She's been a pop star, a sci-fi pin-up, a celebrated television actress, and has two Olivier nominations under her belt. There’s definitely no pigeonholing Billie Piper. InStyle chatted to her about her penchant for playing females she “loves to hate”, her love affair with London and why her latest co-star, Riz Ahmed, is a “triple threat”.
Billie is currently promoting her new film City Of Tiny Lights, in which she stars opposite man of the moment, Riz Ahmed. It’s a gritty West London-set thriller, which spoke to the city-loving actress enough to draw her back to the big screen after 12 years away.
That’s not to say she’s had any down time, following a string of roles in TV hits like Doctor Who, Secret Diary Of A Call Girl and Penny Dreadful, she completed a run of Yerma last year, and was lauded for her titular role as a woman driven to the unthinkable by her desperate desire to have a child. It’s a palpably draining role for anyone watching, but the fearless actress is going back for more, with a second sold out run set to start at The Young Vic in July.
In between, she’s making the most of time off with her two young sons, Winston, 8, and Eugene, 4, and also turning her attention to causes she loves, starring in TK Maxx’s Red Nose Day tee campaign, with the likes of Pearl Lowe, Winnie Harlow and Maisie Williams.
As we caught up, she was aptly on the move, chatting emphatically and with plenty of her raucous laughter thrown in from a busy London street, sirens and all in the background…
InStyle: On top of promoting your new movie, you’ve just starred in the Red Nose Day shoot for TK Maxx, what drew you to the campaign?
Billie: I just think Red Nose Day has such creative ways of raising money and I’m always really thrilled when I’m asked to participate. It also means you get to work with some really amazing people.
IS: You were working with Rankin and other stars on the shoot, what were the highlights?
B: Everyone was really geared up for the shoot which makes for a joyous atmosphere. It was also great to catch up with Pearl and Daisy [Lowe] - we have a lot of mutual friends. Me and Pearl chatted about raising kids. It’s nice to spend time with another mother, and chat about how draining it can be, have a moan - a funny moan!
IS: You recently starred in City Of Tiny Lights, what drew you back to films after such a long break?
B: The timing was just right. I’ve always been locked into a series, and now was the right time to sit back and read scripts. I like the fact this one was from emerging talent - that’s the direction I want to go in next. It was made on a really small budget and that just seems to make shooting really exciting and testing; there was a nice circus, all in it together type of feel because of Pete [Travis, director]. I also love that it’s a script about young people in London in the ‘90s with a serious thriller twist. And then of course there was the opportunity to work with Riz [Ahmed]…
IS: What's Riz like?
B: He’s an incredibly professional guy, a brilliant brilliant actor. He’s a very thoughtful human really - so he’s pretty impressive, I have to say! But on top of that he’s totally down to earth, he loves his music, he’s political, super smart. He’s what you would call a triple threat creatively - able to do everything and a good human on top of that.
IS: A lot of major Hollywood actresses are seeking out TV and theatre roles right now, but you’ve done things in the reverse order. Do you have a preference?
B: Everyone has their own path and cosmically things happen for different reasons and I was fortunate enough to do a series of really good TV roles and to play really great women. I think at the moment there seems to be a wealth of good TV, but the film stuff seems to be less moving. There’s a few diamonds in the rough, but I’m just always on the look out for great story telling.
IS: You’ve played a lot of gritty female roles, including several prostitutes - do you seek out female specific issues when you’re reading scripts?
B: i just like playing women that are complex chicks, women with a past, or a different approach to life. I’m attracted to the more truth-telling stories about women and how they actually feel. Not all of them are going to be palatable and I love playing parts that I hate playing. I can’t imagine doing a boring girlfriend role - I just don’t know why you’d do them.
IS: You’re constantly reinventing yourself; what’s your secret?
B: I think that the most important thing is to trust your instincts, and every time I’ve started something new I think about where should I go next.
IS: Next, you’ll be doing a second run of Yerma. It’s an exhausting role, what do you do to recover from your shows?
B: I was pretty militant the first time round. It was very rare that I stayed to have a pint with the cast. I’d usually just go straight home because I was just really vacant by the time it finished and I often had to do it all again the next day. It’s the first time I’ve been really mature to my approach to taking care of myself for work, maybe that’s because I’ve hit my mid-thirties.
IS: What are your favourite things to do in London when you’re not working?
B: I’ve become quite a hardcore walker - I’ve reached a point where I like walking and I don’t listen to Radio 1 anymore! I spend a lot of time enjoying the wildlife in parks with my son, and desperately trying to avoid central London! Southbank is always good if you want a Woody Allen moment - you can be dreamy and romantic, leafing through a knackered old book at the book stall or get an ice cream and see a play. Otherwise you’ll find me in a North London pub catching up with friends.
IS: And when you’re at home, what are you watching?
I’m obsessed with This Country on BBC, and I am watching the latest Girls, because I really want to see where these characters end up.
You can buy a Red Nose Day T-shirt from TK Maxx storesand tkmaxx.com now, with at least £5 donated Comic Relief and their efforts raising life-changing funds for African aid.