We catch up with the actor, voice artist and screenwriter to learn more about growing up in Cornwall, Peppa Pig, and the return of her hit sitcom, Damned.
Morwenna Banks has an impressive resume of TV and radio credits, both as an actor and writer, having appeared in everything from Skins to Shameless; The Thick of It to Rupert the Bear and Saturday Night Live. Those with young children will most likely recognise her as Mummy Pig, Madame Gazelle and a host of other characters in Peppa Pig. Morwenna was born and raised in Cornwall, often returning with her children.
With Damned back on our screens, please could you tell us a bit about how the series originally came about.
“Well, Jo Brand and I are very old friends. We always look for opportunities for a vat of coffee and a good natter. Writing Damned provided an excellent opportunity. Also, we were both really interested in the territory and wanted to do something both funny and quite hard-hitting. Jo was a psychiatric nurse and her mum was a social worker so there was a wealth of experience for us to draw on and we work closely with a practitioner who advises us on protocol and on what might happen in certain situations. For the Channel 4 series we asked the very talented writer Will Smith to join our team. It was a challenge seeing if we could make a subject so inherently difficult, funny, but it was good challenge.”
Are there any surprises in store for the new series?
“We’ve got a new regular character this series Mimi – played by Lolly Adefope. She is excellent as the millennial student social worker who comes along and challenges the old guard, especially with her views on gender politics. There’s an unexpected romance or two. We’ve also got some terrific guest stars including some brilliant new talents. We’ve gone to some very dark places with our storylines but we always try to counter them with lots of laughs. I think every episode has its own element of surprise – our characters never do quite what you might expect.”
Do you prefer writing or performing?
“I love doing both to be honest. I feel very lucky to be able to write and act. Sometimes acting in other things is lovely – just to turn up and not feel responsible for all the words. On the other hand with writing I can hide behind my computer and dress in comforting elasticated leisurewear every day, so that has its own charm. I love doing voices for animations too. Basically I like it all and I know how rare that is to actually enjoy going to work.”
Which projects are you proudest of being involved with?
“I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some incredible people on so many really interesting projects. One of the first things I did professionally was the Channel 4 sketch show, Absolutely. We had a tremendous amount of freedom and got to experiment with a lot of comic characters. I was happy with both the radio drama, Goodbye, and Miss You Already, a feature film starring Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Paddy Considine and Dominic Cooper, as both projects were very personal and when I wrote them I wanted to raise awareness about young women and breast cancer. Thanks to the magnificent casts of both – we were able to make that happen.
And, of course, I’m proud of being Mummy Pig and Madame Gazelle in Peppa Pig! No-one was prepared for the phenomenon of Peppa. All I can say is that the creators, Neville Astley and Mark Baker are brilliant, truly creative, lovely people and were as shocked as anyone that this success came their way. Who knows what the key is – excellent funny writing, brilliant designs, honesty and of course the voices are what really make it special. (Joke)”
Do you have any particularly special memories from growing up in Cornwall?
“Rowing in my little pram dinghy on the river Fal, dropping anchor and doing my homework as the sun went down… Hearing the strains of the ballad ‘White Rose’ drift through the salty night air into my bedroom window from the pub next door when I was child – like a lovely beery lullaby.”
Do you have a favourite beach or walk in Cornwall and why?
“Well I do but I’m reluctant to share them!”
What do you love most about Cornwall?
“I can’t even begin. In my opinion it’s one of the best places in the world. I’ve recently become Patron of the Cornish company ‘Drama Express’ – a drama group for young people with disabilities. It was set up in response to a continuing need for young people with disabilities to be represented through the performing arts. So I’m glad that young people are getting the chance to have these experiences and I love that an initiative like this exists in Cornwall.”
What one thing would you recommend that everyone does upon visiting Cornwall?
“Cheer loudly when they cross the Tamar bridge.”