Actress Leanne Best, star of Ripper Street, Fortitude and now ITV’s war drama Home Fires, tells Lorraine Crighton-Smith why she’s swapped Liverpool for Pimlico and what films and television programmes we can expect to see her acting in this year, Line of Duty and Star Wars including Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
If you’re wondering where you’ve seen this face before but can’t quite place it, that might be because the shock of blonde hair is new — and a total transformation. Actress Leanne Best’s locks are normally dark brunette, like her character Teresa Fenchurch in ITV’s six-part war drama Home Fires, which is on our screens now. With that in mind perhaps you recognise Leanne as Jane Cobden in the BBC’s Ripper Street? After hours in the salon’s chair Leanne emerged blonde, days before our exclusive photo shoot in her South West London local, No 11 Pimlico Road. ‘It’s for something I’m filming at the moment,’ says Leanne of her new do, ‘but I can’t tell you what’.
By the sounds of it, Leanne hasn’t stopped performing of late. As well as Home Fires (based on Julie Summer’s book Jambusters, which tells the story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War), and Line of Duty, Leanne has recently completed a run on stage in Educating Rita at The Playhouse in her hometown of Liverpool, and spent time filming in Iceland for Sky Atlantic series Fortitude. On the big screen, Leanne played The Woman in Black in the sequel to the eponymous film, which came out last year, and keep an eye out for her in The Infiltrator, an upcoming crime drama film starring American actor Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad’s Walter White), as well as Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, where she plays Min Sakul.
Life’s good right now, Leanne tells me, but an actor’s career can have peaks and troughs. After training at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts a reluctant Leanne left her ‘tight-knit family in Liverpool’ and, like many aspiring artists, moved to London. ‘I was really heartbroken to leave Liverpool,’ she says. ‘There were lots of phone calls to my mum saying “it’s too big and I don’t know anyone and I want to come home”. There was lots of waitressing, I worked in some pubs and then I met a lady who was a [fashion] stylist and she was looking for an assistant. We really hit it off.’
At the time Leanne was working in a boutique shop in Notting Hill as well as going to auditions. Assisting a stylist was flexible work and Leanne loved it. ‘I got to shop in all of the stores that I love, but I couldn’t afford, because I was shopping for clients,’ she says. ‘It was a good little introduction to London, because I was flying around everywhere, going from pillar to post, picking clothes up, going to clients’ houses and photo shoots.’
At our photo shoot at No 11 Pimlico Road, Leanne demonstrates her sense of style by producing a surprisingly large selection of hip outfits from what might be the world’s smallest suitcase. Her wardrobe is a mixture of ‘high street, designer and vintage,’ she says. ‘What I’ve saved on my vintage buys I spend in the high street.’
Leanne’s Pimlico home is a combination of styles too, featuring items collected from her travels. ‘I’ve got quite eclectic tastes; I say “bohemian” but some would say “mad”.’
After moving around London over the years, Leanne – who previously lived in Battersea and Wimbledon – settled in SW1 because ‘you can be in town in 10 minutes, which is handy for me as I spend a lot of time in Soho for work. I’m by the park, the river and I’ve got the Tate around the corner,’ she says. ‘It’s lovely, [Pimlico is] tucked away in the middle of all the hustle and bustle.’ Aside from press interviews, meetings and auditions, on her days off Leanne can be found walking her dog Ted, a cross between a Jack Russell and a Chihuahua, in Battersea Park or having a picnic in the park across the road from her flat.
With acting success comes fame, and Leanne is starting to get a taste of that (as is her identical twin sister, who also lives in London and has had a few double takes recently). ‘I’ve had a couple of really odd moments,’ says Leanne. ‘I was in a shop and a designer had created a capsule collection. There was one dress that I really wanted but I could only find it in one size bigger. I went to buy it thinking ‘I can have it altered’ but the girl in front of me also had the dress, and she was looking at mine thinking “I think that’s my size”. The queue for the changing room was out the door so we thought “sod it, we’ll just go in the corner and get changed, we’ll see if our dresses fit and if not we’ll swap”. Half way through wrestling into the dress she just stopped and said, “oh my god are you Jane Cobden from Ripper Street? My husband loves you!”.’
With her ever increasing presence on screen, Leanne is taking fame in her stride. ‘I’ve just always wanted to work,’ she says earnestly. ‘It’s a tough game… but the last few years have been pretty pedal to the metal. It’s lovely!’
With a host of different characters under her belt, how does Leanne prepare for a role? ‘My favourite bit of my job is any sort of research,’ she says. ‘I’m a great lover of history and I love reading. I read Julie’s book [Jambusters], and I read an awful lot about the north of England in the Second World War, what the Women’s Institute did for people. In Home Fires, we were really interested in debunking the myth that the WI is this twee thing, these women were really forthright in changing the community.’
Home Fires is on ITV, Sundays at 9pm