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Lynne Hunter plays Vanessa in Banana. Here she speaks about working with Russell T Davies and starring in the hit show.
How did you end up landing the role of Vanessa? Had you worked with Russell before?
Yes. I did a series ten years ago of Russell’s called Mine, All Mine. It was about Swansea, really, which is where Russell’s from. It was an eight or 10-part series, and I met him then, and we became friends, in a way.
And when I went up for the part of Vanessa in Banana and Cucumber, I went to meet the director, David, and the producer, Matt, and I spoke to Russell afterwards and he said that he’d actually written episode eight of Banana for me.
I was incredibly moved by that, really – it’s a massive, massive honour and privilege to have someone like Russell actually writing an episode for me. I was blown away by that. I didn’t know any of this when I went up for it, but I found out afterwards.
Explain a little bit about Vanessa. What’s her story?
On the surface she’s a really tough cookie. She’s worked hard, she’s built up her own business, she’s brought up a daughter on her own. She’s always known she’s gay, she had her daughter knowing that.
But while she’s a tough cookie on the face of it, she’s a real salt-of-the-earth woman. If Vanessa was your mate, you’d be well-covered. She’s really there for you if she’s your friend. That’s why she can’t turn her back on people who need her help, as we discover in her episode.
She’s very much a woman who wants to make people’s lives better. She’s an incredibly caring woman. And she’s also got a secret that’s been eating away at her for many years. And she only tells the girl in the episode because she knows she can’t understand a word of what she’s saying. Vanessa lifts the lid and it all comes pouring out, years and years of this guilt that she’s lived with.
You mentioned that the other character in the episode doesn’t speak English. That must have been quite a bizarre acting experience.
Yes, it was. Strangely enough, I made a conscious decision not to find out what it was she was saying. They offered me the chance to have a translation of her script, and I said, ‘No, I don’t.’
Vanessa doesn’t understand what she’s saying, so it was good for me to be in the same situation. I had no idea what she was saying. That made it really difficult to learn cues, for example. But it was really helpful not to have the translation.
Apparently some of what she is saying makes the scene very funny, because I totally misinterpret what she says. Apparently it’ll be a very funny scene for the tiny minority of people who speak both English and Yoruba. To this day I’ve not read the translation, so I’ve no idea what she said.
How does it feel to have someone like Russell come along and write a whole episode for you? Where does that stand, for you, in the grand scheme of your career?
In the 35 years of my career, no one has ever invested that amount of faith in me as a performer. I am totally overwhelmed and humbled by that. I don’t have the words to say to Russell what this means to me. I’ve tried to tell him.
When I got the script originally, I could not believe it. It’s virtually a monologue. I’ve done a lot of television in my time, but never anything as big as this. Even in the big series’, the very well-known actors rarely get that amount of exposure or airtime.
When I got the script, it was totally terrifying. With that level of faith invested in me comes a level of responsibility.
The finale of Banana hits screens on 12 March, 10pm, E4.