Paula Wilcox almost passed on reading Driving Miss Daisy. Never having seen it, she thought it might be dated.
“But when I did look at it, I was really impressed. It’s a wonderful deep, rich depiction of a small corner of a country in turmoil. The characters are compelling and human, smart and funny.”
“I became keen to play Daisy, especially after I met the director, Suzann McLean. She has a fresh approach and I’m excited to be working with her.”
“I like Daisy very, very much. I like her spirit. I like her humour. I like her vulnerability. And her predicament. As anybody who is 72 – she’s 72 – will know, it’s very frustrating to be told you can’t drive anymore.”
Daisy’s accent – from the American South – is more of a joy than a worry for Paula. “I had actually spent some time in Savannah, Georgia, which isn’t very far away from Atlanta and listened a lot to the accents there. I got to know some people down there so I feel relatively confident. I like accents. I like working in an accent and finding out why accents develop”, she explains.
Paula made her name in a hat-trick of 1970s TV The Lovers with Richard Beckinsale, Man About the House and Miss Jones and Son were “out of the norm” for their time and considered “a little bit daring at the time”, she says.
Man About the House was – shock, horror – about a man sharing a flat with two women, while Miss Jones and Son featured an unmarried mother as the leading character.
The Lovers was quite cutting edge too, being about the permissive society. “The boy wanting to be very permissive, sex before marriage and all that stuff, and his girlfriend was very old school,” she says.
Paula was 17 and a National Youth Theatre member when cast in The Lovers. “I wanted to be an actress but didn’t think I would be. I was still at school and the National Youth Theatre was something to do in the holidays which seemed a perfect match for me. Then I was in a play for them called The Apprentices by Peter Terson and everything went from there. It was extraordinary really.”
Doing theatre has stood in for drama school. “I never studied acting and felt I needed to do an apprenticeship. I turned down quite a lot of television to do theatre, playing lots of nice roles,” she says.
These days Paula is known for TV comedies such as Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow (in which she plays Shakespeare’s mother), Mount Pleasant (Sky), Living The Dream (Sky), Boomers (BBC) and Girlfriends (ITV).
Driving Miss Daisy opens at York Theatre Royal on Friday 7th June and runs until Saturday 29th June.