Ronni Ancona is a woman who spends a lot of time worrying. You name it, she's probably fretting about it right now.
Currently at the top of her list of concerns is how I'm going to begin writing up this interview: "Will you be describing me as a funny girl or an actress?" Even a throwaway comment she makes about the Glasgow rain drizzling down her trailer window sends her into a panic: "I know if you write about that, being Scots, you know what it's like, people will read it and go, 'Och, well she's got uppity in herself …' "
She's also stressing about how critics will react to her performance in new BBC Scotland comedy drama Hope Springs: "I'll tell you one thing. I guarantee you when this comes out, I'll put a wager on it, Alistair (McGowan] and I have a thing going on about this. Whatever I do in this programme there will be several reviewers who will say: 'Was it me or did I hear her Carol Smillie or her Lorraine Kelly coming out?' It doesn't matter who I'm playing or what I'm in, they say that about everything."
Ronni comes across as a bundle of insecurities and rereading previous interviews with the funny girl (there, I said it) she's described as everything from "anxiety on legs" to "impossibly vivacious". Today, however, Ronni's mind is clearly just elsewhere, which is something she admits later. Four hundred miles down the motorway, to be precise, where her two young daughters are at home in London with her husband, Dr Gerard Hall. Hope Springs marks Ronni's first job since she gave birth to her youngest nine months ago and, understandably, the period of separation while she's been filming at the BBC's Dumbarton base has been tough on the 40-year-old mum.
"There's a very big bizarre thing going on for me at the moment, because as an actress you look through the script and go, 'I want something to get my teeth into.' As a mother you look through and go, 'No, oh my God – I've got too much to do,' and you go to the producer asking to be cut out of scenes, to go back home. So it's a very odd situation.
"The problem has been that my part has grown so much as the series has gone on and so it has all been a bit hectic. But I can't really go on about that anymore because then I'll start whingeing on and people reading The Scotsman will be going, 'She thinks that's hard – she should try coal mining.' Well, actually, I think on occasion I would prefer to try coal mining, at least you'd know where you're going to be …"
Is she aware she's a worrier? "Yes, I'm a worrier. But I worry about tiny things and am much better in times of real crisis."
Hope Springs is a light-hearted eight-part BBC1 drama series following the fortunes of four female ex-cons trying to go straight. However, when their plans to start a new life in Barbados go awry – courtesy of 3 million they steal in a revenge plot – the women find themselves on the run and stumble across what seems like the perfect hideaway: a crumbling hotel in a remote Scottish village run by cantankerous local drunk Sadie Cairncross (Annette Crosbie). Ronni plays her icy hairdresser daughter, Ann Marie, the foursome's nemesis who harbours serious doubts about their true identities, especially when she sees her fianc Gil (The Thick of It's Paul Higgins) growing ever closer to Ellie, played by Alex Kingston.
"It's all about manipulation for Ann Marie. But that's not to say she's cold. She wants desperately to be loved, but I just think she's very insecure, as are a lot of people who behave selfishly," says Ronni, before fluttering her eyelashes coquettishly and pouting, accentuating those ever so impressive cheekbones, "Or you can just be insecure and adorable like me!
"In the press pack Ann Marie is described as a china doll and I'm so excited at being described as a china doll for once. Because I think I look like a pterodactyl. I've always wanted to be one of those pretty dolly women, but I would never describe myself as doll-like. I don't know why I've been described as doll-like…" she ponders, looking genuinely bewildered. And now she's worrying again. "People will now be reading this going, 'It says she's doll-like, but I've never seen a doll looking like that.' "
It was the drama's "fish out of water" element that drew Ronni to the project. "I was brought up in Scotland and went down to England when I was 17, which was a bit of a culture shock. I think people assume there isn't a culture shock, because we speak the same language and so on, but there's a big cultural difference between us. There is also a big difference in the psyche. So I was quite interested in that idea of English people coming up here and all that could mean. Having been brought up in Scotland and being a Scot, but always feeling a bit of an outsider in Scotland because one of my parents was English, meant I was never Scottish enough for the Scots."
In 2005 she played Bill Nighy's superficial girlfriend in Stephen Poliakoff's haunting Gideon's Daughter on BBC1 and the following year she was Beline in Molire's The Hypochondriac at the Almeida Theatre, another superficial, somewhat camp, gold-digging character. Should Ronni be worried about being cast as a certain type? "I just simply haven't played enough villainesses – and I'm being very sarcastic when I say that," she says with a weary smile. She leans forward and says: "Every drama I've done I've been a villain. I'm playing the villainess in everything. I think it's just if you're quite dark and you've got a big conk you're going to go straight on to the villainess pile. All my theatre parts, all my TV parts, almost everything I've done, I've played villainesses.
