Kacey Ainsworth: from EastEnders to Grantchester
PUBLISHED: 10:59 09 April 2019
Copyright Paul Clarke www.paulclarke.com
Kacey Ainsworth has, through sheer hard work and talent, avoided the typecasting trap of a major TV soap character. The Ware actress is now enjoying some of the most challenging and celebrated roles of her career
Appearing as a longstanding character in a popular soap such as EastEnders would be the pinnacle of many actor’s careers. For Kacey Ainsworth a career break to focus on her family, a lot of hard work and a determination not to be typecast have paid dividends, and back on our screens, large and small, the breadth of her repertoire just continues to expand.
As the final episodes of the fourth season of ITV’s hugely successful Grantchester have just aired and with several major projects coming up this year, the woman many still remember as Little Mo is having the time of her life.
Born in Hertfordshire, and educated at all-girls Presdales School in Ware, Kacey has lived most of her life in the county. Today, she lives not far from where she grew up. Speaking of her rural home she says, ‘We loved the village so much that when we expanded with our family, and got two more kids, we bought a plot of land and built a house.’
That house is an eco Grand Designs-style property. Now she and her partner are in the process of building another, even more eco-friendly.
It’s easy to see that eco-living and sustainability is something very important to her, and something she feels is done well in Herts – but still has room for improvement, including more places to charge her electric car.
Having used as many local tradespeople as possible when they built their last home, she says they are doing the same with the current build. The designers are new however – they weren’t working in the area 11 years ago when the last project was undertaken. Proof that eco-builds are growing in popularity, she says.
The 50-year-old’s determination to be as environmentally-minded as she can by embracing new green technology is evidence of her strong character. Something that also applies to her acting. She says it took focus and determination to break out of the mould of the long-suffering Little Mo – a character abused and bullied by her husband. Kacey’s moving portrayal (she won the 2002 National Television Award for Most Popular Actress, and twice won the British Soap Award for Best Actress) could have easily landed her similar roles for the rest of her working life, but she was resolute in her refusal of offers that typecast her after her six-year run in the BBC role.
She opted instead to take seven years away from acting to raise her children, to a point where she felt comfortable to spend time away for work again. Her return to acting has seen her take on a variety of roles.
‘I made conscious decisions about the characters that I took. Obviously I got offered a lot of roles that were similar to the character [Little Mo], which is very nice, but I wanted to flex my wings and push, and that’s where it’s hard because you have a casting bracket and people are less likely to see you outside of that. But you just keep working and pushing and taking plays and stretching yourself and eventually that casting world catches up with you and they’ve seen you in a different light.’
‘I think you have to box clever, she adds. ‘You have to have a really fantastic agent – one who is interested in your career and not getting money from putting you out on the celebrity circuit.’
She loves the range – from voiceovers and plays to period TV drama Grantchester in which she plays fan-favourite Cathy Keating.
Recent work has included two homegrown films – the thriller We The Kings (also starring Timothy West and fellow Herts actress Amanda Abbington) about a fostered boy with a vendetta that won Best UK feature at The Raindance Film Festival last year, and Lynn and Lucy, associate produced by Ken Loach, which is in post-production. The film about two best friends enduring a tragedy was shot in Harlow over a five-week period and is something Kacey is very excited about: ‘It’s part-scripted, part-devised, part-improvised,’ she explains. ‘It’s just a mixture of absolutely everything, and it’s really wonderful to be with people when it’s their first movie, and other actors who it wasn’t their first movie, and all of us just allowing the process.’
The only roles she prefers not to do now are in very long theatre runs, because of the impact on her personal life.
‘Having a partner who works during the day and you working at night, it’s not great. I do three months, but if you’ve got to sign up for a year – I find that a bit difficult.’
On the lack of roles for women in middle age, Kacey puts it down to a lack of female narratives being told. ‘There’s a real dearth of parts for women generally over 45, but also their stories being told within complex dramas. What you find is that they are pretty much male-led, and the females do a lot of talking about the men in the piece, but not about themselves.’
Speaking of the 1950s and 60s in which Grantchester is set, Kacey says ‘a huge number of women’ would have been working at the same time as raising their families, and many more were taking on work at home – mending or altering clothes and craftwork. That there is still surprise that women can balance home and work life today is frustrating: ‘In 2019 people still say to me, “how do you juggle being a working mother?” and I want to say, “If I was Robson Green (her on-screen husband in Grantchester), would you ask him the same thing, about being a working father?” You just wouldn’t.
‘Even the word “juggling”, it makes it sounds as if there’s some precariousness around being a working parent, or working mother; that there’s some difficulty or at some point you’re going to drop the ball and either not be there for your children or not be there for your career, and I don’t think it’s a question that gets asked of men, ever. I’m a co-parent, and my partner is just as involved in bringing up the children and working as I am.’
Kacey has just started rehearsals for Sweeney Todd at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre, in which she plays Mrs Lovett, ‘an amazing character – she’s a psychopath, and completely different to Cathy, and needing a completely different set of skills.’
Another character drawing on Kacey’s range is a small town racist in Huntington Gardens, which will air on Sky Arts this year. It was shot on a small budget and, like We the Kings, with fresh young talent.
‘Lots of people on it were stepping up a role, so if they had been a production coordinator, they were now producing this, or if they’d been an assistant make-up artist, they were then make-up designer.
‘It’s really funny – brilliantly written by two young guys in Luton, and filmed in Luton too.’
She explains that it’s all set around parking outside your front door: ‘There are these warring neighbours who are wanting to park outside their house, and she’s a little Englander who thinks that because she was born here, she’s got a right to park outside her own front door. She gets really violent and ends up attacking the van with a plant pot. It’s comical and crazy and I’ve never played anything like that before so that’s what interested me.’
The new and the challenging is what it’s all about for this dedicated mum, partner, eco-warrior and actor. Determined to forge her own path, this one-time Walford girl is steering her own brilliant life.
Kacey’s favourite ways to spend a weekend at home in Herts
With a busy working schedule, when Kacey is home at the weekend she feels lucky we have some great attractions on our doorstep. Come summer, she and her family try to attend as many local festivals as possible. Standon Calling is a particular favourite. ‘Standon is really cool because I’ve got a teenage daughter – but she’s a young teenager – and that means that at Standon you can have that opportunity to be more of a family.
‘Another festival that I’ve seen grow up through the years is the chilli festival in Benington. It started off with about six tents and a couple of people having a chilli eating competition, and now it’s absolutely huge, and always really good fun, so I do try and attend any festivals that are on in Hertfordshire.’
Two landmarks high on Kacey’s weekend to-do list are Hatfield House and Knebworth House. She thinks we are lucky to have such venues in the county, and has attended Battle Proms and open air theatre.
Going to see classic films at the pop-up cinemas at various venues in Herts ‘she absolutely loves’, saying they are affordable for families and ‘often give you the opportunity to take your own picnic along’.
Walkern’s Brewery Tearooms (a multiple Hertfordshire Life Food and Drink Awards winner) is a favourite: ‘It’s really beautiful, really lovely, and the story behind their opening of it is great. They use lots of local people – not just in their shop, but also making their cakes, and they’re a real community café.’
Top pub for Kacey is The White Horse in the village of Hertingfordbury near Hertford.