I never want to do a Love Scene again
No haemorrhoids yet," says Haydn Gwynne, "and no bunions." Give it time, I tell her, they'll come. Once an actress starts playing a GP in Peak Practice a small queue generally starts to form wherever she goes. "Can you help me doctor?" say the would-be patients, sticking out their tongues or rubbing their lumbago.
"So it's piles and warts mostly then?" Haydn says. "Never anything exciting?"
She looks a bit disappointed. You get the feeling that a little open- heart surgery wouldn't be entirely unwelcome; another adventurous episode in what, when you add it all up, has been a highly-adventurous life.
Haydn, 39, will be seen in the hit ITV series early next year, playing Dr Joanna Graham, a disillusioned casualty surgeon who becomes fed up with hospital red tape and returns to general practice. When viewers first encounter her, there are flashbacks to her hectic former life.
"Lots of people rushing around wearing fluorescent jackets with 'Paramedic' on them. Oh, and I get to ride in a bright red, very sexy helicopter. Very ER. I love that kind of thing. I looped the loop in a Tiger Moth once, wearing a leather flying helmet. The wind was roaring past my face. I thought it was terrific."
After the initial flurry, Joanna settles down to the gentler rhythms of the countryside. This is something Haydn knows about. She is contracted to do 26 episodes of Peak Practice (at a reputed fee of pounds 350,000) and, rather than commute, has set up home in Derbyshire with her one-year-old son, Orlando.
"We've got a lovely old stone cottage in a beautiful little village," she says. "But the shop and the Post Office have gone and all that's left is a phone box and a pub. I've only been in a couple of times so far, but I hear they have a really good sing-song on a Saturday night."
The idea of singing in the pub terrifies her, even though she once starred in the musical Ziegfield at the London Palladium. "Funny isn't it? I had no worries about being on stage in front of 2,500 people, but in a small room, when I can see the whites of their eyes, no thanks." So it's no good the landlord putting up a notice then? "Absolutely not. Miss Gwynne will not be performing...unless you get her very, very drunk, that is."
In any case, Haydn and Orlando like to spend their evenings quietly. She and her partner, who is training to be a psychoanalyst, have no plans to marry in the foreseeable future. You get the distinct impression that it's because they are such strong individualists. When Haydn goes travelling, for instance, she prefers to travel alone. "I get very nervous before I set off, but once I'm on my way, all that goes. Travelling alone leaves you open to relationships. I don't mean sexual relationships or emotional relationships, but contact with people you meet along the road."
After Ziegfield became the most expensive flop in musical history, she took herself off to America, hired a car and drove where the inclination took her. "It was a beaten-up old wreck and when I brought it back to the car-hire firm in LA, they were horrified at the mileage I'd done. The only trouble was I kept getting tickets. I paid hundreds of dollars in fines."
She was also away on her own when she decided to quit the TV series that made her name, Drop The Dead Donkey. "I'd done two, and I was travelling in the Caribbean when I made the decision to leave. I agonised for weeks. I think I left because I could. I was a free agent and I wanted to do other things. I don't know if I would have made the same choice now. If I'd had a child and they'd offered me another series I would probably have said, 'Thank you very much'."
In Drop The Dead Donkey, the Channel 4 comedy set in a television newsroom, she played Alex the bossy news editor, with a tongue as venomous as a cobra's.
"If I had kept playing Alex I think I might have typecast myself. I had visions of only being offered feisty, middle-class women with a script that called for them to get their kit off at regular intervals."
In the future, romance is likely to enter the life of Dr Joanna Graham too, though hopefully not too much in the way of rampant sex.
"I'd be happy never to play a love scene again for the rest of my life," Haydn says. "The most explicit I ever did was probably with Warren Clarke on TV in Nice Work. I didn't totally mind that because the script was funny. But it's a very practical, technical process. People hovering around you, wiping the sweat off your brow, putting make-up on your bits." She gives a little laugh. "It's a silly job acting, isn't it?"
Haydn - her name is the maiden name of one of her grandmothers - came to showbusiness late. She was 25 before she took the plunge. A graduate and teaching languages at the University of Rome the urge became too much. She chucked in her job, gave up her flat, sold her furniture and came home.
"It had always been there, this desire to go into acting, ever since I was quite small. But I thought I had buried it. I had no idea it was still bubbling away merrily under the surface. It was like a secret I had suppressed. When I finally gave in, it was as though I'd come out of the closet."
She had done amateur dramatics when she was at school, but there wasn't one moment when the light bulb flicked on in her head and her life was transformed. "I mean, I didn't suddenly hear bells ringing when I was six and I didn't hear a voice saying, 'This is where you belong'. It was a gradual thing. There were occasions when I was growing up when I felt the tingle. When I thought I might be able to make my way in this business. I did one very weird show when I was at Nottingham University. I had to play a woman who only opened her mouth once, and that was to scream before she committed suicide. The rest was pure gesture and silent acting. But afterwards the feeling I had was incredible." Before she got her first big break, in an Alan Ayckbourn play, Haydn endured the traumas of the actor's life. "The insecurity, the unemployment, the rejection ...all of it. I wrote hundreds, thousands of letters for jobs and got turned down for all of them. I didn't mind the letters saying 'Thanks but no thanks'. It was when you actually went for a reading and they saw you and then turned you down that hurt. They weren't unkind, they would smile at you and listen to what you had to say, but you could see in their eyes that they weren't interested."
Five years ago, when she was playing Olivia in Twelfth Night at Stratford, her father, Guy, died of leukaemia. It was an almost unbearable strain. Haydn and her father, who ran a printing business, were very close.
by COLIN WILLS