ENTERTAINMENT

Kerry Howard Interview: The ‘Witless’ Star Talks Famous Siblings And Why You Should Never Meet Your Heroes

We're predicting big things...

20/02/2017 16:06
BBC
Kerry Howard plays Leanne in BBC Three's 'Witless'

Kerry Howard might not be a household name yet, but we have a feeling that’s all about to change thanks to her star turn in the brilliant BBC Three comedy drama, ‘Witless’.

If you haven’t seen it yet (you really need to), the series follows flatmates Leanne and Rhona who are placed into a witness protection programme after witnessing a gangland shooting. After being relocated to a grotty flat in Swindon and given new identities, we follow the hapless pair as they try and outrun the hit men who want them dead.

We’re already two series into the online-only series, but what with this being the 21st century and all that, you can catch up on the BBC iPlayer.

We caught up with Kerry to talk about her famous sibling, never meeting your idols, drag queen inspiration and having fans on the other side of the pond...

Your brother Russell is also in the business, was it a laugh-a-minute in your house growing up?

“He actually wanted to be a footballer, he wasn’t this comedian that he’s turned into. I was always away with the fairies and watching ‘Singin’ In the Rain’ and was quite a theatrical child. Russell was quite quiet really, so it’s been quite a revelation really that he’s gone to the dark side!”

Rex
Kerry with her brother, Russell Howard

When did you realise you could make people laugh?

“I think I accidentally made people laugh my whole life. I was a very clumsy girl so I had this Laurel and Hardy thing about me. People always laughed at me. Bad things would happen to me but I realised I had that ability to own it if I made a mistake. And I was bullied at school but I would take the mickey out of myself before they did it, so then it just became a defence mechanism.”

What were you bullied about?

“Well my twin brother had epilepsy. We were really popular because we were twins and then he got epilepsy out of nowhere and then people started being really horrible to him. Obviously I stood up for him so they turned on me and called me ‘three eyes’ because I had a mole on my chin, which was dark and looked like a pupil. They called me anorexic because I was skinny, it was silly stuff.”

I think I accidentally made people laugh my whole life. I was a very clumsy girl so I had this Laurel and Hardy thing about me.

Who were you inspired by when you were growing up?

“French and Saunders. Me and my mum would watch them and would justy howl. It was good growing up in the nineties because there were a lot of strong female comedy out there, like ‘Vicar of Dibley’, ‘Ab Fab’ and ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, which weirdly came into my future when I got to play her. That was a dream come true.”

Your sitcom character ‘Really rude to Sandra’ is reminiscent of French and Saunders, how did she come about?
“Weirdly enough Joe and Lloyd who wrote ‘Witless’ also wrote Sandra. We wanted a really obnoxious character and they came back with her. It was such a basic idea but i knew exactly what they were saying. I thought ‘this is brilliant, I know this person, she’s every reality star who makes a drama out of nothing.’ It was just a joy.”

BBC
'Russian Sandra' was a highlight of the second series of 'Witless'.

Is it any coincidence that the Russian character in the final episode of the second series of ‘Witless’ is called Sandra?

“Well that was an in-joke. I loved the fact the writers named her Sandra because everyone who’s a fan of ‘Rude to Sandra’ will pick up on that. The writers know that Sandra is a very key name to me. She’s even big in the New York gay scene, apparently. I’ve got an actor friend out there who told me the cast of ‘Book Of Mormon’ are obsessed with her and they all do it. She’s a drag queen! I should work the drag circuit.”

Let’s talk ‘Witless’...

“It ticks all the boxes. It’s not exactly like ‘The Wrong Mans’ but it can stand next to it proudly. I’m so proud of it. It’s so filmic and so funny, yet edgy at the same time.”

You seem perfect in the role of Leanne...

“I really wanted to do something so different from Laura [Kerry’s ‘Him And Her’ character]. The writers Joe and Lloyd knew my background as they’ve known me for years. I didn’t want to spend my career playing a bitch. I wanted to play something nearer to me but obviously funny, and they came back with this crazy puppy, silly version of me. There’s definitely elements of my personality in there. Some of the lines I’ve read, I’m like ‘god I would say that’.”

It’s like the writers have gone back into my past and written the 18-year-old version of me.

What other personality traits to share with Leanne?

“Leanne is like a younger version of me. So the horoscopes, talking to ghosts, believing in crystals… I totally bought into that. It’s weird because the writers didn’t know that history of me, but it’s like they’ve gone back into my past and written the 18-year-old version of me. I’ve grown out of all that stuff now.”

