‘Can you imagine Daniela Nardini as a nun?’

Scottish actress Daniela Nardini. Picture: Robert Perry

Scottish actress Daniela Nardini. Picture: Robert Perry

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EASY-GOING, modest, sweary, open and funny, Daniela Nardini is enjoying the roles that come her way – even if she is still a little typecast.

Permanent skirt” is how Daniela Nardini is described in her latest role by Broughty Ferry burger baron Bob Servant, played by Brian Cox. Bob thinks council official Megan is after him, while what she’s really after is his licence, or lack thereof. Nardini is in two of the three episodes of the new series adapted from the popular novels by Neil Forsyth that follow the adventures of Bob and his sidekick Frank, and she may well be playing a no-nonsense bureaucrat but even in a sensible mac, Nardini smoulders.

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“I don’t think she quite knows what to make of Bob at all,” she says. “I played her as being quite bemused by him, which everybody is. I’m not sure there was a huge attraction on her part, but I don’t think she was completely turned off. You have to strike a balance where, you know, she’s kind of… bemused is probably bordering on the best word.”

Bemused, bordering on intrigued at his cheek, I suggest, since Megan must be a good 25 years younger than businessman, raconteur and eternal optimist Bob.

“Yes, she’s never met anyone like him. He’s definitely a one-off. She’s single, she’s in her forties. She’s professional, reasonably serious and isn’t used to this kind of attention from older men. It’s not just Bob, because Alex Norton’s character [he played DCI Burke in Taggart] is also keen.”

At this point Nardini breaks off and laughs. “Look at the age of the men I’m being cast opposite! I’ve obviously clambered over the hill. In real life, I go for the young ones like Ivan. Ivan has just turned 40 so he’s actually my toy boy,” she says with relish.

And she’s 46, is that right?

“No, we’re saying I’m on the bad side of 40, so we’ll just leave it at that,” she laughs again. “It’s difficult for a woman as an actress. Society likes you to be 35. But I think women especially love seeing an older woman who’s taken care of herself and hasn’t gone near the Botox, someone like Susan Sarandon. I think that’s much nicer than when they go too far. Renee Zellweger, good God! It’s the eyes! And they were so attractive in that Dianne Wiest kind of way, crinkly eyes full of humour. I think somewhere along this journey of getting older, women have got it so wrong. Trying to be skinny and lineless just makes you look hard. I seriously haven’t had anything done. I would probably go for the full face lift if I did, but I’d be too afraid they would cut through a nerve and I wouldn’t be able to blink. Luckily I’m with a man who hates all that.”

“And men are at it too,” she says, warming to the subject. “My real pet peeve is Simon Cowell teeth. Big Shergar piano keys, pure white. A wee bit of orthodontistry is OK, but the whole lot shaved down to stumps and replaced? Well, it ruins many a male actor’s mouth. They’ve all got these silly teeth. I like the real thing. My teeth stick out.”

I look at her teeth. They don’t stick out. They look great, as does the rest of her. Even dressed down in skinny jeans and a black jumper (“Oh, photographs! I should have worn something glam”) and rather funky blue and orange wedge boots, she’s always going to attract more attention. Easy-going, modest, sweary, open, funny, Nardini is good company.

We’re talking in her husband Ivan Stein’s restaurant, The Gannet in Argyle Street, Glasgow. A swanky affair, it’s all exposed brick and steel fittings, crispy pig’s head with piccalilli and Perthshire venison with beetroot and hedgehog mushrooms. Nardini is excited at the prospect of grabbing some time, and possibly food, with the co-owner chef. It seems Bob Servant might not be so wide of the mark in his belief of the aphrodisiac appeal of cheeseburgers on his prey.

“I might get lunch with Ivan out of this,” says Nardini. “Everyone says you’re so lucky having a chef for a husband, but where is he? In someone else’s kitchen! He’s out at 7am and not back till 11pm so it’s not an easy career, a bit like acting. I wouldn’t like Claudia [their seven-year-old daughter] to choose either. Something more steady.”

