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Suffolk actress in crime show

PUBLISHED: 19:36 31 March 2006 | UPDATED: 06:46 02 March 2010

SUFFOLK actress Jessica Oyelowo is hitting the big time in the BBC's hot new crime drama Mayo.

In her younger years she used to babysit for Star reader TALITHA CLAYDON in Woodbridge.

SUFFOLK actress Jessica Oyelowo is hitting the big time in the BBC's hot new crime drama Mayo.

In her younger years she used to babysit for Star reader TALITHA CLAYDON in Woodbridge. Today Talitha, 21, who studies creative writing and journalism at the University of Leeds, got an exclusive interview with the star.

JESSICA Oyelowo apologises for keeping me waiting; she decided to give the kids a late breakfast.

You can understand why the Ipswich-born actress might want to take things easy, because only a week ago she was on the set of the BBC's new drama Mayo.

Jessica plays detective sergeant Alex Jones alongside Alistair McGowan in the title role of detective Gil Mayo. “Alistair McGowan and I, we go round the Warwickshire countryside solving murders,” Jessica said.

But she added: “I wouldn't call it glamorous. Usually you have to wear wellies!” Coupled with the stylish outfits worn by Alex, this must have looked quite incongruous.

Filming took nearly six months and involved working 14-hour days, mostly during the winter months.

It was so cold that Jessica had difficulty in saying her lines. She said 'w' and 'r' are the hardest letters to say with “numb lips”, and recalls a particularly tricky line involving the words 'wedding ring.'

“Alex is a beautiful woman who dresses well and gets to be clever,” says Jessica. “She's very much a woman in a man's world.” Opposite the pedantic Mayo, who works by facts, Alex solves crimes by her intuition and feelings.

During filming Jessica found herself doing impressions of Alistair McGowan in between takes; “Only out of fun!” she laughed. “I don't think he's used to people doing that to him. He found it quite funny.”

The famous impressionist was the man who made Jessica's leap on to prime time drama, possible. He spotted Jessica in the television series People Like Us, and tried to get her on his comedy sketch show but she was too busy. When the production team were struggling to find an actress to play Alex, Alistair recommended Jessica for an audition.

The former Woodbridge School pupil who used to be called Jessica Watson, joined the National Youth Music Theatre in London at the age of 17, and performed in the West End, on Broadway and at the Edinburgh Festival.

It was in the role of Polly Peachum in The Threepenny Opera that Jessica realised that acting might be the career for her, and she was spotted by an agent who represents Kate Winslet, and international agency ICM.

Her television work includes fantasy series Hex, and she has also had roles in Oscar-winning film Sleepy Hollow, and Churchill: The Hollywood Years.

Today she shares her agent Lorraine Hamilton, with actors Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and actress Emma Thompson.

So, what made Jessica choose acting as a career? “I didn't really…it decided about me.”

She made her first stage debut at the age of three, and continued to do “lots and lots of performing” throughout her childhood in Woodbridge, where she grew up.

She is married to Spooks actor David Oyelowo, who looked after their young sons Asha and Caleb while she filmed Mayo. They met at a youth theatre, and married after David left drama school. Their first home was a one-bedroom flat above a snooker hall. She said: “He's fantastic, I've learned an awful lot from him.”

She's also learned from Mayo. She said: “You learn how necessary everybody is,” and pointed out the long list of credits at the end of the programme. “You learn to become friends with people on set, and how to build relationships.”

Of course showbusiness can be a fickle business. “We have faith,” said Jessica, “and we know that we're in the right place.”

She added: “We work hard and we love what we do.”

She said Mayo may do another series, but first the couple are heading for New York where David has been nominated for Best Actor at the Tribeca film festival which runs from April 25.

They live in Brighton with their two young sons. They are also on the board of directors for Inservice - the production company which founded the Brighton Dome Youth Theatre.

I ask how long we've got left. “Five minutes,” as Jessica is off to a wedding. I don't think I've seen Jessica since her wedding to David Oyelowo at St Mary's Parish Church in Woodbridge. To my shame I was wearing jeans because I had to come straight from my paper round! As the couple left the church, people were given pots of bubble mixture instead of confetti.

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Mayo is on BBC1 on Sundays at 8pm. See www.bbc.co.uk/drama/mayo.

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What do you think of Mayo? Do you know someone famous? Write to Star Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Name: Jessica Oyelowo

Born: In Ipswich and grew up in Woodbridge.

Career: Films include Churchill - The Hollywood Years (2005), Sleepy Hollow (2000). Theatre includes Up On The Roof, Hurly Burly, As You Like It. TV includes Mayo, Lee Evans: So What Now?, Madame Bovary.

Skills:

Dancing; singing, plays piano and saxophone.

Defining moment: Joining the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) at 17. She said: “My first role was Polly Peachum in the Threepenny Opera. It became pretty clear that this was what I wanted to do from then on.”

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