An interview with Honeysuckle Weeks
PUBLISHED: 16:02 26 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:58 20 February 2013
Sussex-born Honeysuckle Weeks made her name playing Sam Stewart, the prim ingÃ©nue in ITV's Foyle's War. But in reality, she's a free spirit who is about to bare all for a daring new film role...
Pictures by Kate Eastman
Honeysuckle Weeks is fast asleep when I ring to interview her. It transpires that shes staying at her mothers house near Petworth and the lure of Egyptian cotton sheets and her own childhood bed prove too great a pull. And then theres the small matter of her gruelling stage tour. This was supposed to be Honeysuckles one day off.
Then again, I gather, from reading previous interviews, that shes prone to this sort of thing. And lets not forget her fabled eccentricity, which she appears to cultivate in every interview. She once said that even her agent didnt take her seriously.
When I do finally catch up with her, I ask whether she is actually a bit bonkers or whether, as one interviewer acidly put it, the air of happy-go-lucky insouciance is a veneer designed to protect.
She pauses for a moment, though Honeysuckle is never lost for words for long. Insouciance... what a horrible word! she exclaims, before adding with a giggle: Im not even sure what it means!
So is she a bit scatterbrained? Ive no idea Ive never seen a shrink. I suppose I am off the wall, but the main problem is that people dont understand what I mean. Im too cryptic.
I cant help wondering whether shes similarly disorganised at work, but she swiftly nips that in the bud. If I have a job, Im extremely professional. Ive just been known to forget the odd interview. But I wish to change. Ive decided to have a total personality makeover. I am not a loose cannon by any stretch of the imagination!
So, you see, shes not a bit like Sam Stewart, her prim alter ego in the Sussex-based drama, Foyles War or so shed have you believe. Almost every interview with Honeysuckle works on this premise that she may play a toffee-nosed ingnue, but shes actually a free spirit who prefers to live life on the edge.
But having cheerfully peddled this line for years she now contradicts it.
Actually, I am rather like my character. Theres a lot of me in Sam and we certainly sound alike [Honeysuckles accent is just as plummy]. But Im not as good a person as she is. Shes so selfless and brave. And she shows a lot of grace under fire, whereas Im a bit of a panicker.
Offbeat she may be, but Honeysuckle, who read English at Pembroke College, Oxford, is nobodys fool. She is sharp, funny and very likeable maddeningly so, given her unreliable form.
And now shes back on the box in three new episodes of Foyles War, which returns in April due to popular demand. When ITV abruptly axed the series in 2007 in a bid to pull in younger audiences, thousands of viewers complained and the new controller reversed the decision. If its well received, there may be more. Honeysuckle doesnt know.
The series opens in June 1945. VE Day has been celebrated in Britain but elsewhere the war rages on. Keen to retire, but bound to his old job in Hastings by the steep rise in violent crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, played by Michael Kitchen, is thrust into the dangerous worlds of international conspiracy and execution, military racism and national betrayal.
It sounds like business as usual, but with the war over Sam is forced to relinquish her job as Foyles chauffeur in Hastings and secures a new position in Brighton as a secretary, housekeeper and artists model.
The series opens with her feeling quite lonely, says Honeysuckle. Shes been demobbed, but shes unfamiliar with her new surroundings and doesnt know where she is in the world.
There are plenty of surprises. Sam finally finds romance and ends up running a Hastings guesthouse with her new beau though Honeysuckle warns this will be a slow burn. Will it end in wedding bells? Maybe. Shed be a fool not to marry him because hes a very handsome chap.
As usual, Sussex features prominently and the crew spent two weeks filming in old Hastings, where modern-day road signs and markings were cleverly concealed for that all-important period feel.
The locals are very proud of the show because they feel its their own, she says. Theyve published a book called The Real History of Foyles War and theres even a Foyles Cafe on the seafront. We filmed a lot of the new episodes in Sussex in Midhurst especially.
Honeysuckle landed the role of Sam just two weeks after graduating from Oxford University in 2001. The part was written for a Welsh girl and they had a Welsh actress in mind, but she couldnt do it and the pilot was due. My Welsh accent was so appalling, they just said: Do it in your own accent!
Honeysuckle has become the envy of millions of female viewers for working alongside Michael Kitchen and they have become close friends.
I love him to bits. Unlike Foyle, he loves letting his hair down and a few summers ago he took me to a Rolling Stones concert. Hes brilliant on the guitar and a maestro on the piano. And Ive learnt so much from him. Hes the arch exponent of less-is-more in acting. Occasionally, hell say: A bit too bunty, Honeysuckle. In other words, tone it down. I respect him hugely. He read one of the lessons at my wedding.
Sussex born and bred
Honeysuckle, named after the fragrant climbing plant that was growing round the door when her mother gave birth, grew up in a Sussex farmhouse near Petworth with her parents Robin, who works in advertising, and Susan Wade Weeks, the Conservative candidate for York. Her younger siblings Perdita, 24, and Rollo, 22, are also actors.
