W1A. Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville). Copyright: BBC


  • TV sitcom
  • BBC Two
  • 2014 - 2020
  • 14 episodes (3 series)

Spin-off from Twenty Twelve in which Ian Fletcher and Siobhan Sharpe now find themselves working for the BBC. Stars Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes, Jason Watkins, Monica Dolan, Hugh Skinner and more.

Sarah Parish interview

W1A. Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish). Copyright: BBC

We met with Sarah Parish on location in New Broadcasting House to talk about the serious-faced Anna Rampton.

What can you tell us about your character and this series of W1A?

My character, Anna Rampton, is taking up her new role as Director of Better and still has designs on Ian Fletcher, very much so now. She is still bluffing her way through meetings and panic-attacking her way through situations, getting out of doing anything of any particular value.

Is Anna actually doing any work yet?

Not really, no. She has broken through almost every glass ceiling she can at the BBC, all without doing anything. This season is quite tricky. She's put in a position a couple of times where she has to make some tough choices that she can't make. So she gets somebody else to do it. It's really interesting. Her character has got a nice development in this series, and a really nice relationship with Ian.

Has it been fun getting back into the role, with the nightmare of learning these really complicated lines?

Ha ha, yeah, I always look forward to doing it and then forget how difficult it is when we come to learning it. The read-throughs are always great fun and it's always really nice to see each other again, but it's the hardest thing I've ever learned in my life. And really all I ever say is 'yes', 'no', or 'the fact is'! But I say them in all sorts of different ways, and they just come in and interject in different scenes at different times and sometimes we'll have 20-page scenes and I'll have one 'yes' on the last page that I'll fuck up and then you have to do the whole thing again.

I do find it really difficult playing her through literally the five words that she says over and over again. It's quite difficult.

Does it take a while to get into character or do you get straight back into Anna again as soon as you're back on set for a new series?

It's funny, I felt more Anna on this series than the other two. I think it just took a long time for me to find her because she doesn't say much; it's quite difficult because you base a character around what you say and what people say to you. It was quite a challenge finding her, and making her real to an extent where she is almost believable or where people recognise her.

And her demeanour as well? She's quite austere isn't she, scary?

Yeah. She is quite scary but that's her modus operandi if you like. I mean underneath I think she's very very nervous. And very phobic and everything is a nightmare for her. Do you know what I mean? Her way of getting through life is just to be incredibly - either silent, or very hard and very very definite about what she says.

Is that quite taxing? Does it drain you to play her like that?

No it doesn't actually. I mean she's more involved in this series than she has been in the other series, which is nice. I'm in a lot more the group scenes whereas before she was much more removed, which sometimes for an actress is quite difficult because they would be having the office scene and she would always sat slightly away from it, not saying anything. She's a bit more involved this time, it's a bit more fun.

She's got a bike this series?

Yes! She's got a Brompton. But only because Ian's got one. She's making a real, you know, she's putting in a pitch for a relationship in the only way that Anna can - which is completely ... wrong, in every way. Part of which is getting a Brompton bike and cycling into work.

So have you had to do scenes folding the bike?

I have to do scenes folding the bike, yeah, which I can't do, and then I just get somebody else to do it for me.

Trollied. Image shows from L to R: Gavin (Jason Watkins), Cheryl (Sarah Parish). Copyright: Roughcut Television

There's a similar management dynamic between you and Jason Watkins in W1A and Trollied. Are you making another series of that? And how do Cheryl and Gavin's intelligence compare to Anna and Simon's?

Yes we are! And I don't know... I would say that Cheryl Fairweather is far more intelligent than Anna Rampton, but Anna Rampton comes with a posh voice, do you know what I mean? The public school background, so you pretty assume she's incredibly intelligent. In actual fact I think there's just a lot of cotton wool inside Anna's head, a lot of white noise. Whereas Cheryl Fairweather, coming from a very working class background it seems, is very 'on it'. It's quite a contrast.

But it's very funny working one half of the year with Jason playing these characters and then - because this is so, so fine - the comedy is so fine and so miniscule and subtle and tiny; and Trollied is the opposite end of the scale where it's really huge and broad, out there and in your face. But it's great. We enjoy working together.

