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Camilla Power

Researching for my interview with actress Camilla Power, it became clear that I had inadvertently chosen a rather auspicious time to be catching up with her.

It is 21 years ago that she made her screen debut playing Jill Pole in a BBC adaptation of CS Lewis’ Silver Chair, part of the Chronicles of Narnia series. She was 12 years old and it was a role that made her into a child star and laid the foundations for a successful career. By happy coincidence her son, Joe, has turned 12 this year, a benchmark that has clearly provoked some fond memories for Power.

‘I can remember that summer in 1990 so vividly,’ she says, when we meet on Northcote Road. ‘It was such an amazing adventure. My parents packed me off with a chaperone and I spent the summer filming in Wales and Derbyshire. It was an absolute ball but sometimes I can’t quite believe how relaxed my parents were about it. There were no mobile phones, so they made do with a telephone call every now and then.’

Would she be as relaxed as her parents had been if Joe got offered a similar opportunity now? ‘Well,’ she ponders with head tilted slightly to one side, ‘I’d obviously support him in anything he chooses to do but it’s not likely to be acting as he’d rather have his eyes poked out than have to stand up on stage!’

No such problems for mum, though. She took to acting like a duck to water. ‘Acting is all I ever really wanted to do,’ she explains. ‘I was this dramatic little girl, highly strung and prone to strops, which probably helped persuade my mum to send me to acting classes. I’ve always had to have a focus. Even now, if I’m not working, I have to take on another project or I get really grumpy! Actors are just big kids! It’s a childish job really; you get dressed up for a living, after all!’

Having started so young, Power was a veteran of stage and screen by the time she was in her twenties, and it’s given her a compelling insight into the acting profession. ‘How has it changed since I started? One word: celebrity! There just wasn’t this obsession with celebrity back then so the industry wasn’t driven by fame. I kept my feet on the ground as a child star because there wasn’t the publicity machine then. You weren’t on front covers as much and people weren’t interested in that sort of thing. I find it a bit depressing, really – people with no discernible talent wanting something for nothing. You can’t blame people for wanting to jump on that band wagon and get rich quick, but I dislike the values it instils and I certainly don’t want Joe watching any trashy TV.’

Twenty years of meeting casting agents and reading scripts has also given Power a good nose for a successful project. ‘It’s so interesting, watching your ageing process through the eyes of casting agents,’ she muses. ‘After Silver Chair, I got cast in a lot of moody, rebellious teenager roles in things like The Bill, Emmerdale and Casualty, then something like Waterloo Road [in which she played Lorna Dickey] comes along and it suddenly becomes your defining role. For a period afterwards castings follow in that mould. I’ve been lucky that I’ve never been type-cast for long though and have had a great variety of roles – heroines and villains. There’s nothing nicer for an actor than getting a really good script through.’

I can’t resist asking if the Hollywood cliché about leading men doubling in age is true? She laughs, ‘Yes, it really is. For every five years I age, my on-screen romantic interest ages ten - it’s like a rule! I don’t really want to think about it, as at some point the maths doesn’t add up!

There’s no such predictability in the world of theatre though and it’s one of the reasons it holds such an appeal for Power. ‘I love it,’ she enthuses. ‘I want to get my teeth into a role that I can develop. It’s a much more satisfying creative process than television, which can often just involve a couple of short rehearsals before going for a take. But it’s the same with most actors - you do theatre for the art and TV for the bills!’

Another benefit of theatre work is that it’s more compatible with parenting. As with most actors, Power’s life is a mixture of frantic periods of work and then extended down time. For some this can be a difficult combination of highs and lows, but for Power, a single parent, it’s been an ideal arrangement. ‘Acting is a career that goes well with parenting. You get these extremes where you work like crazy for six weeks and barely see each other, and then you get weeks off when you can really enjoy some quality time. I wouldn’t enjoy being a full-time mother, I love having this finite amount of time so you really make the most of it. My favourite time is being at home with Joe when I know I’ve got a job coming up in a couple of weeks.’

All of which begs the question of what Joe understands about his mother’s career? ‘It’s been really interesting to watch him grasp it, actually,’ Power says, enthusiastically. ‘Fortunately, I’ve never done anything embarrassing, but even so, there were times when he was younger when it was difficult for him to understand. I remember he was quite disturbed when he watched me die in Waterloo Road – he was seven or eight at the time and staying with my parents. Now he thinks it’s quite cool, especially when he found my character in Torchwood had her own top trump card.’ She laughs, ‘it kind of makes up for times when I wasn’t there.’

These days though, it’s more often Power herself who’s looking for distraction when Joe’s away. ‘It’s funny, for the last two weeks Joe’s been away on holidays and I’ve been working in London so I’ve been coming home late from a shoot and acting like a single girl again; nothing in the fridge but lipstick and wine! That normally means an evening of Mad Men (God, I love Don Drapper!) and a glass of wine, or I head out for dinner – which is when you really appreciate living in an area with such a fantastic variety of restaurants. I live down by Battersea Bridge and my current favourite is Bennett Oyster Brasserie in Battersea Square. I absolutely love it.’

The London job in question is the third series of ITV’s Whitechapel, a gritty crime series set in London’s East End, in which she acts alongside fellow south Londoner, Rupert Penry-Jones.

‘I’ve not worked with Rupert before, but we quickly discovered we have mutual friends, which is hardly surprising as there’s a large acting fraternity around south London – it’s yet another reason to love living around here. Honestly, I couldn’t live in north London; it just wouldn’t feel like home.’

Whitechapel Series 3 airs on ITV on 25 January 2012

Camilla PowerCamilla with Rupert Penry-Jones in Whitechapel