How did it feel to have a role written specifically for you in ‘Witless’?

“It was such a privilege and an amazing position to be in. The boys have worked on the sketch show so they’ve seen all the different ranges of what I can do and it was a really brilliant foundation. And they were quite right to make it a double act because you need to see the yin and yang. Rhona really balances Leanne out and she gets to be a real person other than just this clown.”

Zoe Boyle plays Rhona straight but she’s still hilarious...

She’s so funny and I think she’s getting funnier with her neuroticism. For me, whenever she does a small smile I just lose it, it’s so funny. There’s a great physicality about Zoe. I’m very lucky”

BBC
Kerry with her co-star Zoe Boyle, who plays Rhona.

You both have a great on-screen chemistry. What was it like working together because it looks like you had a lot of fun making the show?

“From day one I realised it was going to be difficult for her initially because we’d already shot the pilot but with a different actress, so Zoe was coming in as a brand new element. She knew that the show had been written for me, so I thought she needed to know that I wanted her to win and that we were a double act. I think she knew straight away that we were a team. I’m not some egomaniac who thinks ‘I’m going to be the funny one!’. We really liked each other in the first series but in the second I just fell in love with her.”

You can really see that, it really comes across on screen. Do you hang out outside of filming?

“Well, the thing is we have such different lives. I go to work and it’s like I’m on holiday because outside of that I’m a stay-at-home mum and I’m very much a mum. Where as she’s single and free and so she has this lovely life that I used to have! So when I go to work, that’s my clubbing! We don’t take our work for granted, we’re both very giddy and grateful.”

I’d love to do a drama, because it’s easier! Comedy is really hard because if you don’t make people laugh you’ve screwed it up.

Obviously, the show is very funny but there’s also quite a lot of dark drama. How hard is it as an actress to get that balance right?

“Because it’s so well written, when there is a dramatic moment you want to humour it, so if anything, when there’s a dramatic scene it’s easier because I don’t have to think ‘am I being funny?’, I just have to be truthful. I’d love to do a drama, because it’s easier! Comedy is really hard because if you don’t make people laugh you’ve screwed it up.”

So if, like you character in ‘Witless’ you had to take on a new identity, who would it be?

“At moment, Donald Trump. I would keep him in his bedroom and I wouldn’t let him leave so he couldn’t destroy the world. I’d put him in a onesie and we could just watch ‘Friends’ and after two weeks he’d be a happier person.”

You played the young Hyacinth Bucket in the recent prequel to ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, the voice in that was spot on, so how did you prepare to play a version of such a well known character?

“It’s really weird but when I heard about this being remade I had always done the voice when I was younger. But when I got the audition, I started watching Kitty, the monologues that Patricia Routledge (who played Hyacinth Bucket) did on ‘The Victoria Wood Show’.  I just watched loads of them because she hasn’t just got a generic northern accent, it’s almost Celtic. Sometimes it sounds a bit Scottish, there’s a funny lilt in it. So yeah, Kitty really helped me find Hyacinth because Patricia Routledge is her. That is the character.”

BBC
Kerry in 'Young Hyacinth'

Patricia Routledge was actually quite scathing about ‘Young Hyacinth’, did that upset you?

“It upset me because I think those comments were made six months before we’d even made it. And I don’t know if she’s even seen it. I don’t know what she thought of my performance because she probably hadn’t even watched it. You know, never meet your heroes. But still think she’s amazing, and my performance wouldn’t have happened without her.”

Are there any other classic sitcoms that you’d consider starring in if they gave them a reboot?

“Well I’d love to be in ‘Fleabag’ or ‘Catastrophe’ because I think they’re amazing. ‘Chewing Gum’ as well. There’s some really strong, great female comedy right now, which is really cool to see. It’s nice to see it’s exploding.”

What would be your absolute dream role?

“I’d love to do a movie with Will Ferrell or someone like that. I’d also love to do something really dark and edgy that nobody would expect. I’ve been really lucky that all of the characters I’ve played have been really different. I’d love to play a detective or someone really smart.”

What’s next for you?
“Well I’ve got a lot of things cooking but I can’t really say anything at the moment. But I’m doing a lot of writing and trying to find my voice because a lot of people want to see what I could create. We had a moment when I did the sketch show and it was really good, I was really proud of that.”

Kerry Howard: 9 Facts in 90 Seconds
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