The couple, who married in 2012 met at the Edinburgh Festival nine years ago at a performance of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. “Maybe that’s a bad omen,” she jokes. “We’d both gone to see Frances Barber, who’s a friend of mine. I thought he was nice and he thought I was a bit nuts and then we got together about four months later back in London when he came to see me in a play where I was a prostitute.”

Londoner Stein and his partner chef Peter McKenna opened their venture last year after the former cut his culinary teeth at Michael Caines’ Abode. Unashamedly biased about her husband’s cooking skills, Nardini raves about the food.

“I’m not just saying this because it’s his place, but he and Peter are brilliant chefs. They’ve won things already. They were given a … oh God…” she leans over the rail of the mezzanine and yells down to the manager below, “what’s that award they’ve won here? The posh one? A what Gourmand? Bib? Like a bib. Oh OK.” She bounces back into her seat. “They won a Bib Gourmand. You should eat here, you won’t get a bad meal.”

Such is Nardini’s enthusiasm you can see she’d be brilliant in the restaurant if she didn’t already have twin careers as a mother and actress.

She grew up around food, the daughter of the ice cream dynasty, and her family still has cafes in Glasgow and Largs, although they no longer own the big white art deco-fronted parlour on the prom after a family rift saw the business split up and sold.

“A rift. Hmm,” she laughs. “My family will be thinking rift all right! I haven’t been in to the old cafe since all the bad… I’ve never gone back in. I just want that memory to be pure. I can’t drive past it without having a flood of memories of my grandparents… Anyway, I’ve been a waitress and I quite enjoy it so people say why don’t you go into the restaurant and front it, because I can be quite chatty. But my dad’s always said don’t mix business with pleasure. Later, maybe.”

Nardini may have waitressed in the family firm but after being bitten by the film bug as a child when she and her dad used to go to the cinema to watch Sophia Loren and Clark Gable movies, she trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. “I like a good romantic comedy. I’m a bit of a girl like that, but as an actress I more often than not get realistic roles, people that are a bit screwed up.”

People like the sharp and sexy lawyer Anna Forbes in the 1996 BBC2 series This Life, which won her a BAFTA award for Best Actress. She won another Scottish BAFTA in 2009 for her portrayal of a ruthless estate agent in the comedy drama New Town. Screen roles have included Fay Weldon’s Big Women, Undercover Heart and Sam Miller’s Elephant Juice and in the theatre, Juan, Miss Julie, Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, Camille, The Cherry Orchard, Macbeth and A Streetcar Named Desire. More recently she’s been back on TV as an ecowarrior teacher in Waterloo Road and Hogmanay party animal Auntie Caroline in BBC’s Two Doors Down pilot last New Year. Auntie Caroline will be storming back onto our screens next year as a series has just been given the go-ahead, and Bob Servant will also be aired on BBC4 next year.

“Working with Brian Cox was great. He’s incredibly charming and has such a twinkle in his eye. He’s lovely, full of stories and he’s worked with everyone. He’s got a proper big film career. He never stops. He’s very, very talented but also he’s got such a good look that you can fit him into all sorts of stories. Unlike me. I’m quite difficult to cast. I quite often get the same type of role, always someone quite strident. I think it’s what you get known for and what your break is.”

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Not that Nardini feels anything but affection for Anna, seeing the role as a blessing rather than a curse.

“At the end of the day, it’s a blessing because it’s given me my career. Before that I wasn’t really getting anywhere. I didn’t worry about being typecast. If you get offered 12 episodes of something you’d be daft to worry about that if the material’s great. She had a sexuality about her that she played on, the way she dressed. Right at the beginning I thought, ‘I can’t say that!’ I was really shocked because she talked about a vibrator… oh my God. And she kissed a woman. She tried it. She wasn’t afraid. It was groundbreaking and saying, oh, yes, people do do that, they do have vibrators.”