"So I am going to be severely camping it up by the end of filming. I hope to be a gay icon by the time this has finished," she says, laughing. "Because I get camper by the episode, I can tell you…" Then she looks panicked again: "I might get into so much trouble for saying all of this…" she adds, screwing up a piece of paper she's been nervily fiddling with and aiming it at the bin. " 'Ronni Ancona is a great shot,' says The Scotsman." She throws and misses. "But I'm not a great shot, am I?" she realises with a sigh.
It seems that in the world of work Ronni is happiest when impersonating someone else or playing a role – rather than being herself. "Every time I do a chat show people always go, 'you're such a warped or a flawed character'. So I don't think I do feel comfortable being myself. I am a comedy actress primarily, although I don't like to make that differentiation. When I worked with Alistair people always used to say, 'Oh you and Alistair, you should try acting now.' And we'd get so upset and furious, not from a personal point of view, but because we'd both done a lot of serious acting and we don't differentiate, because you play the truth no matter what you're doing. I have never approached doing a Poliakoff play as any different to doing a silly little skit."
She's interrupted by her phone ringing: "Talking of which, that's Alistair McGowan as we speak. Hello, darling, I'm doing an interview with The Scotsman. I've just been talking about you…"
She hangs up and continues: "All I was and all Alistair was were primarily comedy actors who did voices. In America there's no such thing as an impressionist. All these people like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on Saturday Night Live, one minute they're doing an impression and one minute they are doing a sketch. There's no-one's going, 'What? Dear NBC, I was so confused. What the heck is going on?' There's not one comedy actor I know who isn't good at voices – Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, whoever. It's just ludicrous and I guarantee there will be comments about my impressions in relation to my acting when this comes out."
Born in Troon, in the west of Scotland, Ronni has talked a lot in the past about her confidence problems around settling down at school, not having friends as a teenager and feeling that the size of her breasts meant people thought she was dumb. Her earliest memory of Troon is when she used to retrieve discarded lemonade bottles from the beach. Her father was a navy commander and her mother, an artist, painted the sets at Ayr's Gaiety Theatre.
Ronni – the name is short for Veronica – moved to London at 17 to study for a degree in design at St Martin's. After a stint as a teacher, she took to the stand-up comedy circuit. By 1993 she had won Time Out's New Comedian of the Year, toured with Rory Bremner and embarked on a three-year relationship with Alistair McGowan. When it ended, their creative partnership took off. Their Big Impression pulled in seven million viewers and Ronni was named best actress at the British Comedy Awards in 2003 for her uncanny impersonations of the likes of Posh Spice and Audrey Hepburn working in a lay-by burger van.
In 2007 the BBC commissioned a new comedy sketch series titled Ronni Ancona & Co consisting of her own material, and she even got a movie, Penelope, starring alongside Christina Ricci and Reese Witherspoon. But she never made it to Hollywood: "The bags were packed and then the producers told me my scenes were being shot in Watford."
When asked if there was a pull to come back to work in Scotland with Hope Springs, Ronni's answer is refreshingly honest.
"You know, listen, the thing is, when you've got a young family it's imbued with pain, guilt and inconvenience, really, to be honest. And you can't really see beyond that. I know people probably want an answer going, 'Oh I look out of the window and I get misty eyed at the rolling hills.' But you know, I've left my babies behind, I have colour-coded everything for my husband and have had to pre-plan everything. So my head is, you know, elsewhere…"
Location filming for Hope Springs took place in Wanlockhead over the summer last year. Although Ronni says there was little evidence of Scottish sunshine on set: "Well, I would say, Scotland's highest village crossed with filming? Do you see why those two don't work? You don't have to be a professor in geography to see the precipitation levels are working against you.
"I couldn't imagine living somewhere as remote as that myself. I think there are some fabulous benefits of village life, but I also think for me, as a person, there are aspects that I don't enjoy. I can imagine it can be quite claustrophobic. I rather like that anonymous feeling of being in the city. But it's hard, because when you've got kids you're so aware of their happiness and what's right for them. London is not the same experience when you've got two young kids. You don't get to enjoy the city because you are in all the time or awake at night covered in vomit.
"This is a conversation that I perpetually seem to be having – should we move out of the city? I'm a bit stuck because I like the town and there is an inherent fear of mine about moving out. But by the same token there are huge advantages and I do worry about bringing up children in the city.
"I want my little girls to be children first and foremost, so I dress them in bright colours with pigtails and that kind of thing. I think it's so sad, when they are going to spend most of their lives with the weight of expectations on them, that kids are not allowed to just enjoy being kids at such a precious time. I would always put my children first, definitely…" She breaks off, staring wistfully into the middle distance. It's all too clear where Ronni Ancona would rather be right now. And it's not here doing this interview. Which is fair enough. sm
Hope Springs begins on Sunday 7 June, BBC1, 8pm.