Laura Main – John spoke to the Call the Midwife star about her life on stage and screen
Having watched every episode of Call The Midwife, at the top of my interview hitlist was Laura Main, who, initially, played Sister Bernadette before marrying the doctor and becoming Shelagh Turner. I was very excited when my opportunity arose but it wasn’t on set at Nonnatus House, so I didn’t need a bike to get there. It was in her dressing room at the Mayflower, Southampton, where she was playing Princess Fiona in this year’s run of Shrek The Musical.
Some may be surprised to see you turn up in a musical like Shrek but, in a way, isn’t it going back to your teenage years?
Yes. I loved doing musicals when I was at dancing school. At the age of 14, I was surprised to be chosen to play Annie in an Aberdeen amateur production and the following year I played Louisa Von Trapp, when a top professional company came to our local theatre to do The Sound of Music. I also did shows like State Fair and Company in the early days of my professional career.
Having trained at Webber Douglas, some of your earliest television appearances were in purely acting roles. I imagine this was part of your career plan?
Webber Douglas is a straight acting school, so I was thrilled to appear in some popular television shows. I particularly loved playing a part in one of my own personal favourites, Monarch of the Glen. I can still remember the excitement of the first time I walked up the drive to Glenbogle House. Now, sometimes I think if I was just walking on to our Nonnatus House set in Call The Midwife, to be a guest artist, I would feel very excited like the first time I saw Glenbogle House.
In Murder City you became a regular cast member. That must have been very important for you?
My previous television appearances were over before you knew it, but playing in every episode of the two series, as DC Allison Bain, was just great for me. To get that camera time early in my career was so important. You don’t get that kind of opportunity at drama school. It’s all theatre based really.
Do you realise you have now been in 60 episodes of Call The Midwife?
I can’t believe that. I have appeared in every one but had no idea it was that many. We have another Christmas special and a new series in 2019.
Right back in series one there was a scene with you, as Sister Bernadette, sat in front of a mirror, not in your nun’s attire. Was that a hint of what was going to follow?
I didn’t really know what Heidi Thomas had planned for my character. At that time, Bernadette was very much a part of the ensemble. When I was sat alone in that scene, I did wonder what might be in store for the future. All the other girls had gone off to their Saturday night dances.
There was a hint of a romance in the next series. I think most people would have hoped you would get together with the doctor – which you did, of course. Did that surprise you?
You don’t get to see all the scripts for the episodes in advance. There was talk of them getting together but I was never sure it was going to happen. It then became that internal battle of what she was going to choose for her life. It was such a great opportunity for my character.
You and Stephen McGann, as Dr Turner, work together so well. Do you get on well off screen?
I love working with Stephen. It’s a real partnership and friendship. We look after each other and, I think, with his greater experience, he looks after me a bit more. I love our scenes together and he’s such an interesting guy – you can talk to him about absolutely anything.
How do they get such young babies in the show? They do look as if they have just been born.
I think all of them are no more than two weeks old. Now, it’s all done through agencies. In the early days, I think a notice just appeared in a local hospital. With the success of the series I think more and more people have realised they would like to have that footage of their babies.
Has there been a storyline that has almost broken new ground?
I think the story about the Thalidomide babies, which was in series five, was a very important one. It tackled a subject that hadn’t been discussed that much. When Dr Turner dealt with this and described it, I think half the audience shuddered because they remembered and the other half, of younger people, didn’t realise the significance of giving a pregnant lady that particular drug.
Back to Shrek. Have you enjoyed the change?
I’ve loved it. After playing Shelagh for so many years it’s been so different. When I first prepared to go on stage in it I put my hand up to push my glasses up. I always do that before filming in Call The Midwife, Of course, I wasn’t wearing glasses.
Laura Main is a credit to her profession. When I saw Shrek it was the first time I had sat through one of her shows without shedding a tear. Being quite an emotional person, I normally watch Call the Midwife on my own – with a box of tissues.