This week we interviewed the beautiful actress Vanessa Hehir. Vanessa lives with her husband, fellow actor Leon Ockenden, their two-and-a-half year old daughter Lyla, and a new persian kitten called Jasper. They’re currently living in Manchester whilst renovating their north London home.
You are well known for roles in Heartbeat and most recently, as science teacher Sue Lowsley in Waterloo Road. Did you always want to be an actress, and what’s been the highlight of your acting career so far?
Ever since I played Mary in the school nativity aged four, I always knew I wanted to act, I love entertaining people. I feel so lucky I get to do something I love so much.
The highlight for me has definitely has to be the jobs that I’ve got to work with my family. Lyla my daughter and I shot an advert together when she was 12 weeks old – she was the star and smiled on cue! It was lovely taking my baby to work with me and it will be something she can look back on when she is older. Also working with my husband on Waterloo Road was something we never imagined would happen.
You work alongside your husband Leon Ockenden in the drama Waterloo Road and have recently had to act out an affair together. The onscreen chemistry was brilliant – what was this experience like for you as a couple, and what’s it like working and living with your husband?
Honestly it was surreal, and I wasn’t quite sure how to behave on set with him. You can’t moan about who didn’t empty the dishwasher and who got up in the night with a teething baby but it was lovely to work with my best friend and it was great that we could work on scenes together at home and try and get the best out of the characters. Although the more intimate bedroom scenes where we have very little clothes on was some of the most awkward moments of my life, with 20+ crew watching I have never felt so embarrassed! Especially as Leon is such a naughty prankster too!
Describe a day-in-the-life on set at Waterloo Road.
I wake at 5.40am and jump in the shower (that’s if I’m not already awake with my super-duper early rising daughter). I get picked up at 6.20am and driven to the set. I arrive at 7am, grab some breakfast which I eat in the make-up chair and look over my scenes for the day, trying to remember the lines I’ve learnt the previous night.
I get into my costume as we rehearse the first scene on set at 8am, the crew sets up which takes about 30 minutes, while I go back into mak-eup for checks. Then we are set to shoot, which can take anything from 30 miutes to 5 hours to do a scene depending the amount of dialogue and how many characters are in it. There is so much waiting around while the crew set up different shots and adjust the lighting that the actors usually congregate and gossip over a polystyrene cup of cold tea!
I’m always famished by lunch due to the early starts and then try to cram in a cat-nap in my dressing room before the hour is out. Then, it’s back on set. We shoot four episodes at any one time, meaning there are two crews filming in different parts of the building. This also means there maybe several costume and hair style changes which leaves me utterly confused story wise as you jump back and forth, but thankfully everyone else seems to know what’s going on. Wrap is 7pm, and everyone piles into the minibus that drop us back to our flats and I learn lines for the next day. I get in at 7.50pm sneak a peek on my sleeping child and make dinner before collapsing into bed about 9pm.
You’ve admitted to finding it hard leaving Lyla for long days of filming. How did you find a way to cope and what advice would you give other parents that have to leave their young children for work commitments? How do you strike a balance?
I started the job when Lyla was 9 months old and I was still breastfeeding, so I found it pretty tricky and painful with sore full boobs, expressing between scenes or leaking (a shoulder pad in my bra saved me many times), and although it was lovely to get a sense of who I was back again and be able to sit down and have an undisturbed lunch, I missed her dreadfully. I was lucky however, and reassured she was in safe happy hands as my mother – the angel, moved to Glasgow to look after her. The hardest part for me was when I was filming the affair storyline. It was 3 months of filming 6 days a week, 12 hours a day and I use to cry every night in the minibus home out of exhaustion and frustration of not seeing her and feeling like a bad parent, as I am sure many working mums do. However the upshot of acting is when you are not involved in a big storyline you can get a lot of time off or maybe be in work only a few hours in a day so I had plenty of time to be with her and then you pray for a busy day of filming for a break!
Being a parent is the toughest job there is and no-one tells you what a great job you’ve done once the baby is in bed and no-one does your hair and make up for you to hide the tiredness! But I want to be a good role model for my daughter and show her that if you work hard can can achieve you dreams. You just need a lot of help from a great support network.
We were devastated to hear that Waterloo Road is set to air its final series this year! What’s in the pipeline for you after the drama finishes?
Well, I am about to record to voiceover for the new Cheerios TV advert, something a little different, and I’m auditioning for other roles while basically sitting patiently, waiting for my agent to call! I would love to be in a Kay Mellor drama, she wrote the ‘Syndicate’ and ‘In the Club’ which I thought was fantastic.
What’s your idea of a perfect family weekend?
Lyla is an early riser so my husband Leon getting up with her to allow me to have a lie in would be the best start. Leon is an amazing cook and Lyla loves to help him, so the two of them rustling up pancakes with bacon and maple syrup with blueberries and bananas for breakfast is my favourite weekend treat. Then we would head off to a children’s farm where we can pet and help feed the animals followed by a Yo Sushi and Lyla entertaining us before bed – she loves to dance and sing, usually Frozen, she has us in hysterics, she is already such a little dramatic actress at 2 and a half!
On Sunday we go swimming and pretend we are mermaids, Lyla is obsessed by Ariel. We’d then head home for some baking – maybe a yummy cake to have after a delicious Sunday roast. Then, once Lyla is in bed, we sit down with a nice glass of Sancerre and watch ‘Mr Selfridge’ in which my husband stars as a the Russian Prince Serge de Bolotoff.
Share with us your ultimate favourite family recipe.
My husband was a chef patisserie before becoming an actor, he bakes the most amazing chocolate and Guinness cake with Baileys’ icing. It is pure heaven and we always make one when we have guests over or family birthdays.
We’ve read that you were born in Manchester before emigrating to Australia at the age of 6. What was family life like down under, and how do you think it compares to the UK?
I adore Perth where I grew up, beautiful beaches, friendly people and glorious sunshine. My childhood was idyllic and it is the most wonderful place to bring up a family, my sister and her two young children still live there. Australian lifestyle is all about socialising outdoors, BBQ’s games and there is a real sense of community, living in cold London you don’t have that, which I miss. However, the UK has a wonderful theatre culture and galleries and makes wonderful television which Australia doesn’t quite have on the same level.
What are your new year’s resolutions for 2015?
Try to be more patient and get more sleep!
What’s the one baby product you couldn’t have lived without?
Baby Bees shower and hair wash by Burts Bees, it’s so lovely and the only product that didn’t bring my daughter out in a rash, we still use it now.
How would you sum yourself up in one sentence?
I asked my two-year-old daughter to describe me, according to Lyla “Im a big girl, funny mummy who is the best driver in the world”.