Still recognised as Hugh Grant’s jilted fiancée, ‘Duckface’, from Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bafta-nominated actress Anna Chancellor is a true character – on and off screen. Meet her here and click to read Anna’s story.
I’ve always been a dreamer,” says actress Anna Chancellor. “I went to a convent school when I was quite young and failed miserably – I was bad at everything! I was always very interested and clever but could never get my head around that form of learning with getting things down on paper and writing essays – my homework would come back and it would just be a series of red marks. But I was always in the school plays, and that’s where I flourished. With acting, you’re told what to say but the choice of how you play it is yours and I found the structure of that very relieving. I was incredibly lucky that I found acting – otherwise, I could have felt that I was an underachiever.
“I remember when I came to London at 16. I tried to go to a sixth-form college and my report said, ‘Anna Who’, because I was never there. I was very badly behaved and earned a living as a naked artist’s model when I should have been at school. I got my place at LAMDA [the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art] when I was 18 and can remember thinking that this was going to be the cutting-edge life – that everyone at drama school was going to be very radical and political – but I was surprised by how obedient people were. Then I had my baby, Poppy, at 21 and it looked like it was all going to go disastrously wrong.
“I was unemployed for years. In fact, any success I’ve had, I’ve received with amazement, as have my whole family – but I feel I should tell people that it is possible to earn a living doing something that you love. When you’re on stage, there is a sort of alchemy that happens between you and an audience and that’s an incredible thing to experience. The bottom line is how good the script is: if it’s good, it doesn’t matter what form you do it in, the story takes over and it becomes beyond you.
“I’ve always been a character actress: the dominatrix, the stalker, the nutter… I think it’s a bit more fun, although sometimes it’s quite narrow, the view that people [have of] the romantic heroine. They never make films about ordinary people being in love – everyone has to be really beautiful, and I wonder why we can’t make that mental leap.
“The part I’m playing at the moment, I love! It’s for the BBC [drama] Mapp and Lucia, and I play Lucia, a terrible, dominating phoney who comes head to head with Miranda Richardson. You want the drama within a character, for them to be a bit extreme, so they’re funny but sad, generous but maybe mean to themselves – that’s what you’re looking for.
“I have played a lot of amazing parts and I’ve had some great names, too. With Four Weddings and a Funeral, I didn’t realise that Duckface was my official character name. When I die, my obituary will probably be, ‘Duckface dies’. What can I say about that – do I mind? No, I think it would be churlish to bite the hand that feeds you and, coincidentally, I’ve always had a passion for ducks.”