I suppose we're quite a power couple really! We could've got together in W1A. In fact I think we might have. We probably had a one-night stand. Simon putting his marker down, his territory...

It's testament to your work that you could actually really dislike Anna but you can't help but feel kind of sorry for her.

I hope so. Especially in this series I really hope that the audience will like her because she isn't a bad person she's just a frightened person. It's made me, as an actor - because I go to a lot of meetings with directors and producers - I've met Anna and I've been absolutely terrified of her. "GOD, that person is hugely intelligent and she's just being quiet because she's trying to catch me out." But actually they just haven't got anything to say, or haven't got anything going on. So it's sort of taken away a lot of the mystery of how the business works for me. It's very funny playing these characters because you see them in real life all the time. You get a background vision of actually what they are and who they are and how they work because it changes your whole perspective of how you view the business.

Are there any storylines for Anna that took you aback? As a viewer, I didn't see her 'romance' coming till it was right in our faces...

Hahaha! I know! One good thing is that there isn't really a romance, it's all in her head. You know in typical Anna fashion, she is just a forty-eight year-old woman with a 14 year-old girl's innards! She just sort of thinks that there's something there, but Ian's absolutely terrified of her.

In this series, yeah, the end of this series is quite interesting!

What's going on with the love triangle with Anna, Ian and Lucy?

In Anna's head she just presumes that Ian will end up marrying her, you know why wouldn't he - she is very successful and has got lots of money! However she can see there is a slight threat there with Lucy, therefore Anna's inability to play it cool gets more and more prevalent as the series goes on.

Is she making progress...?

Oh yes. Well - romantically? I'm not going to say. But there's progress made by all the characters, but in different areas.

W1A. Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish). Copyright: BBC

Do you think the writing of her is cruel?

Well I don't think she's cruel, she's just blunt. No - I think John writes her in such a way that it could be played that she's just a bitch. But she's not, she's just a) quite stupid and b) very blunt - she has no sense of humour at all. So sometimes what she says could come across as very rude. But it's just thoughts coming out of her mouth without any inbetween at all! I don't think she's rude, just blunt.

We saw Ian originally in Twenty Twelve and now in W1A; do you think we could see Anna in a show of her own? Has she got a life beyond the BBC?

Yeeeeeees I think so! But of course I'm going to say that! Yes, a 24-part series for Netflix... You could take these characters anywhere, that's the great thing about these sorts of people because they move from job to job to job. Somebody's like Anna has literally broken through every glass ceiling at the BBC. So she's probably going to move on somewhere else. Amazon, Netflix, they're all going everywhere. She's going to end up somewhere else bigger and better. The less she talks the more people are going to want her because the more they think she's got something in there that they need. But there's nothing in there!

John Morton is known for his meticulous dialogue, how did you find that?

Filming has been very difficult this series as it is every series. But it is such a joy to have such a brilliant writer. We have got the rhythm of those characters now which has become so natural to all of us. It's an incredible job to do, I will cry when filming ends!

Is there anyone you particularly enjoy playing opposite or watching them work?

I love them all - most of my scenes are with Hugh Bonneville and I love his character, and I just think he is so indefinably loveable. I can't keep a straight face, can't even look at Rufus's face without laughing! And when I watch Jessica I am so in awe of her comic timing, and to make everything sound brilliantly funny.

Are there a lot more scenes with Anna and Siobhan this series?

There are, there are. I mean - it's not just the two of us but in a lot of meeting scenes this time because they work really really well. Though they are hellish to do. But they work well so there's a lot of meetings and I think Anna quite likes Siobhan, thinks she's quite clever.

They're kind of kindred spirits as neither of them want to do any work.

Yeah! And also and I think a lot of Siobhan's ideas are really cool. She talks sort of in the same language as Anna would talk in if Anna talked. Which is that kind of hashtag-Twitter-twatty kind of, you know, that kind of thing. That's what Anna would think is cool and what is now.

W1A. Image shows from L to R: Simon Harwood (Jason Watkins), Izzy Gould (Ophelia Lovibond), Tracey Pritchard (Monica Dolan), Will Humphries (Hugh Skinner), Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish), Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), Neil Reid (David Westhead), Lucy Freeman (Nina Sosanya), David Wilkes (Rufus Jones), Jack Patterson (Jonathan Bailey). Copyright: BBC

What's hellish about those meeting scenes?

