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Emilia Fox: "I've learnt to find my own voice"

A self-confessed perfectionist, motherhood has made the popular actress re-calibrate her priorities

Born into an acting dynasty, it seemed predestined that Emilia Fox would also enter the profession.

Her parents, Edward Fox and Joanna David, have both enjoyed distinguished careers on stage and screen, uncle James has appeared in films as varied a Thoroughly Modern Millie and Performance, while her other uncle, Robert, is a successful film and theatrical producer. And it doesn't end there; brother Freddie is also an actor, as are cousins Laurence and Lydia, with the latter being married too the comic actor and TV presenter Richard Ayoade.

Despite this rich theatrical background- through her great-grandmother she is also related to the Terry-Gielgud family of actors- Emilia was determined initially to do anything but enter the profession.

"I'd seen the highs and the lows." she told the Telegraph. "I'd seen the great times when Mum and Dad were working and having a really good time, but I'd also seen the times when they were not working and waiting for the phone to ring.

"The rose-tinted spectacles about the profession were truly off and I didn't want to so the same thing as everyone else."

There had, however, been times when Emilia was tempted bu the glitz and the glamour of show business, especially when helping out at uncle Robert's lavish first night parties, bumping into the likes of Jack Nicholson and Angelica Huston.

"They turned up wearing sunglasses at night. I'd just seen Room With a View and Julian Sands was there, and I remember tripping and dropping all the canapes at his feet. But although now I look back and think'Oh my goodness, that would be really fun', at the time it was just a gathering of grown ups and I was handing around sandwiches."

Today Emilia is a much respected actress, having played the second Mrs de Winter in the 1997 television adaptation of Rebecca, in which she starred opposite Charles Dance, and, more recently, she has appeared in The Casual Vacancy, The Tunnel and Delicious. She is, however, perhaps best known for playing the forensic pathologist Dr Nikki Alexander, in the long-running Silent Witness, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.

Emilia has appeared in more than 100 episodes of the show and made a point of preparing for the role conducting, quite literally, hands- on research with experts working in mortuaries. Every series, she says, throws up new challenges.

"I never feel like I know everything about the show or the characters, because new things come up all the time."

hanging around in morgues was presumably not terribly high on her bucket list when she was attending the independent Bryanston School, in Dorset, and Emilia was surprised when her fellow pupils assumed that, because her parents were both actors, that they must be particularly well off. (A certain level of wealth would have appeared to be essential, though, just to be a pupil at Bryanston- fees are currently around £12,000 per term). 

But Emilia insists that her childhood did not feel privileged. She was born in Hammersmith in July 19074 and there were no frills in the Fox family home.

"People were quite surprised when Mum and dad would turn up at school in a slapped out Volvo. they were expecting limousines."

After 'A' Levels, Emilia studied English at St Catherine's College, Oxford and says she put a lot of pressure on herself to do well academically.

"My parents gave me love and stability in my education and I was trying to say thank you. Acting is such a precarious profession and I knew what it cost them financially to give me such a great education. So my way of paying them back was to push myself very, very hard and be a perfectionist at work."

The actor's life was already starting to beckon, and, having been part of some student theatrical productions "as a hobby", she auditioned for a part in he 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Although still at university, Emilia was given the role of Georgiana, Mr Darcy's sister. "It seemed nicer than waitress," she said later.

As a result of the breakthrough TV role, Emilia signed up to an agent and promptly won the key part in Rebecca, the same role her mother had played in a BBC adaptation some 20 years earlier.

"I guess my mum and I have got something quite similar about us, which was a sort of naivety and an innocence that the part demanded," she observed.

Despite this early success Emilia did not see the roles she had picked up as anything other than distractions from her academic career. "I certainly wasn't expecting it to form the nect 20 years of my life," she recalled.

Little by little, however, her acting career started to take shape, from the 2002 film the Pianist and an uncredited role, as Lynne Frederick, in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (her scenes mostly ended up on the cutting-room floor) to the remake of  the TV fantasy series Randall and Hopkirk, playing opposite Bob Mortimer and Vic Reeves (to whom she was briefly engaged). She also appeared in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Cherry Orchard, a 2003 stage production of Les Liaisons Dangereuse and, more recently Rapture, blister, Burn and Sex with Strangers at the Hampstead Theatre.

She admits that having famous actor parents has sometimes been a drawback.

