She’s one of Britain’s busiest stars so we may not be surprised to see Sheridan Smith back on our screens, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less excited.
Her latest project, The Teacher, sees her take on the role of flawed staff member Jenna. She’s popular with the kids, but as her chaotic private life begins to catch up with her, Jenna’s accused of sleeping with a pupil.
Sheridan, 40, is no stranger to dealing with big subject matters having played plenty of real people throughout her career, including Shannon Matthews campaigner Julie Bushby (The Moorside), the wife of Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs (Mrs Biggs) and earlier this month, the mum of a victim of serial killer Anthony Walgate in Four Lives.
Nevertheless, the mum admits that she often finds herself getting pulled too deeply into the emotions of her characters.
“I put my heart and soul into them, which isn’t a good thing sometimes because you’ve got to be able to switch off,” she explains. However, Sheridan reveals that she’s “not as bad” since having her son Billy. “I’m able to come home and say, ‘OK the day is done, I’m going back to my baby.’”
Sheridan worked up until she was “about to pop” before giving birth to Billy in May 2020. She was then engaged to insurance broker Jamie Horn, but the pair have since separated.
Here, Sheridan explains how she manages her busy work schedule, opens up about feelings of mum guilt and looks back on what she was like in school…
Hi, Sheridan, it’s safe to say 2021 was a busy year for you! It feels like you barely stopped working during lockdown…
I did pause – but because I was pregnant! We did a documentary while I was pregnant because I was getting twitchy about not working, I always do, and it was nice to document that time in my life. Then I did Isolation Stories with Jeff Pope when I was literally about to pop, which was a genius idea. I went into labour not long after that, and when it came on telly I was in hospital watching it with a baby, which was surreal.
Do you like to keep busy?
Yes, I love working. Now I’ve got a son he’s always my priority, but things have really changed. Production companies are great and they allow your little ones to come out and stay with you. If work meant I couldn’t see Billy I’d probably cut back, but I love working and sometimes I’m better when I’m working because it keeps my mind focused.
That’s great. It must be lovely as a new mum to be able to bring Billy with you…
I try to take him everywhere with me, he’s like my little shadow. We’re like two peas in a pod, he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. So long as I can keep working and have my little boy with me then I’m happy.
Do you struggle with mum guilt when you can’t have him with you?
I do, but when Billy gets to a certain age he’ll know that Mummy is doing it for him. I’m home now for a few months and I haven’t left his side, which is amazing.
You’ve dipped your toe in the presenting pool recently, but would you say acting is still your first love?
A million per cent. Acting will always be my passion. I did some presenting for a while and I loved those jobs – especially Pooch Perfect as I’m a mad dog lover. It was nice to have a go at something else. But I like being around other people and it’s escapism for me to play other characters. Plus, I don’t get nervous about acting jobs so much now, but I found the presenting quite nerve-racking. I’ll probably do less of it now we’re out of lockdown.
We’ll soon see you on our screens heading up the cast of The Teacher – what was it about the show that appealed to you?
We’d all been in lockdown, I’d had Billy and I’d been reading lots of different scripts. Then this one came along and I was gripped. All these twists and turns came along in the story that I didn’t expect, and I couldn’t put it down, which is rare – I read it all in one go. I really wanted to do the show. Initially, the dates weren’t working, but things moved around so things didn’t clash any more, and it felt like a sign.
You worked closely with Kelvin Fletcher and Sharon Rooney on The Teacher. What was that like?
It was a really great cast. Sharon is the loveliest girl, but our characters are so horrible to each other – we’d do our scenes and then apologise and hug afterwards! I hadn’t worked with Kelvin either, but I championed him on Strictly and I’d seen him on Emmerdale for years. I always thought he was a great actor.
Did you enjoy filming in Budapest?
It was amazing to be there for six weeks, but it was strange, too, because it was in the height of the lockdown and they had very strict rules. I missed Billy like mad. We FaceTimed every day. All of the actors said we found the flight quite nerve-racking, because it had been two years since we had taken a plane anywhere. Once we all got to Budapest the anxiety went and it was a lovely job.
Tell us a bit more about Jenna…
She’s such a complex character, there are so many layers to her, and I love the fact that you don’t know if she’s telling the truth or not. Sometimes characters written for women can be quite bland, but I love playing people who are flawed and complex like Jenna.
What is it about Jenna that makes her so complicated?
She’s got a drink problem, she’s lost her mum, has a really strained relationship with her dad and she has just gone off the rails and lost herself a bit. When she finishes work, she clocks out and has a chaotic life.
How do you approach a role like that?
I always want to make a character likeable because I want to find the heart in them, no matter how flawed someone is, but I do want the audience to doubt Jenna and to feel unsure about where they stand. There were scenes where I was thinking, ‘This is so terrible, you’d be fired immediately.’ It’ll make for incredibly uncomfortable viewing and you won’t know if you like her or not.
You’ve played many real people in your career – is it fun to create a character from scratch sometimes, as you have done with Jenna?
Yes actually, it’s been quite nice because I have done loads of factual dramas where I play real people, and it’s easier because you’ve got loads of research to use. However, it’s really nice to play something made up. I still researched some similar real-life cases to try to understand their mentality, though.
How did you cope with the intensely emotional scenes in this drama?
I get quite invested in these characters, and put my heart and soul into them, which isn’t a good thing sometimes because you’ve got to be able to switch off. Since having my son I’m not as bad. I’m able to come home and say, “OK the day is done, I’m going back to my baby,” whereas I used to overanalyse scenes. But I do like to feel all the feelings that the characters experience, otherwise I don’t feel like I’m doing a good enough job – I’m selling the viewers short if I fake it.
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Filming in a school setting must have taken you back. What were your days at school like?
Seeing all the kids on their phones made me laugh because when I was at school we didn’t have mobiles, let alone social media. It was funny to see these kids because they had this sass about them, and I was so not like that at school, I was such a dweeb! Thank God they didn’t have social media when I was there, we were just playing conkers!
How do you hope the audience will react to The Teacher?
I hope there are a lot of conversations about whether she is guilty, especially as all the twists and turns come out. It gets so complicated and dark.
To read more more about your favourite TV stars, sign up to our daily OK! newsletter. The Teacher is on Monday to Thursday (24 January to 3 February) at 9pm on Channel 5.
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