Frances Barber: "Playing a seductive barrister has made me realise why I"m so unlucky in love"


Now I know why I can't keep a man: Playing a ruthlessly seductive barrister has made Frances Barber realise why she's so unlucky in love

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UPDATED:

22:29 GMT, 4 May 2012

She's played everyone from Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra to Doctor Who villainess Madame Kovarian, but it's Frances Barber's latest role as Caroline Warwick, a ruthless barrister in the new series of hit BBC legal drama Silk, that's had the biggest effect on her.

Caroline, nicknamed 'the Lady Macbeth of the criminal courts', will seduce and spit out anyone in her path to get what she wants, and playing her has made Frances question her own past behaviour.

'At one point Caroline tells a younger female barrister if she wants a man to marry her, all she has to do is, “Make sure he knows you'll listen to everything he says.” That's very telling. I didn't know that; more fool me,' says Frances.

Glamour girl: Frances Barber will appear in Silk on BBC1 later this month

Glamour girl: Frances Barber will appear in Silk on BBC1 later this month

'It's only when I look back that I realise other women were playing a game; flirting, being faux naive, keeping their opinions to themselves because men like to think they're right. It gave them advantages in their careers and relationships.

'Behaving like that was never in my DNA. At a recent family wedding my sister said to me, “You had such rich boyfriends, you could have been a millionaire,” and I was thinking, “It doesn't quite work like that.” I suppose I was never smart enough,' she laughs.

Frances, 53, has never married and has never wanted to. She's had three big love affairs, including ones with fellow actor Neil Pearson and Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle. Her last relationship ended four years ago when she discovered her lover of three years had been cheating on her. But now she says she's in her first ever grown-up relationship.

My sister
said to me, “You had such rich boyfriends, you could have been a
millionaire,” and I was thinking, “It doesn't quite work like that.”

'He's not in the business so I don't want to say his name, but it's very nice and low-key,' she says. 'I'm tired of drama. I'd rather have my sanity than be in a roller coaster romance. You realise those can't continue; like Romeo and Juliet. When it ends the heartbreak is enormous, like your insides have been ripped out. I don't want to go through that again. I've been with this new man for just over a year. We act like grown-ups and I'm enjoying that.'

Children have never been much on her
radar either, and now it's too late she says she only has the odd pang
of regret. 'If I'd had more of a biological urge I'd have done it and
probably settled down. When I see my friends with their grown-up
children – people such as Timothy Spall, whose kids are my godchildren –
part of me thinks it would have been fantastic.

Sustained career: Frances as Cleopatra in an RSC production of Antony and Cleopatra

Sustained career: Frances as Cleopatra in an RSC production of Antony and Cleopatra

'But when I was in my
thirties and all my friends had that desperation, I never had it. They
thought there was something wrong with me and said, “You're lying, you
must be feeling it,” but I never did. I'm one of six and, bar one, all
my siblings have kids. So I was always surrounded by crying children and
I remember thinking I'd like to go to a quiet room and get away from
the noise.'

She calls her many friends her second
family. Her best mates include Derek Jacobi – she recently arranged for
another pal, Coronation Street's Antony Cotton, to show Derek around
the Weatherfield set, which led to a cameo appearance on the show. Sir
Ian McKellen is another close friend – he recently built a library in
India in her name – and her best female chum is Kathy Burke.

'Every
Sunday we listen to Desert Island Discs and then discuss on the phone
whether we like that person. We always like the actors.' She grew up on a
council estate in Wolverhampton but describes her childhood as
'wonderful'. 'My mother was a peacemaker. She was thrilled with
everything we did.'

Frances
attended the local grammar school and then Bangor University in Wales.
After doing a postgraduate drama diploma she moved to London to be with
Danny, who she'd fallen in love with at Bangor, and eventually got a
role with the RSC, where she won an Olivier Award. She feels 'incredibly
lucky' she's still working, but admits she's spent most of her life
feeling unhappy about her body.

'There's
no age limit for body misery. You can be on a diet at 19 and still be
on one at 49. All those celebrities who've lost weight, like Dawn French
and Pauline Quirke, are so brave to even go out because people are
staring at them to see how much weight they've lost. Look at the way
Angelina Jolie behaved at the Oscars with her leg sticking out. She's
one of the most beautiful women in the world and even she looked awkward
and nervous.'

Frances's next role is the mother of a crazed vigilante
in British film May I Kill U 'I've got black teeth and look terrible,'
she laughs. 'It made me feel like I'm getting old and the hag roles are
all I'll be good for.' The gorgeous Frances Barber an old hag Never.

Silk will be on BBC1 later this month.