AE: At its best, the show captures a complex set of emotions. You could see it in a scene like that, where it's not just a love scene because Helen is also thinking about turning Nikki in.
SL: Yeah. God, yeah. [Laughs.] I remember reading the scene and going, â€œShe what? She what? F—ing hell, how am I going to do that?â€ Yet another Helen classic! [Laughs.]
AE: Did you hesitate to take on the role?
SL: Not exactly, though when I first went up for Bad Girls, I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to do because the scenes I read for the audition were mostly of Helen in work mode, and I just couldn't see myself as a prison governor. I'd never played that type of role before, and I nearly didn't go back for the recall. But I did go back, and that's when [producer] Brian Park told me about the Helen and Nikki story line, and that's when I started to see a way into the character, and I got excited. That's when I knew I wanted the job.
AE: The show became a huge hit the first season, but I understand the network didn't want to bring you and your character back for a second season.
SL: Right, yeah, I got a call from my agent saying the show had been recommissioned, but they didn't want me back. I remember I was driving at the time and must have gone quiet for a second, then said, â€œOK, well, let's start looking for something else.â€ But I was confused because I'd always had such positive feedback from Shed [the production company]. I found out later it wasn't Shed but the network that was worried I didn't have a strong enough profile to carry the show, so they wanted to replace me.
AE: They ended up bringing you back in a reduced role, which had to hurt. So what made you decide to return?
SL: Well, it turned out Shed was being sincere that they wanted me back. Plus, there were so many letters from people who had really connected with the story line. I felt it was such a groundbreaking thing: a love story that was given so much time and attention and therefore was explored properly in terms of television. I wanted to see that through and give it its proper time. So, when I was given the opportunity, I decided to go back. She was a character I cared about, and I wanted to do right by her. The upside was I had a lot more days off! [Laughs.]
AE: Before we talked, I assumed you wouldn't want to play Helen again, but it sounds like you might be open to it.
SL: I think a one-off would be interesting, as long as it's not too far down the line; otherwise, I think it's hard to recapture, and I wouldn't want to spoil what we had. If the script felt right, who knows. Never say never.
AE: If there were a one-off, it's sad that it would still be groundbreaking, even seven years later.
SL: I suppose that's true. It's unbelievable, isn't it? Seven years later and there's still so few films or TV shows that portray same-sex relationships in any kind of realistic way. Which, again, is why I'm proud of Bad Girls.
AE: In other interviews, I've sensed you were uncomfortable with your role on Bad Girls, but I don't get that impression from you.
SL: Don't believe everything you read. I loved Bad Girls. It was such a great time in my life, and Helen is possibly the most complex and fully explored character I've ever played. I genuinely feel proud of the show and the character, of the love story and the way it was told. If I'd been uncomfortable, I couldn't have played Helen with any sincerity or commitment, and I'm sure after three years the audience would have picked up on something like that.
AE: Let me give you a chance to respond to a quote that's been attributed to you. In regard to Bad Girls being watched by young people, a paper quoted you as saying: â€œThat made me a little uncomfortable, not simply because of the lesbianism, but also the drugs and the bullying.â€
SL: That's a misquote! I would never put lesbianism in the same category as bullying and drugs. That's just offensive. I hope it wasn't taken seriously.
AE: Do you remember how it came about?
SL: Yeah, I do. It came from a conversation I had with a journalist about my decision not to appear on a Saturday morning kids' show to promote Bad Girls. I loved the kids' show; in fact we did a spoof of it in another show I did called The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star. Anyway, I knew it was watched by a wide age range of kids, and of course there were a lot of issues Bad Girls explored that teenagers would be interested in. But the kids' show was also watched by children as young as five and six, like my nephews and nieces at the time, and I didn't feel comfortable with them watching scenes where the prisoners were jacking up or being violent. What I said had absolutely nothing at all to do with the lesbian content in Bad Girls.
AE: You had your daughter a little more than a year ago. Could you talk a little about what you've learned from being a mother?
SL: One thing I've learned is the clichÃ© is true, that there's no handbook that comes with parenting. There are lots of things I appreciate about my own childhood that I'll try to pass on to my daughter, but at the end of the day all I can do is my best: love her, protect her as much as I can, and just try to be there for her so she grows with confidence and finds out who she is.
I'm sure I'm going to mess up at times. I'm sure all parents do. But then I don't think there's any such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect childhood â€¦ which is a relief in many ways. I used to think the ideal would be to grow up in a secure, loving home with both your birth parents, because that was my experience. But some kids live with both birth parents and it's far from idyllic, secure or loving â€” sometimes it isn't even safe! That's actually a subject we'll be exploring in the next series of Wire . Now I realize there's no ideal. As long as the child is loved by whoever is bringing them up, then surely that's what matters most.
AE: It sounds like your daughter has really changed your life.
SL: God, yeah, me and my shadow. [Laughs.] Basically, she's changed just about everything in my life for the better â€¦ well, maybe not my body. [Laughs.] Having her has definitely made me grow as a person, and hopefully it will help me bring more to my work. I'm just completely in love with her. Every time I look at her, I beam. I still get goose bumps.
We've become a family, and my flat has become a home. All those trendy neutral colors have become a color-fest, and there's not one corner that doesn't have something of hers. I haven't slept in a year, but I think I'm a better person for it. Now I now know what unconditional love is.