HERE’S always a concern an actor such as Samantha Womack will be a little reticent in interview, worn down perhaps by the press demands of a five-year stint in EastEnders, pulled apart for appearing in lads’ mags, indeed having been in the public eye since the age of 18 when she sang at the Eurovision Song Contest.

There was certainly a fair bit of public opprobrium when Samantha Janus, as she then was, began her long-term relationship with actor Mark Womack in 1999, after they both left their spouses (the couple went on to marry in 2009). And over the years, the blonde with the ice-blue eyes has emerged, not surprisingly, as a no-nonsense,

won’t-suffer-fools type.

Loading article content

A few seconds into our interview, however, worries about flowing chat are removed like a greasepaint on a wet wipe when the actress reveals she’s just skelped a man hard on the face.

“I’ve just come off stage [in The Addams Family musical comedy] with my co-star [Cameron Blakely] and we were doing a tango,” she explains in comedy-drama voice. “My grandmother was once a choreographer and perhaps I was trying hard too hard to impress her friend in the audience and I swung my arm out too madly, and now Cameron’s got a very sore face.”

Have there been times when she’s felt like giving a fellow actor a sock on the jaw? “Oh, yes, there are millions of people I’d love to knock out, but Cameron isn’t one of them,” she

says, grinning. “When you do theatre with some actors, there are a lot of kissing scenes in which tongues can go a bit wild at times, so you have to learn

to keep blokes like that at bay.”

Womack then goes on to tell a

risqué theatrical anecdote that really can’t be repeated. The tale does, however, reveal her wicked, dark sense of humour, not far removed from that of her stage character, Morticia.

That reference to her grandmother, however, opens a door to the past you might think Womack wouldn’t have wished to enter.

The actor’s childhood has been described as “difficult”, but that’s a bit like saying Joan Crawford could be a bit tetchy at times. Young Samantha Janus often lived with her grandmother during holidays and when her parents, musician father Noel and actor mother Diana O’Hanlon, split. But this was no ordinary granny; this was a showbiz granny who worked on the QE2 as a choreographer.

Little Sam’s bunk was in the bowels of the ship and when her grandmother was rehearsing, the tot would be taken away for the day by kindly passengers on excursions. But what the experience did was introduce the little girl to the world of showbiz.

“Most of my childhood was spent watching people perform,” she recalls, “and it was all so glamorous. You would see the likes of Dusty Springfield, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

on board and I used to watch the showgirls dance. It was an incredible experience. Meanwhile, my grandmother was trying to get me into showbiz and she was the reason I went to theatre school when I was 15.”

The lure of show business however had a negative side. The young Samantha, who moved around the country with her mother after her parents divorced and her mother remarried, couldn’t fit in at school, as was apparent during a stint while she was living in Edinburgh.

“I was a naughty kid,” she says. “There was nothing in the academic programme that appealed to me. I guess it was a little bit like the kids who are autistic and stuck in a classroom all day doing work they can’t relate to. That’s certainly the way I felt. At school I was made to feel

I was in the wrong, but the reality is I was just bored.”

Samantha Janus left school and home and lived in squats for a while and dated her share of bad boys. But after finding her world in the Sylvia Young Theatre School, talent outed. In 1991, the 18-year-old represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song A Message to Your Heart (she came joint 10th). Acting roles in the likes of The Bill followed, and she landed the coveted role of Sandy in Grease in the West End. Then in the mid-1990s, she became a household name as the fun-loving Mandy Wilkins in BBC Two sitcom, Game On.

Janus also featured in “lads’ magazines”, having agreed to photoshoots she later described as “degrading”. Speaking in 2013, the then 40-year-old Samantha Womack said she felt “objectified” by “the whole ladette thing”, adding that “it’s made me more wary about my image and image control”.

In 2007, big fame arrived when the actor was cast as Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders, becoming part of a TV family so dysfunctional viewers assumed they were directly related to Satan.

But she stormed the role, making fans of the soap believe she was born to the world of affairs, abductions and murders. And though her character departed the show in summer 2011, from May 2013 she made several extended returns. And from September 2014, she was back fulltime until January this year when, in one of the series’s most dramatic exit-lines ever, Ronnie Mitchell died while trying to save her sister, Roxy, from drowning.

The actor, who speaks as fast as the one-liners she once delivered in Game On, seems to have channelled an inner toughness in the role. It’s clear she has a strong mind. “I don’t like being an automaton, or a number," she agrees. "I fight tooth and nail for what I believe in. But I care passionately about what I do and sometimes that means I don’t stay in plays with particular companies or whatever.” She smiles, defiantly. “I’m 44 and I’m not going to change now.”

It’s not that Womack won’t take direction in theatre. “Not at all. My favourite directors are the ones who make me do things I wouldn’t do naturally. But what I can’t accept are things like compromising on rehearsal time, leaving things to the last minute, not treating acting as a craft. I hate this ‘Just say the line .... we want to be done by three’ attitude.”

