Why 'northern' comedy keeps Jane entertained
With long queues, rising prices, wonky trolleys and "unexpected items in the bagging area", supermarkets aren't everyone's idea of a fun time.
So why is it that Sky1's hit sitcom Trollied, set in the Warrington branch of budget supermarket Valco (Slogan: 'Serves You Right!') has us all rolling in the aisles?
Well, it's impeccably written, for one thing, and it boasts a fine ensemble cast including Mark Addy, Chanel Cresswell and Joel Fry, who portray the store's various misfits and miscreants. And holding them all together is neurotic deputy manager Julie, played by Jane Horrocks.
It's been quite a departure for Jane, whose previous sitcom work saw her don daft dresses as the ditzy Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous, but she was looking for a change.
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"You can't compare Ab Fab to Trollied – it's totally, totally different, and that's what I liked about it," says the 49-year-old mother-of-two.
"I think people expect you to repeat the same roles, and that's something that's never interested me. I suppose when people first watched Trollied they wanted me to be a bit more stupid than I am, but I liked that she was one of the straighter, more stuck-up characters."
She certainly is that. While the cast includes a lazy shelf-stacker, an egomaniac butcher and a rude checkout attendant among others, poor Julie's only flaws seem to be caring too much about the store – and about her boss, Gavin, on whom she has a huge crush.
This time round, Gavin's exuberant Spanish girlfriend arrives on the scene, pushing Julie's anxieties into overdrive. Will there ever be a happy ending for the put-upon middle-manager?
"I think there might be, yes – or certainly an optimistic ending," Jane hints, refusing to give too much away.
The series' biggest change, though, comes with the introduction of new character Richard France, played by Chris Geere (Waterloo Road). As Valco's new head of strategy, it's his job to modernise the store – but not everyone's on board with his ideas.
"He kind of turns it on its head, but in a ridiculous way – he wants to experiment with crazy, wild ideas to try and turn the store around and get more customers," says Jane. "It's very funny stuff, as is how the rest of the staff deal with him and his new regime."
Julie might have a hard time dealing with the travails of her job, but does Jane like playing her?
"I do, she's a – well, I wouldn't say she's a fun character, but I like playing her neuroses. I think the writers get that very well."
It was the sharp script that first attracted her to the show. "I really liked the writing. I thought it was quirky, and the characters were very individual, none of them merged into each other – they were incredibly idiosyncratic," she adds.
The six-strong writing team includes some of the names responsible for comedy favourites like Green Wing, The Armstrong And Miller Show, Stella and My Family, so the scripts come with a degree of quality – but Jane says they're not precious about their work.
"The scriptwriters are not particular about whether you improvise or not, so if I wanted to I could do, but I've never felt the necessity to be honest," she says.
"I'm usually very happy with what they write for Julie. It makes me laugh when I read it."
Jane reckons the northern humour in Valco's own brand of comedy is very realistic, adding: "I'm not sure if you set it in Hemel Hempstead whether it'd be as funny. It's very northern."
Jane knows a thing or two about northern humour. Her own Lancashire upbringing has given her the accent that's so prominent in many of her roles, including her parts in hit animations Chicken Run and Corpse Bride.
She says she decided at an early age that she wanted to be an actor. An early role in Mike Leigh's 1990 comedy drama Life Is Sweet earned her critical acclaim, and she's enjoyed a steady career. But acting isn't the only string to her bow.
Despite her small stature, Jane possesses a remarkable singing voice, as anyone who's heard her on stage or screen in Little Voice will testify.
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, in 2005, gave her further opportunity to flex her vocal chords. Would she have linked a singing career?
"I would have loved to have done that," she says, smiling. "I think that would be amazing. I mean I love music – I sometimes wish I was 20 again and I could live it all again."
There's always time isn't there? "Yes, but you do feel a bit of a gran! I've just come back from Latitude [music festival] and I did feel a bit of a gran there," she laughs.
Jane does, however, admit that she's recently been spending some time in a recording studio.
"I am actually doing some music stuff – doing my own music, some cover versions," she says. "I'm not sure I'm going to release them yet, so I'm not going to talk about them in detail, but I am reliving my twenties again!"
For the time being though, it's acting that remains the focus of her career. And no doubt Trollied fans will be counting down the days to August 22, when the new series starts – though Jane may have other things on her mind...
"Ooh hell, is it the 22nd?" she exclaims. "That's when the GCSE results come out. A tense moment in my household – my son's just taken his GCSEs. So I think it will be a countdown to that day, but not because of Trollied!"
The new series of Trollied begins on Sky1 on Thursday.