Spotlight on: Miranda Hart is every bit as serious as she is funny. The actor, comedian and Downe House alumni tells School Notices about her debut children’s novel, the importance of being yourself and why fame is thoroughly overrated.
What were you were like as a child?
I was quite a serious child, but I think actually I was just very interested in taking in the world. I used to eavesdrop and soak up people’s conversations – my mother had to stop me staring at people with my mouth open – and if I went to the theatre or watched a comedy I would be completely serious-faced and then say at the end: “That was HILARIOUS”! I was also very sporty and outdoorsy, and a tomboy.
Who inspired you and made you laugh growing up?
I am lucky that my parents liked comedy, because it meant that through them I saw all the greats of the 1970s and ’80s, particularly Morecambe and Wise. But there was also Joyce Grenfell, Tommy Copper and The Two Ronnies. They all inspired me greatly.
When did you first realise you could make people laugh?
I am not sure you ever feel 100 per cent confident that you will get a laugh as a comedian – it’s always something that worries you. But I remember when I came home from school one day and did an impression of my headmaster to my mother, who fell about laughing, and I thought: “Wow, that felt good!”
And did you always want to be famous?
I think there was a time I was intrigued by fame and felt that it might solve any feelings of insecurity, but as I got older the desire for fame dwindled, and it was just about wanting to be a jobbing actor. I think young people with a quest for fame is something to be wary about. Fame doesn’t provide anything you think it might. You have to love the work you are doing and that is what your job needs to be about, not about any trappings that come with it.
You went to Downe House aged 11. How formative was your schooling?
I have certainly used my schooling and some of the people in my work – or exaggerated versions of them. I think as a writer you absorb things, knowingly or not, throughout your life. I adored school so my main focus was just having fun there.
What advice would you give your schoolgirl self?
Probably what we would all say to our younger selves – just be yourself, don’t be swayed by peer pressure and stop worrying, it all turns out fine.
And what about those wanting to get into showbusiness?
I would ask them: ‘Why?’ If the answer was fame, money or success and because it seems like a fun lifestyle, then I would say they are barking up the wrong tree! If the answer was because they love to act; they want to tell good stories; they adore to sing; or direct; or whatever role in the arts they love, they can’t imagine not doing it, and they want to move audiences, then GO FOR IT! Because if you have real desire and a real purpose then that’s what’s fulfilling and that’s what will keep you going. The rest is just vacuous noise that won’t fulfill you. Sorry to burst any bubbles! And it’s a hard job. It’s a very real job. The arts are a vital business. Don’t let anyone tell you they are second to anything, because where would we be without them?
You’ve done radio, TV, the West End, Hollywood, comedy, drama. Which gives you the most pleasure and why?
I think it really depends on the part, and the people around it. I loved doing the Hollywood film Spy because some of my favourite performers were involved in it, and we filmed on location in Budapest so I got to travel too – it was very exciting! The West End was wonderful because the show got such a great response every night and the company were so lovely. And my sitcom was probably the hardest work and most stressful job, but the reward of people liking it gave me huge pleasure.
Which has been your favourite character to play?
I think that is actually impossible to call. It would be between Miranda, Chummy [Call The Midwife] and Miss Hannigan [Annie] probably. And they all gave me different challenges and characteristics I love. I learnt the most playing Miss Hannigan, but probably Miranda, my alter ego, has to be my favourite for all within it I can do. I can get laughs, dance, sing, be silly and also share the journey of what it is like to be a woman coming into their own. She goes on some feminist rants – she’s got it all!
What prompted you to write The Girl With the Lost Smile?
The story sort of landed in my lap, which is very rare – sadly. I just saw this little girl who had lost her smile at her bedroom window feeling a bit desperate for what to do, and suddenly imagined some creatures coming to visit her and take her on magical adventures to get it back. And the adventures became mystical and dramatic and my imagination fired up in a way it hadn’t before.
Do you write for yourself or your audience?
I think it’s always important to have the answer to why you are writing something, just a basic core reason even if it’s as simple as ‘making people laugh’. With The Girl With The Lost Smile, it was about the importance of sharing how you are feeling with your friends. But then you just have to write, because if you start thinking what people might think of it, or if it’s any good, you won’t be free to write what you need, or focus on your unique story and style.
How did the idea for the book come about?
For this book, it was about the notion of a young girl who was the cheery one, the funny one, the positive one at school who, through some difficult circumstances, lost her smile, and then how that would play out. I wanted younger readers who were perhaps going through a tricky time to know that they weren’t alone, and that there are ways to feel better. And Chloe, the heroine, goes through a number of life lessons to learn key ways to make her feel stronger and safer.
Tell us about the creative process.
It’s nothing very exciting I am afraid! It’s me on my own in my office or kitchen tapping on a laptop all day. That’s basically it! Making sure I take breaks, go for a walk, unlock any writer’s block. But it’s just a disciplined daily grind really to get it done. I wonder if most writers would agree that the joy of finishing a book outweighs the doing of it!
Your book celebrates friendship. What do you value in a friendship?
I read a wonderful quote the other day saying that friendship is simply about being truly known. Truly known for who you are. You suddenly realise there are very few people that you can wholly be yourself with and who really know you. Those are your friends, that’s the thing to value.
What are the main distinctions between you and the Miranda of your sitcom?
Wow these are some big, deep questions that are probably a whole other article in themselves! Sitcom Miranda is my clown, she is my alter ego, she is where I express some of my attitudes to life in a comedic way, but she is very different really. It’s a role. Her life is totally different. And with a clown alter ego you don’t see the serious, pensive, reflective or shy side to someone’s persona.
Do you feel the pressure to be funny and ‘on’ all the time?
Not at all. I am just who I am. Sometimes that is me being silly and funny, and sometimes that’s someone who is tired, or feeling pensive, or wanting to have a deep and meaningful conversation – or just getting on with work. We are all human and go through every emotion and I am no different. If I was just on all the time, I don’t think I would be very real.
The Girl with the Lost Smile
Hodder and Stoughton