Birth Date: 2nd January 1973
Height: 5' 2 "
One casting call from Hollywood came a few months ago, when she was asked to audition for a part playing the sister of Cameron Diaz. "I was absolutely over the moon," she says. "It was so exciting - I mean Cameron is famously gorgeous and I just thought playing her sister would be amazing." On closer examination of the script, however, it turned out the part was for a "fat, ugly sister". Was it of some small comfort that they choose Toni Collette?
"No," she says, "I wouldn't have minded being the ugly one at all. I think the one thing about being an actor is that you have to accept how you're classifiable." "There's no point trying to be different and thinking of what Hollywood wants. If you do fit in, you do, and if you don't fit in, you don't, and I don't think there's any point in upsetting yourself."
Lucy Davis (born 2nd January 1973) is an English actress. She is probably most famous for playing the character Dawn Tinsley in the BBC comedy, The Office.
Davis also played Hayley Jordan in The Archers on BBC Radio 4, but gave up the role when her other acting responsibilities made it impossible to continue; the part was recast in September 2005. In 2004 she won roles in the films Sex Lives of the Potato Men and Shaun of the Dead. She also played the role of Maria Lucas in the BBC's 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.
Her father is the comedian Jasper Carrott.
Lucy Davis captured the nation's heart with her portrayal of the doleful secretary in 'The Office'. Now she is in demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Will success spoil her girl-next-door charm? Emily Bearn finds out
Over the past 10 years Lucy Davis has accrued several million fans, most of whom don't know her name. They have embraced her as Hayley in The Archers, lamenting the time her lover was squashed by a Massey Ferguson tractor and sharing her concerns that her husband might be a secret transvestite.
More recently - and far more famously - they have known her as Dawn in The Office, the formidably successful BBC sitcom in which she played an inert receptionist, torn between the affections of an obtuse boyfriend and a soulful sales rep on the other side of the photocopier.
Dawn and Tim's office courtship - an excruciating but painfully convincing ritual of doleful glances and embarrassed silences, spun out over 12 half-hour episodes - was to become one of the most celebrated romances in television history. It climaxed at 10.35pm on December 27 last year, when, to the nation's collective relief, Tim (Martin Freeman) secured her affections with a packet of Secret Santa oil paints and a message reading: "Never give up". The programme made Dawn the poster girl of Britain's nine-to-fivers - a Madame Bovary, as one critic put it, "reborn in contemporary Slough".
Davis was born in 1970s Solihull but her own life is less keenly documented than those of her screen persona. A brief scroll through her cuttings file reveals that she is the daughter of the comedian Jasper Carrott; she's read Robert Lacey's The Life and Times of Henry VIII more than once; and she has had the same boyfriend for 12 years. He is Richard Manson, an actor-cum-writer with whom she would like to have children when her career is going through a "less all-consuming phase".
The latest footnote came last week when it was announced that Slough's Madame Bovary is set to take on Hollywood, after being offered a leading role in a sitcom produced by Lisa Kudrow, an actress in the famously slick American sitcom Friends. Other parts look certain to follow.
And that, by and large, is why I have turned up to meet her in Mortlake, west London, which has been her home for the past 12 years. We convene in a bar at the end of her street - a setting in stark contrast to the bland industrial environs in which the nation has hitherto known her. The walls are painted in a sultry brown and hung with life-size paintings of naked men, the ceilings are dripping with chandeliers, and the place is cluttered with Victorian altar chairs and stuffed toads.
I arrive to find Davis curled up in a chair, obliging the photographer by turning her head from left to right while holding up a Joker from an A4 size pack of playing cards. When I tell her I am here to discuss her progress in Los Angeles, she tells me I am "really sweet" and then - speaking in vestigial Solihull - explains precisely what that progress entails.
She talks faster than my brain generally ticks, but the gist is as follows: she has been lined up to play a "wild and outrageous" British shopaholic (Davis, incidentally, "hates" shopping) who is living in America with her best friend, a dress designer called Melanie. She is starring in a pilot of the series, which is due to begin filming next month.
"The point about me going to America now is because I don't want to get to 50 [she is 31] and think, 'Oh, my God. I never did that,'" she explains, looking at me with eyes that dilate in emphasis to an almost perfect circle. "I don't know what my selling point is, because in America they like people who are thin and beautiful. But I just try to go in and say: 'OK. Here's me.' "
Although Davis is instantly likeable, this tactic doesn't always work. One casting call from Hollywood came a few months ago, when she was asked to audition for a part playing the sister of Cameron Diaz. "I was absolutely over the moon," she says. "It was so exciting - I mean Cameron is famously gorgeous and I just thought playing her sister would be amazing." On closer examination of the script, however, it turned out the part was for a "fat, ugly sister". Was it of some small comfort that they choose Toni Collette?
"No," she says, "I wouldn't have minded being the ugly one at all. I think the one thing about being an actor is that you have to accept how you're classifiable." Davis has an admirably upbeat philosophy on most things, and this is one of them. "There's no point trying to be different and thinking of what Hollywood wants. If you do fit in, you do, and if you don't fit in, you don't, and I don't think there's any point in upsetting yourself."