Womack brings a keen intelligence to her work. But here’s a tester: how do you play a character such as The Addams Family’s Morticia – who is as dry as the inside of a lead coffin – and make an impact? “That’s the difficulty,” she admits. “On film, the actor can play her more subdued because the camera captures the eyes. On stage however – and the story of this show is really Gomez [Morticia’s husband] and Wednesday’s [her daughter’s] story – you have to find a way not to make her simply stand there in the archetypal pose with one eyebrow raised.

“That would be very boring. So you have to make her more of a slightly maternal figure, become even more concerned about her children, and reveal a little bit of vulnerability towards the end so the audience can go with her on the journey – and see the mask slip.”

The original 1960s TV series featured a love story between Morticia and Gomez. “Exactly,” Womack agrees. “In their minds they are the most normal family in the world, and the strange, dark love of the original series really lends itself to this piece, far more than it did to the Hollywood movie.”

Womack’s own love story is a complicated one. Both she and Mark Womack were married to other people when they met, and their splits made the newspapers. Mark’s first wife – with whom he has a son – once described Samantha Janus as "a deeply unhappy woman who ... chews [men] up and spits them out”.

Now Samantha and husband Mark have three children. What’s it like having two actors in one household? “It’s tricky,” she admits. “We need to know what we are doing from one month to the next, work out which jobs we take; do we compromise if it’s a dream role, yet isn’t so good for the family? And scheduling is hard when you have three kids and we seem to be constantly running late.”

She breaks into a laugh: “We’re the family falling out of the car arriving at the PTA meeting, having just had a row, the dogs barking, the lot. It’s all a bit mad. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Womack is decidedly ambitious, a bit driven. She admits she needs the commitment of work, hates waiting around. She was “broken” when she was axed from EastEnders, despite being a viewer’s favourite.

Is being driven to succeed a blessing and a curse? “That’s exactly right,” she says. “I like being in long contracts, and I don’t like coming to the end of this contract [The Addams Family show] in January. I do have this need for perfection in work, and because I really do love what I do, when I feel artistic control is being taken away from me I really suffer from that. But because I have a successful home life, that relaxes me a little bit and balances things out. Otherwise you’re constantly beating yourself, thinking you’re not quite good enough or whatever.”

Womack’s sharp, incisive mind and confident manner belie a lurking insecurity. “Playing Morticia is good for me. She is certainly not a people-pleaser and that’s something I’m trying to inhabit.” As an 18-year-old during Eurovision, Womack says she was a people-pleaser. “I didn’t want to disappoint. I’d go with the flow. It’s what happens when you’re young and you panic you won’t get a job. But later on you realise you have to take control.”

She adds: “They don’t teach that in theatre school, how to deal with the pressure of people asking you to do things you aren’t comfortable with.”

Morticia may not demand too much from her – playing the undead doesn’t call for reaching the depths of emotion – but what about playing a more traumatic character, such as Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders? “Yes, if you have been crying for 12 hours that day it does have a physical effect on you. You are exhausted. Your body doesn’t know you are faking being angry or crying. It thinks it’s real. But I’d use the hour and a half drive home to try and get my head out of that place, playing music or whatever.”

She thinks for a moment: “Even with a play like this it’s hard to come down afterwards. The adrenalin is raging. Your body is firing on all cylinders. And you can’t have a drink or eat loads of food because you’d be doing that every night and you have to stay healthy. Sometimes it’s three or four in the morning before I get to sleep.”

Womack wants to give her all in each performance. But she admits it can be hard to go in front of a camera or on stage when a real-life crisis is playing out. In 2009 her father, who was said to be depressed, took his own life. His daughter was devastated. “Because he was a singer he was always working somewhere else and our relationship became fragmented,” the actor once said. “But we’d got very close again before he died. All my life I worried about my dad. He was such a fascinating character; so glamorous and talented with incredibly interesting friends. Being with him was always an adventure but very creative, expressive people tend to have a darker side and that was there too.”

The one-time wildness suggests Womack also has her darker side. Yet, that comes with a deep, inquiring mind. For example, the actor believes her ancestry to be locked into her DNA. Appearing on BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are? therefore was a delight.

“I was at a right-wing holier-than-thou Catholic school in Edinburgh for a couple of years and I had a very twee, posh Edinburgh accent at the time, but I’d always felt connected to Glasgow in my bones. And that was explained to me by the discovery on the programme that three generations of my family came from there. My great-grandfather came from Maryhill, and he was a bandsman.”

Does she believe show business to be in her DNA? “Definitely,” she says. “I discovered that eight members of my family have played the Palace Theatre in Manchester. I couldn’t not do this job.”

It seems the case. But the difference with the teenage Samantha Janus is that Samantha Womack isn’t quite so demanding of herself, or so willing to compromise for others. “That’s true,” she says. “That’s why I like getting older. I’m more settled. And the parts that come my way are more interesting.”

With a grin, she adds: “I just have to be careful with my tango.”

The Addams Family, The Musical Comedy is at the King’s Theatre,

Glasgow October 10-14

www.theaddamsfamily.co.uk