Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Even on an ‘off’ day she’s managing to look glamorous in a short T-shirt style dress, over-the-knee boots and a long woollen cardi.
She’s shorter, more petite, than you’d expect and even the wide mouth and strong brows seem softer in the flesh. Winston aside, it’s understandable Piper’s feeling exhausted. She’s just finished a seven-month shoot filming the fourth and final series of Secret Diary Of A Call Girl — the successful TV show based on the diaries of real-life escort Belle De Jour. Her performance as Belle has been applauded, but when it was first announced in 2007 that Piper, former pop princess turned Doctor Who assistant, was to play the high-class hooker, people were up in arms.
“Outraged,” says Piper, sipping a cup of tea. “I didn’t think it would be as shocking as it was, and I didn’t really think that me being in it would be shocking. I just thought I’m an actor and it’s just acting.” She admits the furore hit her hard. “Yeah, it always does. It really upsets me that people go, ‘What is she thinking’? And also that they think it’s slightly distasteful and insensitive.
“There are loads of women out there who have a horrid time of it (prostitution) but in my mind, it’s a very different thing because there are women out there who genuinely enjoy it.
“Women go out and have casual sex and talk about it endlessly and Sex And The City is a really good example of that. That show’s sometimes quite shocking and yet people also applaud it, but as soon as money changes hands then that changes everything.” It was the chance to address these double standards that interested Piper in the first place.
“To play a prostitute who doesn’t see herself as a victim and hasn’t been forced into it but has chosen to do it, I find all of that quite interesting.” Given Belle’s profession, it’s little wonder Piper’s had to spend the majority of her time in compromising positions — as she puts it “endlessly prancing around in your knickers trying to be sexy”.She’s now so comfortable doing sex scenes that at times she’s had to remind herself that the actors cast as her numerous clients can require a little cajoling.
“I have to remember to be sensitive and tactful because they don’t know the crew and I obviously know and love the crew and have a big support system. But then at the end of a really hard week on set you’re just like, ‘C’mon, mount me’!” she laughs. As for preparing to strip off, she says she “works out a bit”, adding: “I also really watch what I eat when I’m filming so I don’t have those moments where I think ‘I can’t do this’ because I don’t feel physically confident enough’.” The final series may, as she says, be “less about flesh”, but the client requests are no less shocking, with ‘Adult Baby’ and ‘Count Dracula’ among the upcoming scenarios. Even after three years, Piper admits to being “a bit shocked” when she first reads the script.
“I mean I like to have fun but I find some of these ideas…” she says, trailing off. I just think, ‘Well that seems a bit far- fetched’, and then I meet the people who are telling their stories and it would be rude to go, ‘Well, that’s a bit much, don’t you think’? It’s someone’s life (so you can’t) suddenly be sitting there going, ‘I think you need to go to a doctor’.” The sense that the series has explored all the potential client/ escort avenues is largely why it’s been decided to bring Belle’s tale to an end. She says: “I think we’ve pretty much been everywhere with the stories and as that’s at the heart of every episode, you wouldn’t want to exhaust it to the point of just complete ridiculousness and seediness. I really like this job but you always want the story to have legs and not be that you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. I think if we go any further then we might be guilty of that.” Since the first episode, viewers have witnessed Belle’s attempt to keep her professional and personal life, including her potential relationship with best-friend Ben, separate. But in this final series those two worlds merge. So what’s next for Piper? She’s not yet 30 but has managed to cram more than most into her life. Born in Reading, she came to prominence as a 15-year-old pop star after being spotted on a Smash Hits campaign. Her marriage to Chris Evans in 2001 raised eyebrows due to their 16-year age gap. After their amicable divorce six years later they have remained resolutely good friends. Professionally, she’s made the seemingly smooth transition from singing to acting and has received rave reviews for her performances on stage in Treats, where she met husband Laurence Fox, and on screen in the likes of The Ruby In The Smoke, Mansfield Park and A Passionate Woman. She adds:
“I think I’ve chosen things that have interested me and then kept trying new and different things. It has worked out well and I can thank Doctor Who for all of that really. It was wholly responsible for giving me a great opportunity.” She wouldn’t mind doing more theatre, she says, and her name has been linked to the lead role in a stage adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.
“I’ve been approached about it but I certainly haven’t said yes to it,” is all she’ll say on the matter. “I just want to do something radically different and I don’t know what that is yet.
‘Who knows? I was lucky, because I had Winston when I was quite young. A lot of my friends are pregnant now, which I’m really pleased about because it’s lovely to do it all together.’
The Doctor Who and Secret Diary Of A Call Girl star found fame in the late 1990s as a singer with hits including ‘Because We Want To’, ‘Girlfriend’ and ‘Honey To The Bee’.
Asked if, as a fan of the show, she would like to join the X Factor panel, Piper told Heat: “I would love that more than anything! There are two things I fantasise about: being Beyoncé and being a judge on The X Factor.
