If Sarah-Jane Potts offered even a hint about the identity of the Gracepoint killer, she says she’d never have made it back to England.
“They said if they found out we told anybody they’d take us out and shoot us and just leave us there, up in Nanaimo,” laughed the London-based actor who plays Gemma Fisher, owner of the Crestview Inn, depicted by Oaks Restaurant and Grill, in Fox network’s remake of the British mystery series Broadchurch.
That she lived to tell the tale is quite an accomplishment, joked Potts, accustomed to being questioned about Gracepoint’s potential outcome.
“After you’ve said, ‘No comment’ once it’s much easier to say, ‘No comment, no comment, no comment’ and then you just have to say, ‘Please get out of my face,’ ” said Potts, no stranger to keeping a showbiz secret. She did it two years ago before Eddi McKee, the senior nurse she played on Holby City, made her shocking departure from the BBC’s medical drama series.
Apart from David Tennant, the Scottish actor whose role as homicide detective Emmett Carver was inspired by his Broadchurch character, Yorkshire-born Potts is the cast member whose presence most recalls the original. While Tennant affects an American accent, Potts retains her English accent.
“Yes, there are different actors with different accents but we’re essentially telling the same story,” said Potts, who vowed not to watch Broadchurch until she wrapped Gracepoint.
“I didn’t want to feel influenced by it and then I broke three weeks into being here and watched the whole thing in a week. So I didn’t stick to my word at all.”
Potts, 38, is recognizable overseas for BBC TV roles such as Saint (Sarah), lesbian teenager Kim Daniels’ girlfriend in the Britcom Sugar Rush, Ellie in Casualty and Jo Lipsett in Waterloo Road. Over here, she’s better known for playing Molly in the TV series Felicity, and Lauren, the earthy Northampton shoe factory employee, in Kinky Boots, the 2005 comedy that inspired the Broadway musical.
“It was so much fun doing that film,” says Potts, recalling her experience working with Chiwetel Ejiofor, who played the drag queen who breathes new life into a failing shoe factory.
“He was a sweetheart and a phenomenal actor.”
When she was approached about possibly doing the Tony Award-winning musical, she remembers feeling both flattered and flabbergasted.
“It made me laugh because I thought: ‘What kinds of songs can you write about shoes?’”
Although she has filmed in Vancouver, Gracepoint marked her first visit to Victoria, which she says didn’t particularly remind her of England despite its “wee bit of Old England” image.
“The weather does, though!” she added, laughing. “I think you might even get more rain than we do.”
Indeed, the inclement weather cast and crews had to work through did not go unnoticed by Gracepoint’s stars.
After describing the Island as “beautiful” and proclaiming: “I loved it … I had a great time” on The Late Show With David Letterman last week, Tennant added: “It rained a lot … but I’m used to that.”
Potts shares Tennant’s jokey observation that “the soft L.A. types, they didn’t get it at all,” and echoed the former Doctor Who star’s fondess for our scenic virtues.
“It’s insanely beautiful here,” said Potts as she glanced at Island View Beach.
Gracepoint marked the first time Potts got to work with James Strong, the respected British director whose credits include Broadchurch, Doctor Who and Downton Abbey.
“He’s very clear and calm and concise about what he’s telling you,” she said.
“He trusts his actors, so he’ll give you a note and let you do your thing.”
Potts laughed when I remarked Strong appeared consistently unflappable on the job.
“Oh, he’ll like that a lot,” she said. “You should get a memo to him. He knows what he wants and, besides, he’s already done it, hasn’t he?”
A big plus shooting here — and elsewhere in Canada — is not being hounded by paparazzi and tabloid reporters, Potts said.
“In Britain they seem to have less morals about the pursuit of finding out usually quite personal and private information,” she said. “I feel like here we’ve been left alone, which everyone appreciates.”
While Potts said she understands “news is news,” she thinks performers should be able to publicize their work without also having to “publicize ourselves — unless we choose to.”
She says she supports industry efforts abroad to emphasize that “you’re not somebody’s property” just because you appear on TV screens five nights a week.
“If they want to know what you have for your breakfast, and if your parents are still alive and who was the last person you were going out with, they feel they have a right to know that.”
So, what did she have for breakfast this morning, I asked tongue-in-cheek.
“I had a really good smoothie because I’m sick,” she said, grinning.