It seems casting directors can’t see beyond Anna sometimes either, passing her over for the role of a nun. “They said can you imagine Daniela Nardini as a nun? That’s just prejudice,” she bridles. “I have played a nun, actually, in a play. But that’s what you carry with you from the past. I mean, people were very happy to see me drunk on telly again in Two Doors Down, you know [she adopts a theatrical luvvie tone] ‘best thing you’ve done in ages’. And I thought, oh, everything else I’ve done is rubbish then. But then, she’s a great character, wicked and fun, and who doesn’t enjoy seeing someone jump off a roof?”

Not one to take being denied the role of a nun lying down, Nardini upped the ante and auditioned for the part of the Virgin Mary in NBC’s mini-series AD, the follow up to The Bible.

“I really, really wanted to be the bloody Virgin Mary. But they gave it to Greta Scacchi. They definitely thought I had potential as a Virgin Mary though, but just didn’t quite cut it. Every now and again you get a bit, ‘oh, I really wanted that part...’ but you have to let it go.”

Now, as well as appearing in Bob Servant, she’s in Terence Davies’s much anticipated Sunset Song, playing Chris Guthrie’s mother opposite Peter Mullan as her father and this time, the role is very different.

“Yes, in Sunset Song I get to play someone really gentle and heartbreaking; Chrissie’s mother who commits infanticide and kills herself. It was nice because it showed a side of me I don’t often get to play, a gentle person. Her husband is a brute, but Peter Mullan is such a good actor, he showed why he was so hard. Agyness Deyn (who plays Chris) is just lovely in it too. Although I missed an awful lot of it because I’m dead,” she laughs. “It’s sad. There’s not a scene where someone doesn’t cry. I cried in my first scene, and I’m not a big cryer, for an actress. There I was, crying away...”

Another role that saw Nardini shedding a tear was last year’s The Crash, where she played the mother of a teenager killed in a car crash. For Nardini this was close to home as her elder brother Pietro was killed in an accident when they were both teenagers.

“You just use what you’ve got inside you. There was one look I did – and I don’t like watching myself apart from This Life because I liked everyone else in it and also I was quite good-looking then, at my peak! Now I just go, oh for f***’s sake, look at my chin – but there was a look I had to do in The Crash, a look of devastation, and I thought oh my God, that’s powerful. It was definitely coming from that place,” she says.

“Looking at it one way, it’s nice to think that my work means something. Because it is really only supposedly entertainment. It’s not like being a nurse. Sometimes it’s hard to see that it’s got a real place, but I think on the other hand it helps with a lot of people’s loneliness, or it educates. When I’m down on it, I think it’s just a pile of old poo.”

Which is why Nardini is taken by surprise when her comments on social media attract attention and she realises she does live in the limelight after all.

“I think I got off lightly when I did This Life because there wasn’t Heat! or Facebook and Twitter like there is now, although I do go on Facebook from time to time and I Twitter the wrong things. I had a fight with Tony Curran, who I love [they were in This Life together], when I said I didn’t know how to vote in the referendum. Tony said, ‘You played Mary, Queen of Scots, what would she vote? How can you not be sure? How can you not care?’ So I went ‘Tony, f*** off, I do bloody care, that’s why I’m having this dilemma’ and then I said something like ‘I’m so sick of people who live the life of Reilly in another country giving their fat opinions about being independent’ and that got more …. I should stay off it. I still don’t know how I feel about it and I think, oh God, now we’re going to end up with a Tory government. I was very I don’t know! I was glad the way I voted – I’m not saying what that was because it’ll all go ‘aaaah’... Anyway, I didn’t see what was so bad about being unsure. There was pressure from Yes and from No, and I’m like, f*** off, the lot of you. So I’m keeping quiet about the whole thing.”

Nardini clamps her mouth shut. Then immediately opens it again: “It’s funny doing interviews. You think you’ve said it all before. I’ve done a fair amount. I used to get incredibly nervous about it and worry what I said. But now, I really don’t care.”

Bob Servant is screened on Monday, at 10:35pm on BBC1 Scotland and on BBC4 in early 2015.

The Gannet, 1155 Argyle Street,

Finnieston, Glasgow, 0141-204 2081, www.thegannetglasgow.com

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