Fiona Dolman is an actress whom many will remember as Jackie Bradley in ITV’s Heartbeat. She is now gracing our screens as the second Mrs Barnaby following the departure of Jane Wymark and John Nettles from Midsomer Murders. Married to the not so new Chief Inspector John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), Fiona’s character Sarah Barnaby has really found her place in Midsomer and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to chat to the lady herself, without further ado…
Thank you so much for chatting to me, Fiona – when you first read the Midsomer Murders script, what did you think? Were you a regular viewer of the show prior to casting?
When I first got asked to do Midsomer I wasn’t a regular viewer of it but I knew of it, it was one of those shows where it was one of those things you wanted on your CV. This is a terrible thing to say but I was almost slightly disappointed at the idea of playing a regular because I would almost have rather been killed off in a catastrophic way. As soon as I got the job I had friends who were actors ending me messages saying “I’d love to be on the show and killed off in some weird murder!”. It is a brilliant job though and when I first read through with Neil (Dudgeon) he was just delightful and continues to be so, it’s a very easy working relationship because we’ve worked together for many years and there are many things that don’t need to be set, he will only have to do a certain look and I can read it as a wife would do.
How did it feel stepping into the previous Mrs Barnaby’s shoes (Jane Wymark’s)?
I felt the pressure was more on Neil although I know that Jane Wymark was loved as Joyce and still is. When I joined the premise was that they wanted it to be very different and they didn’t want the wife to be involved in every group in the village. They wanted to show the family life and work life for Barnaby as separate worlds so that when those two worlds collide it’s very rare. For example when we did the episode called The Dark Rider Barnaby wasn’t happy that Sarah wanted to carry on with her job as commentator with a murderer running around. When it comes to having big shoes to fill in replacing John Nettles and Jane Wymark, I think Neil had the pressure on him and he’s done the job really well, he’s very different to John Nettles and I’m very different to Jane Wymark.
What has been your favourite episode so far?
I loved The Dark Rider it was everything that I love about Midsomer, my favourite thing about Midsomer is that it has a sense of humour within the series. It deals with characters who are so eccentric and all you have to do is go to a village fair and you see these types of people. I love the fact that Midsomer celebrates these people without being mean about them. The elaborate murders are great and The Dark Rider had death by gargoyle which was one of my favourites and we had these guys come in and do the battles. Seeing these re-enactors on set just made me go “wow this is like a film set”. The locations are beautiful and the guest stars for that were Edward Fox and Phyllida Law. Episode three of this series was also one of my favourites, it was huge amounts of fun and I had quite a few people that I knew starring in it too. Susan Jameson was in it, she played my mum in Heartbeat.
What is your favourite part of Midsomer Murders aside from the locations?
We have a cast read through which is sometimes the only time I meet the guest actors. We sit around the table with actors who make the read through like a master class. I read the script at home and then I think “wow you’ve done that with it” when I hear the guest actors read as their character. It’s extraordinary and really wonderful.
You are also well known for playing Jackie Bradley in Heartbeat, what were your highlights of making that show?
I feel so blessed with the time I had on that show and the show I’m doing now, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Heartbeat was my first big gig and as an actor it was exciting to turn up on set an have such a big role in the show. Filming in Goathland and Whitby and the guest actors we had were wonderful, I met Susan Jameson on that as she played my mother. We had a lot of fun and it had a family feel to it, the crew had been with it from the start and were incredibly generous to Jason (Durr) and myself.
What inspired you to become an actress?
I went to boarding school and we had a film club at the weekend and for this two hours we’d have we would go and watch a film and I went when I was ten years old and felt it quite difficult. I remember this film club being a saviour for all of us. I remember thinking that what a great thing it would be to do a job like that and transport people out of where they’re at and provide that escape. My school was very academic and we didn’t do any drama particularly. I looked up in the Yellow Pages and found a list of Drama Schools, arranged auditions and unbelievably luckily I got in. I think there were seventy places and over a thousand applicants and that was then, of course now it’s worse.
Finally, what would you say to encourage viewers to carry on watching Midsomer Murders?
Watch Midsomer Murders because it’s a family drama that everyone can sit down and watch, it’s got suspense, great locations, a wealth of fantastic actors. It’s cosy and got something for everybody.
Thank you so much to Fiona for her time, it was a real pleasure chatting to her and to be able to feature her on Break A Leg is glorious!
Watch the final episode in this series of Midsomer Murder on Wednesday 18 January 2017 at 8pm on ITV.