As Dawn, she acquired a small American following when The Office was exported to BBC America, a little-watched cable channel. Then it received two Golden Globe awards in Los Angeles, including Best Comedy Actor for Ricky Gervais, the programme's co-creator and who plays the monstrous office boss, David Brent. No one had expected them to win (an astonished Clint Eastwood was caught on camera mouthing "Who are these guys?"), least of all the cast themselves. "It was a real shock," says Lucy. "I had my face all set for them to announce Sex and the City. We all thought we'd misheard." It was, as one newspaper put it, "the show business equivalent of England winning the World Cup, away, and on penalties".
For Davis, the ceremony was also a valuable initiation into the etiquette of the red carpet: "These TV people thrust a microphone in my face and asked: 'Who are you wearing?' They meant which designer, but I didn't know what to say. In fact, I was in a black skirt and top from Pilot which cost £47. So I said, 'The equivalent in America would be something like Kmart. There were a few strange looks."
In Britain, The Office has made her one of the most recognisable faces on television. She now receives an average of 100 fan letters a month, all of which she replies to personally. ("There might come a day when I get too many to do it, but for the moment I can.") She has been mobbed in a cinema queue in Kensington ("There were all these girls there, screaming, 'Urrggggh! She's from The Office!' ") and she has been ogled by a group of men when she was sitting in the window seat of a restaurant in Barnes. "I didn't mind really, but it was a bit weird."
She says that the fuss does not bother her, pointing out that most people were more interested in Dawn than they were in her. Did she feel any affinity with her? "No," she says. "It frustrated me that she had these hopes and dreams which she didn't keep up. She had a career that she wasn't happy with and a boyfriend who she wasn't happy with, and you think: 'Come on woman! These are two huge areas of your life.'"
And, by and large, Davis seems to have them in control. Yet, even in the rather louche setting in which we find ourselves this morning (we are facing each other in leather chairs spewing stuffing and so low-slung that our eyes are level with our knees), she retains Dawn's resolutely un-glitzy appeal.
She conducts herself with the sort of languid passivity, and exudes the kind of guileless self-deprecation, that in California's therapeutic parlance might go down as a "self-esteem problem". She tells me, for example, that she feels lucky to be an actress because "there is absolutely nothing else I'd be good for".
Happily, she probably won't need a new day job. She had made up her mind to act by the age of 18, when she enrolled at the Italia Conti stage school. It didn't work out, and she left a year early. (She once commented that: "Unless you were in a glittery hat and a pair of tap shoes, the owners of the college really didn't want to know.")
Within a year she'd been cast as Maria Lucas in the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; and was then reincarnated as Hayley Jordan in The Archers, the next episode of which she is due to record in June.
Would she abandon Ambridge for Hollywood? "No. I love it. You get off the plane from Los Angeles and then you drive down the M40 to Pebble Mill, and I think that's one of the great things about this job - flitting backwards and forwards and doing different things."
To celebrate the programme's 50th anniversary, she was invited to St James's Palace to meet the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles. "We had a nosh up," she recalls. "It wasn't sit-down because there were too many of us. Prince Charles made a speech and he was extremely charming. And Camilla was extremely charming and, I have to say, very pretty. You can't help having preconceptions because you've read so much about them, but I always try so hard to hear the other side." Mrs Parker Bowles did not in fact give Davis "the other side" of her story - instead they discussed the plot of The Archers. But an invitation to Highgrove later ensued.
"The Prince showed us a field of pigs, but you couldn't see any pigs because the field was so huge and it was full of trees," she says. "And I remember thinking this was the life that they led. And I just thought: 'How wonderful.'" She was sufficiently impressed by the Prince to buy only organic meat now, and eats "too many" of his Duchy Originals biscuits.
Since joining The Archers she has clocked up a curriculum vitae that reads like a telephone directory - The Bill, Holby City, Casualty - though some entries are less worthy of celebration than others. She recently starred in two British films - The Sex Lives of the Potato Men, which was an unmitigated turkey, and Shaun of the Dead, which is billed as "a romantic comedy with zombies" but has been well received.
Bizarrely, this also features Davis's mother, Hazel. "They needed extras to play zombies, so I called her and said: 'Why don't you come along?' She came with her friend and they had gunge and stuff put all over them. They had a really great time."
This is not the first time her mother has come to her aid. In 1997, Hazel became her daughter's donor, surrendering one of her kidneys when Davis failed a routine medical examination and had to undergo a life-saving transplant. "I don't think about it much," Davis says. "As soon as I could move on, I moved on and said, 'The End'. You know what I mean? People ask if it's made us closer, but we were close anyway."
When it comes to his daughter's career, her father has been allowed less close contact. At stage school she determined that no one should know who he was, though they soon found out. "He's really private and I respect that," she says. "He never got us into the press as children or anything, so when people ask me what he was like as a father I think: 'Why don't you ask him?' "
Was he encouraging when she decided to be an actress? "Yes, totally. But I always knew I wanted our careers to be separate. Whatever anyone else thinks, I need to know I've done it off my own back."
As we are leaving, Davis enquires whether she should settle the bill, and takes some persuading that she needn't. Since there are no staff on hand, she then carries her depleted Coke can to the bar, musing that it's probably OK to leave someone else to clear up the coffee cups. It occurs to me that Davis - like Dawn and Hayley - is rather sweet.
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