They're hellish because they're very very long and they're always in a hot, sweaty office, about ten of us sat around the table, and you sit down 8 in the morning and you sit there until 7 o'clock at night and you do same scene over and over and over again. So everybody gets every close-up and it's shot from every single angle.

And it's really, really hard, because - especially for someone like Hugh and Jess's characters because they always have a lot of lines. And then it's hard for the people that don't, because you're waiting for your bits and sometimes just lose focus and then go "OH, yes!", "OH - no!" ... They're just hard work. But they are the scenes I think are brilliant when I watch them because they're so quick and the way they're edited is so good. And John's writing is so brilliant and recognisable, especially if you're in our industry. You see it every day.

Do you get frustrated in those difficult scenes, if one person just then mucks it up after everyone else has performed perfectly?

We're all really, really nice. We do a thing where we all hold hands at the beginning of a scene like that, we call it 'the circle of trust'. And if a guest comes in and has to do a meeting scene - and they will f-ck up, and they go "oh I'm really sorry"; everyone's like, you never apologise, never apologise because it doesn't matter. Just do it again. And we're on video so it's not like we have to stop and start again. You could stop on that line and start that line again. You know, that happens a lot. You get half way through a scene and someone messes up, you just go back two lines and resume.

When we do actually, eventually, sometimes, get the whole scene as a whole and it works, it is a piece of magic. You suddenly go 'wow' - it's like an orchestrated piece of music.

What's the most W1A thing that has happened on set?

Being "horizontally evacuated", where you just walk to a different area on the same floor when a fire alarm goes off!

Does John standing there - as director as well as writer - add an extra layer of pressure for you guys?

It's funny, because - you know, yeah, he's written it - but if you make John life, it literally makes your year because he's quite a still, focused person. If you can make him laugh it's fantastic. If you hear him say "okay" you kind of go "bollocks!" because it wasn't quite as good. "Okay! Let's carry on. Let's go on, let's move on."

But no, it's great having him around. I can't imagine anyone else directing his work.

W1A. Image shows from L to R: Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), Tracey Pritchard (Monica Dolan), Anna Rampton (Sarah Parish), Dave Green (Andrew Brooke). Copyright: BBC

Is it kind of 'meta' filming here?

It is quite strange. It's quite stressful filming here [whispers] I don't think they really like us!

I think they really liked us in Series 1 because it was all new and exciting; in Series 2 they didn't mind us; and now they are just so over us. They just want us to f--- off! I think it's a pain for a lot of them. A lot of people I talk to in the building, I don't think they find it remotely funny, the series, because it is what they do every day. We're playing them.

Do you have a favourite episode of this series?

Yeah. I do, I think the last episode is brilliant. Yeah. Five and six are really, really good.

You obviously enjoy a few guest stars in the show. Any this series you were excited to meet?

Claudia Winkleman! Obviously. We all put our bid in to go on Strictly Come Dancing.

But yeah, she was ace. And she had a lot to do. She was in for the whole day and she was brilliant. You know, people come in and you're never quite sure what you're going to get. Jeremy Paxman came in and was quite Jeremy Paxman. I didn't have anything to do with him but I think he was quite intimidating. Gary Lineker is coming in to do something. Who else? I'm not sure - but Claudia, yeah. Hugh said it was a bit of a nightmare because as soon as she walked in all the girls kind of went "aaaahhh!". But she was great.

Did you get to work with her yourself?

Yeah, I did have a few scenes. It's a very, very funny storyline with her - which I'm not going to tell you about!

Is it nice doing something like this compared to a more serious drama?

Well the last TV I did before this was Broadchurch, which you know is quite heavy! I like to mix it up really. But this is the kind of comedy that I love doing. I love doing that kind of mockumentary, quite straight stuff.

Why is W1A so popular?

I think it resonates with anyone that works in a corporation, anyone who has had to sit in on meetings that go on and on and never really conclude recognise it. I think the characters are very well-defined and well-written and people recognise them, people always come up to me in the street and say "I've met your character; you're the really intimidating one that never says anything!"

Published: Monday 18th September 2017

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