Sally Phillips is used to strangers grinning at her. “I have not played many killers yet, so when I walk down the street, people smile at me,” she says. To them, she’s the giggling receptionist in I’m Alan Partridgea series of crazy characters in the nineties sketch program Save the PonyBridget Jones’ brassy best friend Shazza in the great movies, and the slogan that Tilly incorporates Miranda. The 52-year-old actor brings a sunny, uncontrollable energy to all her projects. “I really feel very happy,” she tells me over the phone. “Partly because [my TV series] is repeated, and that means that even when I have a baby, people still think I work. It feels good to be part of people’s imaginative landscape. ”
Phillips’ latest role has a little more edge. She is a guest star in the third season of Telers, the Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard-led moody sitcom about an imperfect parent couple of two pre-teens. In the new series, Paul (Freeman) temporarily stays away from his family home because his anger exacerbates his eldest child’s anxiety. Coincidentally, Paul enters into a friendship with the new neighbor Gaby (Phillips); one that includes Sunday lunches and skipping work to watch a bad movie at the cinema. Paul fails to mention Gaby’s existence to his wife (Haggard’s Ally). Although nothing explicitly happens illegally, there is a definite sense of a line being approached; then it is again so subtle that you question whether you are reading too far into the situation, and begin to think that there may be nothing inappropriate to their relationship at all.
“Half of the population will think it’s completely fair enough, and the other half will think it should be burned alive,” said Phillips. And in what part of the population does she fall? “Oh, I was on the ‘this is not right’ side,” she says firmly. “What do you mean you’re going to a movie with someone in the afternoon? This is completely unacceptable. One hundred percent not OK. But then again, there are some relationships where a man only has a lot of female friends, and the woman is perfectly fine with that, which feels healthier to me. I think, ‘Oh, I wish I was so well balanced. I wish I was so mature! ‘”
The shift of personal identities in adults to the arrival of children is something that Telers research extensively, with both parents having to reevaluate their positions at work, in their home and in their romantic relationship. “It’s good to see how you can deviate from the course without meaning to,” says Phillips. “I think it’s a thing where you have to rediscover your relationship, with children involved. There’s that old joke: ‘Watching my wife give birth is like watching my favorite bar burn down.’ You need to work out who you are. I think men are pushed to the back of the queue. Well, in my house they did it. ”
Phillips has three children of her own from her 14-year marriage to shipping director Andrew Bermejo. They ended their relationship in 2017, and Phillips has talked before about how tensions began to grow between them after the birth of their first child, Olly, in 2004; they found out shortly after birth that he had Down Syndrome. At various points during our conversation, Phillips brings the conversation back to her family – her sons are clearly in the forefront of her mind after they filmed a program about parenting.
Phillips can certainly be identified with some of the struggles seen in Telers. “It is not completely different [to my life] because I fail quite often, ”she says and laughs wryly. “Or to get it wrong. Or feel like you got it wrong, and definitely want to get it right, definitely want to be good. That’s what I really identify with in those characters; they want to be really good. We all start with all the hubris: ‘I’m going to have the best marriage ever … I know it’s going to go wrong for some people, but mine’s going to be great! I’m going to be a wonderful mom, and I’m going to do all the things my parents did wrong, right! ‘ But we all fail – we all fail differently, right?
“Really, my parenting goal at the moment is to get through the day without anyone getting a result. There is no Suzuki violin, no one applies for medical school. As long as no one was hurt and no one cried, it was a victory. “
I do not want to turn down; people who are already experiencing a difficult time, why make jokes about them?
Speaking of hurt, Phillips felt protective about Olly after Jimmy Carr made a widely condemned joke in 2011 about all disabled children on Sunshine Variety coaches who “look the same”. “I love Jimmy Carr,” she says. “He is a very kind person. But he made a joke about Down’s syndrome that I found disturbing because of my son. ” Should comedians be called out for offensive jokes? “It depends on whether the thing touches you,” she says. “Or it hurts you. But the question of must [comics] allowed to say it to other people? I do not know. Probably.”
In terms of where she draws the line in her own comedy, Phillips says she is “anxious” not to offend people. “And at the same time, I feel anxious to tell the truth,” she says. “I try to walk those two lines; it does not feel particularly safe, but it does feel like the only authentic place to be. I do not want to make people feel awful. I do not want to turn down – people who are already having a difficult time, why make jokes about them? ”
Phillips brings up another example of a cartoon that used learning disabilities as a punchline. “Ricky Gervais, a few years ago he announced that he was going to reclaim the word ‘m ***’. You already have all the words, all the words you could possibly need. “It’s my right,” [he might say], well, you know, well. At the same time, I have neurodiverse children and the language they use with each other is awful. There is no simple answer to this at all. ”
Wat Phillips is sure about is her directing as an actor. She is ready for even more rand. And that’s at stake with her new role in How to please a woman, as the boss of a company male cleaners who also offer sexual favors. This is not a world away from Emma Thompson’s new sex-positive sex-worker movie Good luck to you, Leo Grande. “I’m never going to be Emma Thompson – maybe a pound-store version,” Phillips says. “But I feel it’s time to move on to this next part of my career, in my fifties, and find out what it’s all about.
“I hope to get a little brave and embrace the things that happen with it.”
All 10 episodes of ‘Breeders’ are now available on Sky Comedy and streaming service NOW