As earnest, no-nonsense Prof Sam Ryan in Silent Witness, she’s usually decked from head to toe in surgical greens and bent over some gruesome cadaver clutching a scalpel.
Yet how dramatically different Amanda Burton is in person. The actress, 46, is warm, charming and vivacious and exquisitely dressed in a beautifully cut green velvet coat, russet satin skirt and matching knee-high boots.
Encounters with this perfectly and very expensively packaged star are rare. But Burton feels she’s emerged from the shadow of dark roles such as Ryan and is keen to talk about it.
She heads the cast in ITV1’s new lavish new version of the heart-warming children’s period classic Pollyanna, which airs on New Year’s Day.
Burton plays the cold, austere and dour spinster Aunt Polly whose life is transformed by the arrival of her orphaned niece Pollyanna.
“I was so pleased to be offered this role,” she beams. “It was a lovely thing to do having done so much contemporary work over the years and a lot of dark work. I like dark, I’ve always been very attracted to it, but light is very good as well.”
Burton drew much on her late mother, who died last year, to refine how she’ll play the prickly Aunt Polly.
“My mother was very elegant and would have fitted into the period incredibly well,” explains the actress, born and raised in a Protestant area of Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
“I drew on her and I thought of her a lot when I was playing that role. I put a lot of her into it.
She had a very stiff Victorian upbringing and when we were growing up we’d receive a look in church to stop any nonsense. She could be austere but she was also twinkly.”
The notoriously shy Amanda admits some of her mother’s demeanour has rubbed off on her. “I am reserved,” she admits.
“I notice as I get older I’m very Northern Irish in my behaviour. I’m quite canny and like to weigh people up before I open up to them.” But she insists she’s nothing like as strict as her mum
While she has made a career out playing women married to the job, Burton is a dedicated mother with a hectic family life. She lives in London with her celebrity photographer husband Sven Arnstein and two daughters, Phoebe, 14, and Brid, 12.
And home life at the moment is a noisy affair with both children learning musical instruments.
“They’re going to kill me for talking about this,” she laughs. “Brid plays trumpet and piano very loudly. And Phoebe plays violin concertos first thing in the morning. As you move from room to room, it’s a great wake-up call.
“I’m strict about music practice in the morning, but they’re very good and very much their own people, and very independent.” Burton shares their passion for music and, perhaps surprisingly, admits that she likes dance music.
“I’m off to see Groove Armada this weekend,” chuckles the hipster, who claims she regularly attends gigs clubs in disguise.
“People just tend to clock my voice,” she reveals. Her other passion is horses. She has ridden since she was eight and currently has a mount called Bertie.
Amanda, who won best actress at the National Television Awards in 2001, made her small-screen reputation in C4 soap Brookside in 1982, playing yuppie Heather. She’s naturally grateful to the show and mourns its impending demise.
“I’m really sad about it,” she says. “I think they’ve done incredibly well to keep this show with a smallish scope, centered round the Close, going for 20 years and to have received so many accolades.
“It’s also been a tremendous springboard for so many actors, writers and directors.
“I have a tremendous affection and gratitude for it giving me a break, and I will be really sad to see it go.”
If Pollyanna, going out on January 1, is a brief departure for Amanda, it’s business as usual next year when she stars in Lynda La Plante’s new police drama The Commander.
“She’s a ruthless woman,” she says of her role as Commander Blake. “Commanding a serious crime squad is a very demanding job and you have to be able to cut right across the sexist prejudice, and also prove to a good team that you are able to lead.
“What’s been interesting in researching the part is that the authority these people command is enormous, and the pressure is tremendous. Commander Blake is very maverick and will stop at nothing – she’s a very dangerous woman.
“It’s Lynda La Plante at her very best.”
Burton will also shoot a new series of Silent Witness, which she is now co-producing, from February.
She’s been praised for her performance as Ryan, but also ridiculed. Jennifer Saunders parodied her in French And Saunders, and more recently she was lampooned in BBC2 sketch show Dead Ringers.
“I think it’s hilarious,” grins Burton, coolly. “It’s scary, actually, because she’s so much like me.”
Beyond Silent Witness, Burton has ambitions to make something in her native Ireland.
“I’d like to do a nice piece of drama by Brian Friel because we don’t see enough of his work – he’s one of the most brilliant playwrights,” she says, thoughtfully.
“It would be good if there were more avant garde productions on TV. That’s really where I come from but I’ve been in mainstream commercial television for a long time now.”
While the rest of us are watching Pollyanna Amanda will spend the first day of ’03 in far less glamorous fashion. “I’ll be mucking out my horses and probably clearing up after the party the night before,” she smiles.