In real life, Ward has ended up happily ever after with a woman, and she says that the experience of making A Village Affair helped to clarify her feelings. “It certainly made me more sure of what I already thought, which was that I probably was gay,” she says.
But it also caused her to delay her coming-out announcement. “I felt like it would look really weird,” Ward admits, “as though I'd just done a television program and then decided â€˜Oh, hey, that's me!' And I didn't want it to seem as though I was trying to jump on some sort of bandwagon, or get publicity for the show, or anything horrible like that.”
She muses, “Of course, there was such a weird symmetry between the story of the character I was playing and my own life that it was unavoidable that comparisons would be drawn. But I was trying to leave some clear space between the TV program and my own life.”
Before A Village Affair, Ward's acting roles varied widely, and though she was drawn to acting from an early age — “I was keen on it ever since I was tiny-tiny,” she says — she also tried out other creative possibilities.
As a child, “I'd already started putting on my own plays, and bossing people about basically,” she says with a laugh. Soon, Ward heard that some of her friends were going to acting classes. “There was this really amazing woman who set up a place in Islington [in London], called the Anna Scher Theatre, which was on a council housing estate in one of the halls there,” Ward recalls. “It was 10p for a couple of hours.” She soon joined the classes.
“Anna did a lot of improvisation, and really it was to give the kids in the area something to do, and keep them out of trouble,” Ward explains.
“And as a result there were all these brilliant kids, very natural, with lots of stories. It just so happened that casting directors discovered it, because all these kids had a lot to offer, and they weren't stage school kids. And so the casting directors started coming along and watched some of the classes, and I got picked from there to do my first job.”
Roles for Steven Spielberg (Young Sherlock Holmes) and Franco Zeffirelli (Young Toscanini) followed, and she played the part of Isabella Linton in the version of Wuthering Heights that starred Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.
Ward was sure of her desire to perform, but she had more than one interest. “I was training as a ballet dancer, so I thought that perhaps that would be the direction it went in,” she says. “But I was thrown out for being too tall. I hit 5 feet 8 inches by the time I was 15, and in those days the Royal Ballet certainly wouldn't accept somebody of that height.”
Advisers suggested that she try the New York City Ballet, but Ward wasn't convinced.
“Ballet takes real dedication, real commitment, and so in some ways I think I was quite relieved to be told ‘Oh, it's not gonna work out for you physically, you don't fit, you're not the right proportions,'” she admits. “And from then I concentrated more on working as an actor.”
But being tall, slender and blonde, there was another profession that briefly beckoned: modeling. “
When I was still at school I worked as a model for about two or three years, when I was doing my O-levels and A-levels.” She eventually appeared on the covers of Vogue and Tatler.
Because she had already been cast in film and television roles, Ward skipped drama school, but in her mid-20s, she took up theater as well, appearing in roles that included Ophelia in Hamlet and Amanda in Noel Coward's Private Lives — and she discovered a new enthusiasm for acting.
“I became very passionate about it, wanting to learn more,” she says of her love for theater. “And I was lucky, because the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow sort of took me under their wing, and I worked there for a long time. If you could earn a decent living in it, then I think most actors and certainly myself would feel happy doing a lot of theater. It's much more immediate, and there's a whole sort of life attached to it.”