised Bridgerton has been such a huge hit?
I didn’t anticipate it would be Netflix’s most successful show ever. I love playing Lady Portia Featherington but I try not to have any expectations about anything I do.
We start filming the second series in April and I’ve started on fittings and rehearsals.
Most people have piled on the pounds over lockdown but you’ve got your corsets to fit into…
I can’t let myself go too much – I’ve had to rein it in. During the first lockdown I drank too much rosé, ate too much sourdough bread and didn’t get out of my tracksuit.
This lockdown I’ve gone all puritanical. I’ve got to re-enter society and go back to work, so I’ve had to pull myself together.
I did the whole dry January and just continued. I’ve not gone anywhere near sourdough bread and I’ve started wearing jeans again, so things are looking up.
We hear you’re a dominatrix in your latest role.
I play Peggy Sykes in Pennyworth, which is about Batman’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth, and his life before Gotham. The second series is about to air. It’s set in the 1960s so it features all the fashion, the make-up and the hair.
I’ve got a huge beehive. She’s very colourful – she runs a sex shop in Soho, as one does…
What’s the most mortifying thing you’ve done on screen?
I try not to be embarrassed when I’m playing a part. I try not to judge anything I’m doing, no matter how questionable. Taking your clothes off is never fun.
The last time I did it was in the BBC2 series Rome. Bridgerton is about young love – I don’t think they’d want to see the mother naked.
You often play tough cookies – why’s that?
I’m not interested in playing wallflowers – they’re boring. I think I’m able to play strong, controversial women quite easily and I definitely enjoy playing an alpha female. I hope I’m strong myself.
Do you ever get star-struck working in films alongside big names such as Harrison Ford and Sharon Stone?
I was in Patriot Games with Harrison Ford. I sat close to him in the green room and I was struck dumb. I don’t think I said a word to him. He was very cool and down-to-earth but I was unable to communicate, unfortunately.
But I try not to be star-struck because it inhibits you as an actor. And as you get older, you’re less impressed by someone’s stature or reputation.
What’s been your favourite role?
Generally, I’d say the last part I played. I certainly enjoyed Portia Featherington. I enjoyed Atia in Rome and I liked being in Enchanted April, which I did right at the start of my time in the US. I’d never been there so it was quite a big deal for me.
It opened my eyes to the business and some of the fun parts of it – the parties and all that.
And your least?
I don’t think I’m a natural in sci-fi, though I did Caprica. It’s important for me to believe what I’m doing and I just sometimes found it hard to believe.
You lived in the US for nine years…
I came back five years ago. My son had just gone to university and my daughter was about to start GCSEs so it was about the kids being able to slot into the British education system.
Also, I really missed England and my family. It was fun and we had an amazing time but it was time to come home.
How’s lockdown been?
Each lockdown has had its trials and tribulations. The first one was a novelty. I’d been working hard and it was lovely weather so, like most people, I spent that lockdown in the garden. I got into planting seeds and growing vegetables.
I really enjoyed that. I did the whole sourdough thing but you can only do that for so long so that waned. This lockdown has been more challenging because we know what we’re in for.
What do you do to unwind?
I like pottering and being with my family, cooking and having people round. I do a lot of walking and I was doing Pilates but that’s gone during lockdown. I’ve done Yoga With Adriene online, and recommend it.
If you’d had a different career, what might it have been?
I started as a dancer. I thought I was going to go down that path. I went to dance school and then to the Ballet Rambert at 16 but things changed.
My tendons in my feet were just not up to doing that level of intensity. I was constantly injured so I thought I’d try acting instead.
What’s on your bucket list?
I’d like to go to India, live by the seaside and have a small farm, which is totally unrealistic, but eventually I want to do that. I’d love to live a simpler life.
Pennyworth will premiere on Starzplay on Sunday.