Suranne Jones: 'Sandi Toksvig told me to do Bake Off – but I turned her down'

If you see Suranne Jones’ name on the cast list then you pretty much know it’s going to be a winner.

From Gentleman Jack to Doctor Foster and Vigil, she’s got your high-stakes dramas covered. However, she later tells us the one show you won’t find her on is The Great British Bake Off. 

Now, the 44-year-old actress has done a Margot Robbie and started her own production company, TeamAkers, with writer/producer husband, Laurence Akers so she can make the shows as well as star in them.

Her first foray into the producing world is ITV miniseries Maryland – a show about two sisters – Becca (Suranne) and Rosaline (Eve Best) – whose mum suddenly dies with little explanation. After her body is found on the Isle of Man, the siblings travel to the island to discover she’s been leading a double life, and they end up reconnecting with each other after growing apart.

Surranne shared her inspiration with Metro.co.uk: ‘I wanted to tell a story that was simply about a family and stay with them. There’s so much content out there and so we wanted to take it back to basics.’

‘Everyone can recognise themselves in the story, and relate to the unique relationship between the siblings. I have a brother, and the writer Anne-Marie O’Connor has a brother and sister, and we found that to be fascinating inspiration. 

‘I also love the idea of double lives, because I don’t understand how people do it!

Suranne is happy that we’re finally seeing more shows with female leads, and is pleased to contribute to the current offerings.  

‘We’re telling the story of a woman in her 60s, which is brilliant and sometimes missing on television.

‘There’s a lot of female-led pieces now compared to 24 years ago when I was first getting started in the industry. 

‘It was a big deal when Scott and Bailey came out [Suranne fronted the show with Lesley Sharp] in 2011. People would ask me about what it was like to have a show fronted by two women, but they wouldn’t ask men that. Now it’s changed dramatically. There’s no shortage now but there’s still room for improvement.’

The topic of grief is covered within the show – sadly Suranne lost her dad in January 2021, after he contracted covid-19. 

‘Grief will happen to everybody, and I’m no different. It is something I, unfortunately, know quite a bit about,’ Suranne told us. 

‘It’s a complicated emotion with many stages – disbelief, heartache, damage, anger, confusion, and the incredulity of it. It can be quiet and then it blows up again.

‘We shared stories in the writers’ room, and so it’s an amalgamation of different people’s stories. The complications mean we have so much to play with.’

Having to deal with such intense emotions on set can be heavy, but Suranne had methods to unwind. 

‘We did a lot of cold water swimming, and I loved it. The water is so lovely in Ireland where we filmed most of the show. I had pyjama nights with Anne-Marie too.’

She also ensured she got family time with Laurence and their seven-year-old son. ‘My boys came over to see me, and I flew back to see them.’

Working with your partner isn’t the ideal situation for everyone, but Suranne tells us they’ve managed to quickly strike the right balance. 

‘The key is that he does some projects, I do some projects, and then we’ll do some projects together so up to now, it’s been good. We can tell each other what we’ve been up to and say ‘good job’. We’ve got our own things going on.

‘We’re not trying to run before we can walk, and we’ve got lots to learn along the way but I’m loving it.’

If Surrane could do another series of a show she’s been in then she’d choose Doctor Who, and would want to play the Tardis again. 

‘That was really fun as she wasn’t a human. I’ve got a young son who would be impressed by it.’

Due to the nature of her roles, not everything is quite suited for him. ‘I’ll show him bits,’ she explained. 

‘He’s seen me dropping onto the submarine in Vigil but that’s it for that series.’

The doting mum did take on a job purely with her son in mind, but it didn’t quite go to plan. She played the lead character in Christmas Carole, which was a reimagining of the Charles Dicken classic.

‘He came to the screening with me, but then when I suggested we watch it on TV on Christmas Eve. He said, “No I’ve seen it.” My plan for us to watch it together the night before Christmas didn’t quite work.’

One thing we’re unlikely to see her in again is Gentleman Jack, that was based on historical figure Anne Lister. The show was cancelled after just two series in 2022, and despite fan support, Suranne doesn’t see it changing. 

‘It’s been cancelled and that’s a fact,’ she stated to us. ‘I think the fans would love to see it back but… you know.’

What does a TV icon spend her time watching? ‘It depends on what mood I’m in! I’ve just finished watching Emily in Paris and I’ve got to be honest, I just wanted to see the costumes and to how cool Sylvie Gateau [played by Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu] was smoking around Paris in low-cut tops. Then I’m obsessed with Succession. I like watching The Great British Bake Off.’

Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to see Suranne in the tent. ‘I know Sandi Toksvig and when she was hosting she told me to go on it, but I turned her down.

‘My stress level would be funny for everyone else, but I don’t think I’d be able to handle it. I’d maybe do the Stand-up to Cancer special because it doesn’t matter so much if you mess up.’

If Suranne could cast herself in any show she knows exactly what she’d choose – Netlix’s Wednesday, which is about a young woman trying to solve a monster mystery at her new school.

‘It may not be aimed at me but I absolutely love it,’ she disclosed to us. ‘It appeals to the teen goth inside me that I never knew was in there.’

And her dream cast? Sarah Lancashire, Keely Hawkes, Vicky McClure and Hannah Waddingham. ‘There’s a lot of people I’d love to work with,’ she declared. 

Maryland will on ITV1 for three consecutive days from May 22. The series will be available to stream on ITVX.

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