Hope Springs: Ronni Ancona plays Ann Marie Miller

The women have a rival in Ann Marie. In fact, she could be described as their nemesis as she harbours serious doubts about their true identity especially when sees her nice-guy fiance Gil (Paul Higgins) growing ever closer to Ellie (Alex Kingston).

Immaculately turned out, Ann Marie’s the local wannabe china doll and village sweetheart, but she’s brittle with it. Owner of the local hair salon and beauty parlour, The Kiss Kurl, she knows how to make the most of herself in the looks department. But, despite all this, she still has a deep rooted sense of insecurity and is especially intimidated by the confident and self-assured Ellie.

“Ann Marie is very threatened by these girls because before they rocked up she was the sophisticated one and the so-called glamorous one in the village. Then, suddenly, this group of sassy, sussed Londoners appear wearing the right thing and they’ve got this other-worldly confidence and attitude and she’s threatened by that,” suggests Ronni.

Although she’s in a relationship with Gil, Anne Marie was happily seduced by village bad-boy Euan (Alec Newman), enjoying a secret affair. And now Ann Marie’s pregnant and doesn’t know for sure who the father is, although she secretly believes it’s Euan.

“She’s engaged to Gil but it soon becomes apparent she’s had an affair with Euan, played quite superbly by Alec Newman, who is a genuinely nasty piece of work. When Ann Marie and Euan are together they have a very interesting dynamic, because you feel as if they deserve each other. There’s a frisson between them with a really nasty kind of edge.

“I wouldn’t even say she fancies him, I’d say she’s repelled and disgusted by him. But there’s something quite electric going on between them and I do also think she’s genuinely frightened of him and scared of him. There’s definitely a cat-and-mouse power struggle going on between those two which is an interesting dynamic and, of course, for many people there’s a very thin line between hate and passion.

“But Ann Marie’s catch is definitely Gil. She really loved Gil, she really wanted Gil and it all seemed so simple and straightforward. But then it transpired that the baby she’s carrying could be Euan’s or Gil’s and that changed things for her. So it’s all very dramatic and Ann Marie becomes very much a woman on the edge.

“In some ways Ann Marie could be seen as the villainess of Hope Springs. But what’s quite interesting about this show is actually who can say who the villainesses are, because Ann Marie isn’t a convicted criminal. She hasn’t been to prison whereas the other women have criminal records. But I’m trying not to play her as a villainess because that’s too cliched and one-dimensional. I want her to come across as a multifaceted person so I keep reminding myself that Anne Marie just sees life through her own eyes.

“She can’t empathise with other people’s problems. It’s not like she’s wicked, evil or even malevolent. She’s just blinkered to what her path is and what she wants. Yes, she’ll use people to get there, which I suppose is a little bit wicked. But she’s never been inside unlike the others and she’s never broken the law, so there’s some irony there compared to what’s going on with the other characters.”

Through Gil (once he gets his police promotion), Ann Marie sees an opportunity to escape Hope Springs, to live in Edinburgh and finally put her unpleasant relationships with former lover Euan and her eccentric mother Sadie (Annette Crosbie) behind her.

“Ann Marie can be a bit of a bitch at times, but she’s also extremely vulnerable and I’ve really concentrated on that. I like to say to everybody that she’s misunderstood and she is.

“I don’t think she ever knew her dad, she has a very rocky relationship with her mother Sadie – who was not a good mother – and generally life hasn’t been a bed of roses for her. So I think Anne Marie just feels very alone.

“She has aspirations and illusions of grandeur, but she feels trapped and suffocated in this little village. She’s definitely a townie stuck out in the countryside. She’s stuck there, she’s deeply miserable and she wants to break out. I have tried to look at her as a kind of caged bird that wants to break free.”

So could Ronni herself ever imagine living somewhere as remote as Hope Springs? “No! No! No! Have you got that?” laughs Ronni. “No! We sometimes go and stay in a wee village in the country and it’s absolutely glorious and lovely and I can see there are some huge advantages to living somewhere like that.

“There are some lovely plus points – a real community, people look out for each other and children can be a lot freer and safer.”

Whilst the Ayrshire-born comedienne and actress may currently be focusing on drama roles, she did manage to entertain the cast and crew of Hope Springs with a few impressions during rehearsals.

She says: “I really don’t like doing impressions very much when people ask me to as I find it a bit embarrassing. So the only person I do impressions with on this is Alec Newman, who is a phenomenal impressionist.

“The two of us have a lot of scenes together so we’ll always do whatever scene we’re doing in an American accent and then we’ll usually recast the big movie version of Hope Springs. So last week we did it as Renee Zellweger and Christopher Walken doing a scene together, followed by Julia Roberts and Ian McKellen. It was hilarious – we’ll have to add those on as extras when the DVD comes out!”

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