“The worry is whether you’d be taken seriously as an actor afterwards. But you know what? I’d deal with it, because it’s all I want to do! I think I’d take it very seriously and end up crying a lot.” When it was suggested that Cheryl Cole may not be picked for the US version of the show because of her Geordie accent, Piper said: “Surely she could just speak a bit more slowly. Or else I can do it, obviously. “Wasn’t Dannii [Minogue] brilliant this time round? I think having a baby really suits her. And it’s given her huge breasts! Massive ones!”
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Hannah and Belle’s lives are starting to overlap in the fourth and final series of Secret Diary Of A Call Girl. Billie Piper, who is married to Lewis actor Laurence Fox, with whom she has a two-year-old son, Winston, reveals more about Belle’s exploits and admits she wouldn’t rule out working with her husband…
Is this definitely going to be the last series of Secret Diary Of A Call Girl?
Yes, and it’s all quite weird this year because the drama is very heightened. And the fact that Belle’s two lives are overlapping means she’s losing it a bit. She’s slightly unraveling! But I do love the character.
Did you have to do much research before taking on the role?
Yes because I knew nothing about prostitution, apart from the stuff we’re exposed to, which is so different to what this show is. So it was almost like you had to start afresh really because the real Belle has this attitude towards sex that’s so different to most of us. And you have to meet that person to make this idea human. You can make sense of it. You can see her and work out whether it’s some weird fantastical fallacy, or whether it’s the real deal. You can’t sit there going, ‘Ooh well, I don’t think that’s very nice.’ It’s has to be, ‘Well I don’t care. That’s what I do.’ And she seems to be cool with it.
In her shoes, we might be tempted to snap up a sugar daddy!
I think that happens a lot. Certainly some of the escorts I met when we were doing research told us that they meet guys called ‘lifetime sponsors.’ They’ll finance their entire life and occasionally they’ll have dinner with them or maybe have sex with them.
Belle gets together with her best friend, Ben, in this series. Have you ever done that in real life?
Yes, I did go out with a friend of mine. It didn’t last and we’re not friends anymore. It’s not a winning endorsement. It is quite muddy water, isn’t it? I only did it for a couple of years, but it’s what happens afterwards — the awkwardness and the breakdown of the circle of friends. That’s not something Ben and Hannah have a problem with though, because they don’t have a circle of friends. It’s just them, and it’s quite all-consuming. But I think one of you always loves the other more. Still holds a torch for them. It’s quite hard to let go and quite hard for it to be purely platonic with no sexual tension there.
It seems as though Stephanie’s daughter Poppy may turn into a bad girl in this series?
Yes, she’ll dance with the darkness. She’s a funny little character and I think Belle falls in love with her a bit. She doesn’t go gay for Poppy, she takes her under her wing. She’s a really nice character — someone being exposed to the whole world again through fresh eyes and being shocked and appalled. This is a young girl and it disgusts her and really breaks her heart that her mum should dabble in anything like that. It’s nice to see that side of it because otherwise it’s all singing and dancing.
Does Belle continue to run Stephanie’s business while Stephanie is in prison?
No, just until she gets out. You will see her again.
What can you tell us about Belle’s clients this series?
There’s a guy who likes to dress up like old horror movie characters. But the one that really got me was a guy who liked to dress up as a baby. Remember these are all based on true stories. It’s not really about sex — it’s about someone mothering them while they’re wearing a nappy, with a dummy and a bottle. There are even clubs where people can go dressed as babies and they all ‘goo’ and ‘ga.’
Have there ever been any dark corners of sexuality where you and the writers have thought it was too much to put into the show?
There have been moments where I’ve thought, ‘I don’t get that. I think it’s too far fetched.’ Then through research and talking about how we’re going about it, it’s become more palatable and not massively distasteful to watch. There are lots of discussions about how to address things that could be tricky, and just whether people can watch it. It doesn’t feel very ‘Page 3’ to me. It feels more heightened and taken slightly out of reality. And the sex is very funny as opposed to dirty and suggestive.
Is this the first project that you’ve worked on where you’ve also been the executive producer?
Yes, it’s more of a selfish thing of wanting to learn and cut my teeth in production. And I love the people I work with. I find it so much fun doing pre-production work with all the little teams and finding the right people for the job. It’s great and feels so brilliantly creative.
Is it true that you and your husband Laurence Fox didn’t discuss Belle to start with?
We do discuss it because I get really upset when people miss what it is and just write it off as being a silly, fluffy, light comedy, when it’s actually really dark. That makes me upset. So he has to talk me through all of that, and that’s when we talk about it mostly. He watched loads of it last year, but we don’t really sit down and watch things together. It’s certainly not a subject we can’t talk about.
Does the idea of working together appeal to you?
Yes, we want to, but I’m not sure if that would be acting together. He wants to do some directing, so maybe I could act in something he directs. That could be good — or it could be really bad [laughs]!