Turning 50? Bring it on, says Gavin & Stacey's Ruth Jones
With a new sitcom, a horror cameo and landmark birthday on the horizon, 2016 is a big year for Ruth Jones. The Welsh wit tells Susan Griffin why Stella's set to take a break
THE current series of Stella was reported to be the last – but Ruth Jones is keen to stress that it's simply a break that's on the cards, not a final farewell.
"David [Peet, her husband] and I have two other projects we're co-writing and we wanted to make some space to do that," explains the 49-year-old.
"Also, we're developing a couple of other scripts by other writers with Tidy, our production company. We didn't want to be in a position where we couldn't give Stella our full attention, and similarly, we didn't want to start new projects that we couldn't finish because of Stella commitments. So the best thing seemed to be to take a break.
"I think it's good for a show to have a little time out sometimes – especially when it's on its fifth series, and we'll be filming the Christmas special before you know it."
Jones, of course, plays the title role in Stella, a single mother and trained nurse; she believes they share similar traits.
"We're both fallible and get things wrong. My motto tends to be: 'Ruth, when in doubt, assume you're wrong', and that stops me getting into a whole lot of trouble," admits the actress, who was born in Bridgend, South Wales.
"Also, Stella's friends and family are important to her, as mine are to me, and we both like to catch up on the sofa in trackie bottoms, with a cuppa and a giant Toblerone."
The series is shot in Ferndale in the Rhondda Valley, and despite the intrusion, the actress believes the locals enjoy having the cast and crew around.
"They're very tolerant and patient – especially during night shoots when we have to put big lights up in the street to film. We've always been made very welcome. Sometimes local residents have brought us cakes and sweets. They're really kind."
The success of the show, she believes, is down to it being "very relatable".
"It's not high concept, [there are] no complicated plots or anything, but the characters are rich and funny and diverse – and the general tone of the show is one of optimism.
"The people who live in [fictional town] Pontyberry don't tend to wake up in the morning and say, 'Right, I'm going to have a really bad day and make everyone else's life a misery'. They see the good in others and don't mind laughing at themselves."
The series is a true ensemble piece, and Jones enjoys writing for all the characters.
"They're all so diverse. Aunty Brenda [Di Botcher] is a joy because she says such outrageous things, like, 'You got an illegitimate child in the belly of a Jezebel'," she says with a laugh. "When you get to know the actors playing the roles, it becomes even more enjoyable writing for them, because you know how they'll play it.
"I'm sometimes a bit under-confident writing for the kids, because there's a 30-year age gap, and I worry I hark back to teenager speak from the 80s."
Jones – who also co-wrote Gavin & Stacey with James Corden, and starred in the comedy as the hilariously straight-talking Nessa – doesn't suffer from writer's block.
"The storylines are planned out well in advance, but episode 10 was a challenge as it always is, because there were so many loose ends to tie up. Also, we wanted to have a couple of cliff-hangers as this isn't the end of Stella, and we needed to have somewhere to go after this series finishes."
In the early days, she and Peet would use a whiteboard at their home to work out story arcs, but now they've "graduated to using the iPad to film improv' sessions, where we'll try out a few scenes", she reveals.
"As we're working on a studio sitcom at the moment, it really helps to try scenes out this way. Hearing dialogue out loud is a brilliant way of discovering if it works," adds Jones, who also "plans to write a book at some point".
"I'd also like to write a good British movie, but my big ambition at the moment is to get our studio sitcom commissioned. I'd be very nervous, but I think I'd love performing in front of a live audience."
She and Peet don't have strict rules about vetoing work talk between certain hours ("Sometimes if we get an idea, it's impossible not to talk about it"), and as for any cons about working with your other half, Jones simply states: "Well, the down side is you've got 24-hour access to each other, and the upside is you've got 24-hour access to each other!"
They live in Cardiff, "which will always be home".
"It used to be, when I first started acting, that you were at a disadvantage if you didn't live in London. But that's not true any more."
Jones attended the same school as her Gavin & Stacey co-star Rob Brydon, and after graduating from Warwick University, studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.
Following stints in the theatre and a role in 1999's East Is East, she was cast in her breakthrough role as Kelly Chadwick in Fat Friends – where she met Corden.
Other notable roles have included Little Britain barmaid Myfanwy, Gemma Arterton's mother in an adaptation of Tess Of The d'Urbervilles, and Carry On star Hattie Jacques in BBC Four's Hattie.
Aside from her own projects, she'll also soon be making a cameo in a new vampire film called Eat Local.
"I wasn't going to take on any other acting for a while and concentrate on writing, but I read the script and just thought, 'This is brilliant, I have to do it'. It's being directed by Jason Flemyng, who plays the lead guy in it. I love it."
To unwind from her hectic schedule, she likes nothing more than settling down to a box set ("I'm a bit of a box-set binger so I often come late to things and then watch them in one fell swoop") or listening to The Archers, "with a strong cappuccino".
"I also love going to a spa," confesses the star, who will be 50 in September. How is she feeling about the impending milestone?
"My 40s have been the best decade ever, so I'm hoping my 50s will surpass that," Jones exclaims.
"I'm quite excited by it. I mean, don't get me wrong, I still think I'm 28 in my head, but as long as – touch wood – I've got my health, then bring it on."
:: Stella continues on Sky1 on Tuesdays. Series three of Gavin & Stacey is being rebroadcast on BBC Three from today.