Kierston Wareing stars as Gina in Inside Men (Picture: BBC)
Kierston Wareing is tiny. She’s settled deep into a chair in a Soho bar and all I see at first is big black hair and a forest of false eyelashes. Is this the actress who tore up the screen next to Tom Hardy in The Take and took aim as police officer Lia Honey in The Shadow Line?
The voice gives it away – the earthy, richness of her Essex tones belying her elfin frame. ‘I haven’t seen it yet – is it any good?’ she fires back, genuinely interested to know, when I tell her I’ve just watched the first episode of Inside Men, a new BBC crime thriller in which she stars alongside Steven Mackintosh, Ashley Walters and Warren Brown. ‘You never know when you’re doing stuff, do you?’
It is good, with Wareing’s part a slow burner, in the background of a first episode which follows a trio of unlikely criminal masterminds – they’re ordinary blokes – as they plan an inside job at the financial clearing house where they work. ‘She’s very much in love with her husband,’ says Wareing of her character Gina. ‘But he’s not the brightest spark. He’s got mixed up in this robbery and she finds out about it so she gets involved because she’s smart.’
It’s a story that’s on trend in these troubled economic times, forcing us to ask whether we’d be able to resist the temptation to cross the moral line if it was staring us straight in the face. ‘They want a better life,’ says Wareing. ‘They’ve all got money troubles and my character sees the life that she could have. She sees a chance.’
Low-life and crime is a familiar milieu. ‘Yeah, I’m usually shooting men,’ she says. She has been on a roll these past four years, appearing in a series of top TV dramas, including Five Daughters, The Runaway and Top Boy, following on from acclaimed turns in the indie films It’s A Free World… and Fish Tank. It’s A Free World…, directed by Ken Loach in 2007, came just in the nick of time. At 28, she was at the point of throwing in the acting towel.
‘I was broke and I was struggling and Ken gave me a big break,’ she recalls. ‘I’ll always be grateful. I’d opened a tanning salon in Southend and did vajazzling as well, only it wasn’t called that then, but it was jewels and stuff. I was ahead of the game in the vajazzling stakes.’ So is Essex girl Wareing a fan of Towie then? ‘No, it’s not for me,’ she says, giving you the sense that she’s lived it, so doesn’t need to see it. ‘But I’ve played celebrity football with some of them.’ You can bet she does a mean sliding tackle.
Wareing had set her heart on acting from the age of seven and attended drama school in Leigh-on-Sea. ‘I was well spoken at the time and I used to get bullied,’ she says. The experience sent her off the rails and she ended up at a school for uncontrollable kids but she’s nothing if not a survivor.
‘I went off to New York with a model who was ten years older than me,’ she says. ‘When he came back to the UK I stayed and studied the Lee Strasberg Method for three years.’ Method acting is the controversial process of an actor ‘becoming’ the role they’re playing. Is that what she uses to work now?
‘Not really. But on The Take I did have a shot of vodka at seven in the morning, and it would give me a kick because it was what my character would have done. That was a bit method,’ she says.
The talk of method makes me think she’d be a natural for EastEnders: she’s a character already. ‘I did have one line in it. I played a mate of Kat’s and said: “Come on you old slapper, we’re missin’ out on drinkin’ time.” I got down to the last two to play Phil Mitchell’s wife. My agent was relieved I didn’t get it. If I had I wouldn’t have done all the stuff I’ve done.’
As she shifts the subject to her agent, Wareing reveals a steely streak of ambition. Many of the co-stars she’s tangled with on-screen, notably Tom Hardy and Fish Tank co-star Michael Fassbender, have hit the fast track to fame. And she’s not afraid to admit she wants some of that.
‘I’ve changed agent,’ she says. ‘I loved the one I had but I needed to move on to something bigger. I was looking at who I’d acted with and I thought “they’ve done alright” and I held my own with them. So why not me?’ Why not indeed – look out Hollywood, Kierston Wareing has you in her sights.
Inside Men begins on BBC1 on February 2.
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