Sarah Parish proves geek and Greek credentials in BBC Atlantis
Unlike millions around the world, Sarah Parish hasn't been able to bring herself to tune in to the fantasy series Game Of Thrones. "Mainly because I'm angry I'm not in it," says the actress, with a big laugh.
And she's not just talking from a professional perspective – she's something of a self-proclaimed "fan boy" and a "huge sci-fi geek".
"I always have been, and I've been desperate to be in something like that," she says. That and brief appearances in Doctor Who (where she played the Empress of the Racnoss) and Merlin, make her the perfect candidate for BBC One's lavish new fantasy show Atlantis, which she describes as "a slightly younger version" of Game Of Thrones.
The 13-part series perfectly fills the TV spot vacated by Merlin, which ended in 2012. Atlantis is actually made by the same creators, along with the team behind Misfits, and brings to life the vast store of Greek myths and legends.
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At the story's core is Jason, who descends to the ocean floor to try and find out what happened to his father. After a strange incident in his submarine, he wakes, washed up on the shores of the mythological land of Atlantis where he meets the studious young Pythagoras and the overweight, overbearing Hercules.
They embark on a voyage of discovery, which sees them brush shoulders with Medusa, come face to face with the Minotaur and even do battle with the dead. All the while carefully watched by the queen, Pasiphae, played by Parish, who's concerned that Jason and pals could ruin her plans.
"Her main aim is to have as much power over Atlantis as possible," says Parish, 45. "I think she'd like to rule, so she needs to get rid of the king. She'll do whatever she can to gain power.
"She's one of my more evil characters," adds the actress, who also played the conniving Regan Hamleigh in The Pillars Of The Earth.
But there are other dimensions to Pasiphae, she says. "She comes from a family of sirens who are known for being able to bewitch men, and I think the king's bewitched by her. She's very clever at manipulating people into getting what she wants."
Parish was also attracted by the prospect of being cast in a new series.
"I love being a part of new things, breaking a mould if you like," she says. "I'm not really one to go into things that have been going for years."
She can't deny she was also looking for something glamorous, having "just come out of scrubs" in the medical drama Monroe, which also starred James Nesbitt, and was unexpectedly cancelled after two series.
"I don't want to put myself out of a job with regards to commissioning editors, but I think it was a bizarre decision," she says. "Peter Bowker's one of the best writers, and James Nesbitt was in the role of his life. We were all like, 'Wow, can't quite believe it'.
"But that's the business, isn't it?" she adds, shrugging. "You've just got to put a smile on your face and go 'OK', otherwise you'll end up really angry and bitter and sad."
On that note, it's back to the matter of Pasiphae's costumes, which are stunning, if a little restrictive. "At the beginning I was on a strict no-carbs, no-pudding policy but that's slowly disappeared. Now, I sit in my dressing room, scoff Haribo and wonder why the costumes feel tight."
The actress is glowing and, unlike her co-stars, it's not from a bottle. "No, I'm not spray-tanning. This is from being in the garden in Hampshire," she explains.
It's also likely a remnant from filming Atlantis in Morroco, though the crew were closer to home for indoor scenes, which were shot in Bristol.
That brought Parish nearer her roots, in Yeovil. Born in the Somerset town in 1968, she hit the stage very young, in the Tintinhull panto at the age of two, as the pearl in an oyster.
"I can't remember the production, but I was supposed to come out of the shell and run around the stage.
"But I didn't get off the stage, they had to keep going with the show around me.
"Mum and Dad were always in the panto, and my brother and sister as well. It was something we all did together.
"Yeovil is where I discovered what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do – especially through Yeovil Youth Theatre and when I went to Yeovil College.
"My last three years in Yeovil are very important to me. I have incredibly good memories of that time."
She has now settled in Hampshire, where she lives with her husband James Murray, who she met on the set of Cutting It, and their three-year-old daughter Nell.
Their other daughter, Ella-Jayne, died of a heart defect at the age of eight months in January 2009, the experience of which inspired Sarah and James to take part in fundraising for Southampton General Hospital, where Ella-Jayne was treated. Earlier this year they were among a team of 13 who took on the Three Peaks, raising £20,000.
While Nell's too young to watch Atlantis, she has shown appreciation of her mum's on-screen wardrobe. "I FaceTimed her the other day – she saw my costume and her eyes lit up. She wanted to wear the crown," says Parish.
It's been an epic six-month shoot for Atlantis, which involved the cast and crew travelling to Morocco to film outdoor scenes.
"I thought I was a really old granny out there, but I did have two nights where I stayed up and, yeah, when I stay up, I stay up. It was a lot of fun," laughs Parish.
She credits the show's producers, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps, who she knows well, for making things run smoothly.
"When you get a bit older, when you've got a family and other responsibilities, you want to work with people who you really get on with," says Parish, who was offered the role while she was Los Angeles doing pilot season, when actors from all over the world audition for new shows.
"It was a brilliant excuse to get out of doing pilot season, which is horrendous," she admits. "I took the job and thought, 'I don't have to do any more horrible auditions, I can just sunbathe!'"
She was also given two months off during the shoot to go and make Breathless, another medical drama, this time set in the Sixties and starring Jack Davenport.
"That was fantastic, because although the queen's in it a lot, she's not in it all the time. I could come back after two months and I was fresh and ready to go again."
She doesn't think she'll travel to Los Angeles for pilot season again. "Although it's lovely to go out to LA early in the year, as it's so dark and horrible here, it's also incredibly stressful doing pilot season and I think maybe I'm too old for that.
"You know – changing in cars and lay-bys between auditions. I don't think I've got it in me any more."
Besides, she's had more luck auditioning via the computer in her garden shed than in Tinseltown, she reveals. "I have to say, I always have more success from my shed, but I think the whole process is changing. It's no longer important for actors to go out to LA. Everything's on the computer, which means I can stay here, where my home is."
Apart from Atlantis and Breathless, the former Preston School and Yeovil College student will also appear in an upcoming Poirot episode called The Final Four
"Yeah, it's been a bit of a year, so I think I'll have a little break and see what happens in January," she says. "If Atlantis goes again, we'll be back in April, but you never know."
Born in Yeovil, Somerset, on June 7, 1968.
Her brother is musician John Parish, who's worked with P.J Harvey and Tracy Chapman.
Like Melanie Sykes, she came to prominence in an advert for Boddingtons Bitter.
Her early notable roles were in northern-based series Peak Practice, Cutting It and Blackpool. More recently she starred in Mistresses.
She appeared alongside Debra Messing in 2005 film The Wedding Date, and with Kate Winslet in 2006's The Holiday.
Atlantis begins on BBC One tonight.