Interview; Pie and Heels; There's Nothing Luvvie about Emma Cooke. the Sex, Chips and Rock `N' Roll Actress May Be about to Star with Man of the Moment James Nesbitt, but She's Happy Mucking in at Her Dad's Caff
Byline: Richard Barber
So your dad runs a caff, or should I say pie 'n' mash shop to be precise? Yes, Cooke's cafe in Hackney, East London, has been owned by the Cookes for more than a hundred years. It's very famous. My dad, Bob, runs it now with his brother. My sister, Jane, my little brother, Robert, and me are sixth generation. I help out now and then.
Do you like pie and eels? I love pie and mash. It's so filling. My dad makes the best pies. I would say that, but it's true. I can't get on with jellied eels, though. I'll eat stewed ones, but I just don't have the stomach for them in jelly.
Where did the acting come from then? I don't know. There's never been anyone theatrical in the family. But I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be an actress. I'd watch Gone With The Wind over and over every Sunday morning. I longed to be Vivien Leigh. And I loved Doris Day musicals. Mum and Dad didn't mind that I wanted to do something else. They've always wanted us to do what makes us happiest.
It's one thing to daydream...
Yes, but I won a place at the Brit School in Croydon when I was 16. It's a college for the performing arts funded by people like Mick Jagger. Two years later, I got a place at drama school. And I was never homesick, not once. I'm very close to my family. But this was something I'd always wanted to do. And it was so much fun.
Was it tough finding work?
No, almost immediately, I got a role in Grafters with Robson Green and Stephen Tompkinson. Then, the week I turned 21, I got one of the two leading roles in Sex, Chips And Rock 'n' Roll. My immediate reaction was: "God, they're going to find out I can't do it." But, once I'd got over my nerves, it was fine.
It must have made you a bit of a local heroine. It was funny. Dad put up a poster of the show in the cafe. People would sometimes say how like the girl I looked. I'd just say: "Strange, isn't it?" And these men would come in and tell Dad they used to play in that very band, ooh, 20 years ago. But he'd never let on. He'd just let them spin their little fantasies.
It takes very little prompting to get the customers talking about what's going on in their lives. My mum, Anne, is the best with them. They'll tell her anything. But then she's been working there since she was 13. It's how she met Dad.
The show put you on the map.
It did. But I was very picky after that about the roles I'd accept. For instance, I was offered the opportunity of maybe going into Coronation Street. I think the producers had been convinced by my Mancunian accent. I don't want this to sound arrogant, but I felt I was young enough to continue to experiment a bit before I went into a soap. Nice to be asked, though.
So what drew you to your next role [as Noreen in the new thriller Murphy's Law starring Cold Feet's James Nesbitt]? It's great playing a baddie. James plays Murphy, an undercover cop who infiltrates a drugs gang. His child has been killed so he's a bit of a bit of a desperado, with nothing to lose. I play a gangster's moll. She loves her husband, but he doesn't excite her any more. She wants to sleep with the gang's main man. He's got the power. And when we meet her, drink is Noreen's friend. A few tipples inside her and she's on the dangerous edge.
She's not a subtle girl, then. Oh, you should see her clothes sense. Everything matches. If it's a purple top, it's purple shoes and purple lipstick, too. I love fashion. I kept wanting to say that I'd prefer pink lipstick. But it wasn't about me, it was about Noreen. And I can sing in tune. She couldn't. So I had to force myself to be off-key when I was doing karaoke. The director said I was great. …