Maggie O’Neil Teletext Interview – September 2002

The last time we saw Maggie O’Neill, she was teetering dangerously on top of a cliff for the cliffhanger – literally – of the final series of Peak Practice.

This time she is much more composed, and thankfully not wearing that garish orange dress which went with her over the cliff top.

TV Plus caught up with her at the launch of new C4 drama White Teeth, where she plays a raunchy teacher having an affair with a married man (Om Puri).

One of the scenes required her to stand stark-naked in a hallway with nothing but a tasteful flower arrangement to hide her modesty.

“It wasn’t in the original draft, but the director decided it would be a nice idea,” says Maggie, 35.

“I was really excited about it, but the first time I actually did it I thought ‘oh my God I don’t know what to do’. I just wanted to run away and cry, but I couldn’t so I just went for it and it was a really good laugh.”

Her character, Poppy Burt-Jones, teaches exotic dancing, dressed in full belly-dancer attire. For research, Maggie relied on Bollywood movies.

“I watched a couple and then thought I’d just make it up when I got there,” she laughs.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do but it was a good laugh. I did feel very self-conscious though, wouldn’t you? The costume was fantastic, really detailed – but very heavy.

“I loved my character and Om Puri was a really good laugh. He’s a really nice guy and an extremely good actor. We laughed all the time. When you’re doing parts like that it helps you get through it.”

Since Peak Practice finished, Maggie has appeared in an episode of Murder In Mind but says she is “completely and utterly out of work” now the filming of White Teeth has finished.

“Too many people saw me in that orange frock, I’ll never work again after that,” she jokes. “That’s the end of my career.”

Maggie was forced to wear the rather nasty creation when her Peak Practice character, Alex Redman, had her wedding dress trashed by bisexual nurse Claire Brightwell, played by Eva Pope.

“Now, I’m completely out of work. It’s good when you’re out for three months but know you’ve got a job to go to at the end, but when it starts creeping on it does get pretty scary. You think this is the year that it could all finally stop.”

There’s one thing Maggie would never consider and that’s competing on a reality TV show.

“I was a complete fanatic of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here,” she says. “But you wouldn’t get me on anything like that. I can’t imagine anything worse.

“I think you’ve got to be insane to put yourself in that situation.”

Maggie says she was “gobsmacked” at the public response when Peak Practice was axed after 12 years in June. “It was a very popular programme but it had run its course for me,” she says.

“It was great at the time and I enjoyed doing it, but it was a long time away from home.”

Set in the Peak District, Maggie was forced to leave her London home during filming, but she is now back in the city looking to buy a house.

So what’s next for her? “I don’t know really, I’d just like to do some nice dramas, but they don’t seem to be making that much at the moment. I’d do a long-running series again, but I’d prefer somewhere closer to home.

“I think the business has got so narrow now that you’ve just got to be grateful for what you can get. I’m up for anything, even a soap. I’m not in any way snobbish about work.”

In between jobs, she keeps herself fit with yoga and pilates.

“You just have to try to keep yourself as busy as possible, the longer you spend in bed, the harder it is to get out,” she says.

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