The actress, whose many TV and film roles include Life on Mars and Pride, tells Zoë McIntyre about enjoying family time in France
What is your family connection with France?
My mum has been living in a hamlet near Bourganeuf, an hour’s drive east of Limoges, for ten years. There is one other house behind her and not another one within a three-mile radius. I usually go for Christmas – it’s so gorgeous. Everyone goes over with their presents.
What do you like about the area?
I live in London, so it’s a real breather being in rural France; the air quality is different. The human and vehicle traffic is about one per cent and I love going for runs because I can use the roads – you can hear a car coming for miles off. It is a complete rest and a chance to switch off.
Do you get out and about?
We’ve been to some beautiful exhibitions. And, often on a Sunday, different villages hold great vide-greniers – like car boot sales – which take over all the streets. There is one in Bourganeuf and another in Peyrat-le-Château. I love Peyrat; it’s a very old town and so pretty with the houses looking over a lake. It also has a memorial museum dedicated to the French Resistance. Limoges also has a great street market when people come down from Paris.
Do you have a special place you like to visit?
We often go to Lac de Vassivière, a large, man-made lake. You park and walk over the bridge to a central island, which has art installations with a trail into the woods. Three-dimensional craftworks are on display and some go into the water. There is a big watchtower with a spiral staircase – rather like a lighthouse. Last time I was there, it had an installation with candles that dropped round from the ceiling. It was magical. You go to the top and look out over the whole lake. In the summer there are man-made beaches and you can hire pedalos and eat in the restaurants by the waterside. As the lake is so big, it’s very varied.
Are there any other areas you have explored?
My dad used to work as a rep for the tour operator Cycling for Softies. The terrain was completely different where he was, to the east, on the other side of the Massif Central. There are fields and fields of sunflowers and the landscape is much more colourful. My dad is a cycling fanatic so I have ridden around with him. We followed the Tour de France in 1994. I remember standing on the sidelines at l’Alpe-d’Huez [the ski resort] and encouraging all the cyclists who reached the top. It was very exciting.
How’s you French?
Pretty poor! I can get by in a little café or ask how much a scarf is at a vide-grenier. But I’ve been working with Kristin Scott Thomas [the two starred in the play Electra at the Old Vic theatre in London at the end of 2014]. She speaks fluent French and works in France a lot. It has inspired me to learn the language.
Do you like French film or theatre?
I’ve always loved French cinema. In preparation for working with Kristin, I re-watched I Loved You So Long – her performance [as a released prisoner returning to her family] blew me away. I loved Romain Duris in the thriller The Beat That My Heart Skipped. It’s a great film, and his breakthrough performance. The prison drama A Prophet was fantastic too.
Are there any French actors you would like to work with?
Gérard Depardieu. I have admired him ever since I saw him in Green Card (1990). He is a very compelling personality for all sorts of reasons.