The fabulous stage and screen actress Jo Hartley is my Woman of Substance for February. Manchester-born Jo has appeared in some of the UK's most cutting-edge films and dramas and is best known for her roles in the award-winning series This is England, Eddie the Eagle and Not Safe for Work. Jo soon returns to the small screen in Bliss, a three-hander about a man who leads a double life and she returns to the stage in Chicken Soup, a new production for the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, from 9th February to 3rd March.

Jo was brought up in a working-class family in Oldham, Greater Manchester. She started acting at the age of 11 in a school production of 'The Sound of Music' as Gretel Von Trappe. She then joined Oldham Theatre Workshop, developing her acting skills until the age of 17 when she stopped acting to work at British Aerospace on a Youth Training Scheme. She worked as a secretary in the office for two years until leaving to join Japan Airlines as an air hostess. In her mid-twenties, she decided to pursue her dream of being an actor and returned to England, to London where she studied at the Questors Theatre in Ealing.

Jo now lives in London with her family.

Jo, congratulations - what a wonderful career you have had to date. What led you to switch careers and become an actress in your mid-twenties?

Thanks, that’s so kind of you. I think my return to acting was inevitable, it was my first love. Japanese Airlines was just a detour. That feeling I got after being on stage for the first time in ’The Sound of Music’ was magic. I missed that, so I had to follow it. My journey’s been unconventional, but it’s all happened organically. Life experience is essential for creating interesting characters, so my own has helped me a lot. I was 17 when my dad died, and I needed to get a job - drama school seemed like a pipe dream, but I was determined to make it work somehow. So I took some private acting lessons whilst working full time, then eventually at 25, I joined Questors Theatre in Ealing. Shortly after that, I met a group of filmmakers, we made some short films and I managed to edit a show reel together from the footage. I was hanging out with the cast of ’24 hour Party People’ in Manchester at that time, I gave my show reel to a casting director, she liked it and she kindly introduced me to an agent. An audition with Shane Meadows followed shortly after that and everything changed from there. I’m currently writing, which is exciting. I feel blessed to be doing what I love, it’s been challenging at times, but I'm convinced the best is yet to come.

Your new role in Bliss is quite different to your previous roles in This England and Not Safe for Work. What attracted you to it?

Yes, all those roles are worlds apart. I found everything about ‘Bliss’ attractive! The scripts were gripping, I couldn't put them down. I remember coming out of my audition with David Cross, the creator, I was totally buzzing. He's a genius. I knew I wanted the role. It’s different from anything I've done before. Throughout the show my character Denise, begins to question her life. Andrew, her long-term partner is away a lot on business, and Kris her teenage son, no longer needs her so much. She's restless. All the characters are brilliantly written. The story is great. Stephen Mangan is superb and I've been a huge fan of Heather Graham since ‘Boogie Nights’, she's adorable. It was an amazing project to work on, with such a great team behind it. It’s layered, full of surprises, great soundtrack. I guess ‘Bliss’ highlights the importance of the choices we make in life, and how they can impact on others, and how they shape our future, for better or worse. A Brilliant combination of comedy and drama, it’s a trip. I hope people enjoy it.

Which has been your favourite acting role and why?

It’s impossible to choose a favourite role. Each opportunity has been a chance to explore something new. Cynthia in ‘This Is England’ holds dear to me. She’s a beauty, based loosely on mine and Shanes mums. That hair, gosh, I remember the day I had it permed. I was in shock, literally crying, my hair ruined. My audition for it was an interesting experience. I was at Shane’s house, and he asked me to help him with the casting of the boy (Shaun). So we headed over to the Nottingham Workshop, I improvised with around 15 young lads. When we had finished, Shane said “Right Jo, you’re playing Cynthia” I wasn't sure who she was.… Shaun’s mum, he explained. I was over the moon. Didn’t have a clue he was auditioning me. I loved working on ‘Life on the Road’ with Ricky Gervais, he's brilliant. Meeting Christopher Walken on ‘Eddie the Eagle’ was surreal, Deer Hunter is one of my favourite movies. Playing Jean in ‘The Mimic’was ace too, it was my first comedy role. My prep for each character is different, I approach everything with a new perspective and allow it to evolve naturally. I’m always searching for the truth, and what’s behind the words in the script.

You are Mancunian by birth and now live in London – what do you love most about those two important English cities?

I love Manchester it’s where I grew up. My family still lives there, so I visit a lot. My late teens, early 20s were quite rock ‘n’ roll. Being part of the Madchester scene, I hung out with bands a lot. Oasis, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, New Order, it was wild. I had a fantastic time. Manchester’s very cool, it’s a vibrant city with a huge heart. London is where I live currently, I love my home in East London. The parks, markets, coffee shops, it’s full of culture and diversity. I spend a lot of time in theatres, cinemas and museums. The architecture is stunning too, it’s so grand. Most of my work is in London, I love the pace of the city. I’ve got lots of friends there too. Both cities are totally brilliant and unique.

Which pieces from the Winser London new Spring collection are your favourites and how would you wear them?

It was Tim and Elisa at Beaumont Communications who introduced me to Winser London. I love all of the Spring collection. Its stylish and classy. Great shapes. The way a garment is cut is so important to me. The Dusky blue Miracle Dress is really cute and sassy, I’d wear that with a simple pair of heels. The Miracle range is so elegant. I did a photo shoot recently and wore the V-Neck Silk Top - the material was gorgeous. I also fell in love with the Audrey Cashmere Cable Jumper, it’s so soft and cosy. The Emma Miracle Capri would look cool with a classic heel, simple shirt and the English Limited Edition Tweed Jacket. The Duster Woven Coat is sharp. I love that! The A-Line Dress and the Sporty Trouser are funky, I’d match those up with a T-shirt and trainers, keep it simple. Lastly I adore Yasmin Le Bon’s English Tailored 6 Button Jacket and High Waisted Trousers. A powerful look. I’m a big fan.

Photo credit - Pip