"It becomes much more of a challenge to be seen in your own right. That's why I always liked going to America, because there were no preconceptions of who you were. People weren't expecting your mum or dad to walk through the door. You were just taken at face value."

Taking on the role of Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness, back in 2004, was one of the biggest challenges she faced as an actress, mainly because she was having to follow in the footsteps of Amanda Burton, who, as Sam Ryan, had been the main focus of the show for its first eight seasons.

" I suddenly realised the weight of responsibility, because what Amanda had created was such a following for the series, and a protectiveness, from the people who love Silent Witness," she told Radio Times.

"So I said: 'Please, please don't make me try and replace Sam Ryan.' And they said: 'No, don't worry, it will be a completely different kind of character. And also, it will be a much more ensemble piece.' I was more comfortable about that"

"Amanda Burton was one of those iconic female leads of the time, along with Helen Mirren in Prime suspect... they were women in a man's world, at the forefront of their fields, and I think that was quite exciting at the time. She left that great legacy- and in no way fif I ever feel that I could step into her shoes/"

Emilia was joined in her first series of Silent Witness by Tom Ward (as heart-throb Dr Harry Cunningham) and William Gaminara as Professor Leo Dalton, who had both been on the show for a couple of years. Then with the death of Dr Dalton at the end of the 16th series, a new team was put in place alongside Emilia, comprising David Caves as forensic scientist Jack Hodgson, Liz Carr as his lab assistant Clasrissa Mullery and Richard Lintern as Dr Thomas Chamberlain.

"I feel as enthusiastic and passionate about it as I have always done," Emilia says. "If I didn't feel that, then I wouldn't continue."

There have been whispers that the show might be about to be cancelled by the BBC after the corporation was reprimanded for not making enough new drama, but Emilia believes there should be room for new and old alike.

"It seems obvious to me; if people are enjoying the returning series, then you want to bring them back again, but equally you want to be giving them new drama, as well. I think it's common sense, and it's achievable, to do both."

Emilia admits that in the past she has been a perfectionist, constantly seeking to better herself in both her work and her personal like. She had even seen a therapist to, as she puts it, "help me get better at not being one. It goes back to school and university, really, my need to push myself."

Emilia has had a number of relationships, none of which have proved, as yet, to be enduring, partly, she suggests, because in the past she was too much of what she calls a "person pleaser".

"In some ways it's not a bad thing. I remember my grandmother always saying: 'Manners maketh man,' and my parents were very much about putting other people's needs first, making sure everyone was OK, and I absolutely promote that.

"But at the same time I definitely didn't learn to have my own voice for a long time. Maybe that's why acting comes quite easily, because you can find a voice through other people."

Apart from that brief engagement to Vic Reeves. in 2000, Emilia has been romantically linked, as the gossip columnist put it, to artist and fashion designer Toby Mott and, more recently. to chef Marco Pierre White. She was married for five years to the Mad Men actor Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris) and had a daughter, Rose,  with the actor Jeremy Gilley.

Although their relationship ended in 2011, a year after Rose was born, Emilia is still close to Jeremy.

"Being a single mum is the toughest thing I've encountered in my life, but it's also the most rewarding, in that we've all now got great relationships with each other- Rose's dad, myself and Rose. We've got to that point where we're really, really good friends and the benefits for Rose are just so amazing. I've tried to convert all of the negative into positive." Emilia says Rose has taught her to live in the present, not always easy for someone used to sitting by the phone waiting for the next job offer. "Children don't live in the future or the past. They live in the absolute now. The more times you put away whatever id distracting you, the better it is or both of you."

Emilia remains close to both her parents, and is particularly amused, in an age of smart casual, by her father's strict dress code.

"Nobody can wear a suit like my dad. He still wears the same clothes he wore for The Day of the Jackal and Edward and Mrs Simpson. He thinks a man should wear a proper suit on a walk to the past box."

And despite her perfectionist streak, Emilia admits her home is not always as organised as she would like.

"I tend to get everything in order in the house except my own existence, which is chaotic- whether that be piles of paperwork or just climbing into bed at night and finding my clothes still lying there from two days earlier."

Although she is now at an age when actresses still fear that work may start to dry up she remains optimistic for the future. 

"You hear so many people saying there aren't enough parts,... but there are amazing ones being written now for people in their 30s and 40s and maybe that's because we're more interested in more complex mindsets.

"Some actors pick and choose their jobs and the probably shape a career much more. I've never been like that. I've always said: 'thank you so much for offering me a hob. I'd love to do it."

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