The Rebel Series 2 interview: Frances Barber

Series 2 introduces actress Frances Barber as Charles's ex-wife Angela, owner of a Brighton café with a difference.

Frances Barber interview

Can you describe your character for us?

Angela is an old hippy. She was married to Charles, but because he is so hopeless, she just had enough of him. She is still incredibly fond of him, though. She helps him pluck up the courage to ask out Margaret. Angela becomes a catalyst. She tells Charles "If you don't get a move on, you're going to be on your own for the rest of your life." So he plucks up the courage to ask Margaret out. Whether that comes to anything, we shall have to wait and see.

What does Angela do for a living?

She runs a café in Brighton where she sells hash cakes, and her customers get high all the time. She's carted off to prison at one point and has to ask Charles and Henry to find her supplies of hash and hide them from the police. So they go off on this ridiculous escapade.

What else do they get up to?

In another episode, they end up in a Northern Soul club dancing to the music. In the scene, loads of guys my age are dancing their heads off. I don't know where the producers found them!

Does Angela fit in in Brighton?

Definitely. There's a huge population of people that age in Brighton who grew up in the hippy era and are still around. They wear very striking clothes and hats and are interested in politics and music. They're not living in the past. They've embraced the future.

In real life, you're great friends with Simon and Bill. Did that help with your performance?

Yes, I feel so lucky because I have known Simon and Bill all my adult life. I started at the Bush Theatre with Simon and Alan Rickman, and Bill was around at the same time. We grew up together. I've known them forever. I spent many a Hogmanay and Burns Night with Bill, and Simon is a very close friend. It was a joy to be able to work with both of them. It felt very easy to slot into playing an old friend of Simon's and Bill's. It was very simple. I didn't have to act the history between the characters because there is already such a history between us three actors.

Why do viewers love Henry?

Simon himself is such a lovable character, and Henry is not unlike Simon. He is naughty, twinkly, wicked and funny. The whole series is saying that you don't have to give up once you reach a certain age. There is still a lot of fun to be had. I live in a world where men of that age still behave like that - not necessarily with the hash cakes! But they have so much enthusiasm and a sense of adventure. There is still so much to be explored. People respond to that vitality and that sense that life isn't over. Viewers connect with Henry because he is raging against the dying of the light.

Is The Rebel something of a corrective to TV's fixation with youth?

Yes, I'm afraid there has been an obsession with youth on TV. But we're missing out if we only have those programmes. If you think of some of the greatest sitcom hits, they have included Keeping Up Appearances, One Foot in the Grave and Only Fools and Horses, which all featured older characters. And one of the biggest hits of all time was The Golden Girls. Remember how many years that ran for and how successful it was. We mustn't forget that the majority of people watching TV are older.

Did any scenes in The Rebel stand out for you?

Bill and I had a bedroom scene. So we took a photo of it and sent it to all our friends, saying "After all these years, we thought you ought to know something!"