I adore Sussex. I know every thoroughfare on the South Downs because Ive gone riding, cycling and trained for marathons up there.
Though her parents divorced when she was 13, her childhood and adolescence were mostly idyllic if a little wild and free. A self-avowed tomboy, she and her sister had their own private lake and often played Swallows and Amazons. Wed go sailing and Id be captain and my sister would be bosun. She was also an enthusiastic member of the Cowdray Pony Club and took part in local hunts, sponsored rides and steeplechases.
She inherited the acting bug from her parents, both would-be actors. Her first flirtation with the stage was playing a munchkin in a school production of The Wizard of Oz. Then her mother, in a desperate attempt to stop her rampaging through the house during the summer holidays, enrolled her in the youth theatre at Chichester Festival Theatre.
My first professional production and I mean professional because I was paid 3 per performance was in The Wind in the Willows. I played a hedgehog, duck and stoat. Playing the duck was the best because I had to do a song and stand at the front of the chorus line!
When she auditioned, unsuccessfully, for a West End production of Les Miserables she was spotted by the Sylvia Young Agency, which led to a role, aged 13, in the BBC2 childrens drama, Goggle Eyes.
She continued acting at Roedean, the girls school in Brighton. Was it as formidable as it looks?
The first term was pretty frightening because I had 13 different lessons in a day and could never figure out where I was supposed to be. The teaching was fantastic, but it was always very windy. Youd walk out of the door and your skirt and hair would go at 90 degree angles.
The work ethic ran deep at Roedean and Mrs Longley, her headmistress, drummed into her pupils the importance of a career.
There was none of that business of finding a nice banker husband and settling down. We were also made to understand the importance of foolproof contraception.
Honeysuckle, who is 30, would dearly love children and got into hot water recently when she confided that her husband, Lorne Stormouth-Darling, was only accompanying her on her current stage tour so they could try for a baby. In time, shed like to start a whole dynasty. Im rather keen on Thisbe for the first girl, she says.
She met her husband, who at 46 is 16 years her senior, while studying at Oxford. The son of a retired City broker, he was a friend of her flatmates parents. They tied the knot at St Marys Church in Barlavington, near Petworth, in 2007, and Honeysuckle wore a medieval gown bought from an antiques shop in Hastings.
The newlyweds left their nuptials by hot-air balloon, but just three miles out, the skies darkened and they crash-landed in a cornfield, narrowly missing a lake.We had to slink back with our tails between our legs much to my mothers chagrin because it was supposed to be our massive send-off, she giggles.
She is often painted as the main bread winner, though her husband has had a number of unconventional jobs ranging from hypnotherapist to Tibetan art dealer.
Hes the most handsome man youll ever meet, she sighs. He looks like Aragorn, son of Arathorn from Lord of the Rings, but better looking. Hes also extremely funny, a man of letters, a great poet, agreat shot and extremely kind. And he can put up with me. Im very demanding!
Child of nature
Honeysuckle is currently touring in a stage production of Witness for the Prosecution, one of Agatha Christies most celebrated courtroom dramas, which comes to the Theatre Royal in Brighton at the end of April and the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne in July.
Honeysuckle reprises the role played by Marlene Dietrich in the acclaimed 1957 film adaptation that of a duplicitous German wife called to give evidence in defence of her hapless English husband, who is accused of murder.
This is Honeysuckles third Christie play and she accepts that she is often typecast in period roles. Her next film outing may shatter all that, however, because she is about to bare all for the official sequel to the 1970s classic The Wicker Man, which starred the late Edward Woodward.
Its called The Wicker Tree and Sir Christopher Lee stars as Lord Summerisle. I play Lolly, his chief groom. The islanders are soon up to their bad deeds and when they go hunting, they dont just hunt for foxes!
Her character is a child of nature, which required much naked dancing in the woods. It was hugely embarrassing. The production crew was very sensitive, but I felt like a prize hippo.
You cant help wondering what Foyle would make of it all, but Honeysuckles worries might be closer to home. As the film goes on release, her mother will be battling for a Tory victory in the forthcoming general election.
Honeysuckle will have to remain on her best behaviour. Well, in theory at least. I cant imagine any such thing. Can you?
My Perfect Sussex
The Three Moles at Selham, West Sussex, which is in the middle of a forest. They provided all the beer for my wedding. They have musical evenings when everybody gets out their squeeze boxes, violins and tambourines and sing old Sussex songs.
Arundel House on Arundel High Street. It does amazing Pan European dishes like pigeon breast in jus of rabbit.
Petworth Antique Market in East Street. I like buying vintage cufflinks and old jewellery.
The electricity pylons on the top of Bignor Hill. When I was a kid, I used to stare at them thinking Scotland must be beyond.
Place to visit:
Parham Park. It has a fabulous long room, filled with tapestries and other precious objects, and sunshine pours through its large south-facing windows.
Foyles War returns to ITV 1 on April 11.
Agatha Christies Witness for the Prosecution runs at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, from April 26 May 1, box office: 08448 717 650; and the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, from July 5-25, box office: 01323 412000.