The Cockfields: Sue Johnston interview

The Royle Family alone would make Sue a telly icon but she's done so much more, from Brookside and Coronation Street to Downton Abbey and Waking the Dead. And now she's added The Cockfields to her impressive TV CV. We found out why.

The Cockfields: Sue Johnston interview

What drew you to The Cockfields?

The whole situation is just funny. I read the script and thought, "This is fantastic". I've worked with David and Joe before on Rovers and I thought their writing then was tremendous. I was sad that wasn't picked up again, I loved it. So it was a joy to hear from them, I was so flattered they wanted to work with me again so that was doubly nice.

How would you describe your character Sue?

She's slightly batty, although she'd be very offended if I said that to her! She's very well meaning, but kind of stuck in the mud. She's very anxious to please her son, and particularly his new girlfriend.

She loves her husband but I would say she's slightly scared of him because of his moods and how he reacts to people. She never wants to upset him because of that. He's an awkward bugger! They live in a funny little world but they're very happy.

She's nervy, that's what I would say. She's overly willing to please. You just want to say, "Oh go away and calm down". She's kind but she gets carried away.

What was it like working with Bobby and the rest of the cast?

Oh Bobby is wonderful. He kept worrying about being mean and I'd say, "It's just acting!" The character is quite surly but he is good-hearted underneath, and Bobby is wonderfully kind. It was a lovely cast. I love Diane, who I've worked with before. In fact, most of them I've worked with before, so that's always lovely to pick up where you've left off.

And in fact one of my oldest friends, Maggie Steed, played my oldest friend, so that was a joy for us because we don't see enough of each other these days. That was a bonus.

It's a great ensemble and we all got on. And there was a dog called Queenie, a border terrier, and she was lovely. We all fell in love. Just gorgeous. It's very calming to have a dog on set, I find.

How would you describe the tone of the show?

It's quirky, and I like that. It's full of surprises. Joe and Dave go off at a tangent and introduce strange characters into it from time to time.

They were great fans of The Royle Family and I can see that running through it with all the relationships. Sue's not dissimilar to Barbara but she's much more anxious and needy. Barbara was quite laid back. But all power to their elbow because it's great writing and they're very funny.

What's your own experience of introducing partners to your family - or meeting your son's girlfriends?

I do remember all those awkward moments. We all have to do it. That's part of life, meeting the potential in-laws and it can be very uncomfortable, or it can be joyful. I think I've experienced both.

I've never had a problem with my son bringing girls home, they've always been lovely and I've always welcomed them very easily. I don't think I'm quite as eager to please or go over the top as Sue is. Poor Donna! I felt so sorry for her. She must have wanted the ground to swallow her up.

How long can you spend with your own family before you go a bit potty?

Funnily enough it was my son's 40th birthday the week before we started filming. So I had a party with my son that weekend, then I went straight to my pretend birthday party, so that was funny.

But our real party went much better. I didn't impose any strange old ex-husbands on him. There were no arguments. It was just a nice time with friends. My parents aren't alive any more but whenever I went home I would love it, but I'd revert to being a teenager and my mother would treat me as such so the tensions would rev up. You have to spend a bit of time readjusting to the space.

I had to move back home once because a house that I was buying wasn't quite ready. I was nearly 40 but my mum would wait up for me every time I went out! It was ridiculous. We'd wind each other up the wrong way and stomp about, and my poor father had to sit and put up with it.

And now it's the other way around. I can see my kids eye-rolling with the things I say these days and I realise I'm turning into my mother! But we have a very nice relationship and we are close. I love my family.