In the new Channel 4 prison drama series Screw, Laura Checkley can be seen playing regular character Jackie, one of the prison guards alongside a cast including Nina Sosanya and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, with the show airing on Thursdays at 9pm. Amongst her numerous screen roles, Laura plays Mrs Blocker in In My Skin, Maz in the feature film Military Wives and Louise in Detectorists. Laura is well-known for playing Terri King, a role of which was written specially for her, in King Gary on BBC across all episodes, and she was part of comedy duo Checkley & Bush with Victoria Bush. Speaking with us, Laura tells us about her role of Jackie in Screw on Channel 4, playing Terri King in King Gary and being part of Military Wives.
You are currently playing Jackie in the new Channel 4 series Screw, what is the character like to play and can you say more about her?
Jackie is a straight-talking, no-nonsense, foul-mouthed kind of mother figure of C Wing. She likes to think of herself as Leigh’s unofficial number two. She’s fair and kind but she’s no mug. You don’t cross her. She’s the first to get stuck in if it kicks off and then have a laugh about it a bit later. She takes the job seriously but not herself, she’s got a great sense of humour. She’s a joy to play and she’s got some great one-liners.
Can you tell us about the series and who do you think it will appeal to?
Screw is a prison drama set in an overcrowded and underfunded male prison. It centres around the lives and relationships of the prison officers on C Wing. It’s a real uncensored look at the prison system and those serving it.
It’s high-paced, with loads of twist and turns but it’s funny too. It will get you really hooked and you’ll be desperate to know what happens next.
How was the experience filming Screw and working with the rest of the cast?
I’ve spent a lot of time in comedy so doing drama after all this time felt pretty daunting at first. But I soon chilled out after rehearsals and meeting everyone. Learning about the prison service was an incredible experience. We did research and training with real prison officers pre-filming which was invaluable and hugely eye-opening. The set is incredible too. It’s purpose-built on three floors, it took my breath away when we first walked on set. It felt so real that escaping into the world really wasn’t difficult at all.
Can you tell us about the BBC comedy series King Gary and your character Terri King?
King Gary is a big silly sitcom with loads of laughs and loads of heart. It follows the King family with geezer diva Gary and his straight-talking childhood sweetheart Terri at the helm. They are best mates just trying to do their best to keep up with the Joneses. But they are haphazard goofballs and always fall short, which inevitably gets them into all sorts of ridiculous situations. My character Terri has got a big heart and a big gob, which inevitably lands her in all sorts of trouble. She is often getting the wrong end of the stick and wading in with her size nines before she has all the facts. But she means well and will always have your back. I like to call her Tornado Tel, because she swoops in, wreaks havoc and leaves everyone else to clear up the mess. She’s a joy to play.
What drew you to the script and what do you enjoy most about filming and being on set?
I was hugely lucky because the part of Terri was actually written for me so I’ll never forget reading the script for the first time. It’s rare as an actor to pick up a script knowing that the role was made for you. I get to do it all, from the silly physical stuff right down to the hearty stuff. James De Frond and Tom Davis just know how to write for women and it’s a dream to be a part of. Being on the King Gary set is bloody sublime. We laugh like drains and adore each other. The cast and crew are like family. To be honest, I’ve never been on a happier and more supportive set.
How was it seeing the response to the first series and having your performance and the show be nominated for awards?
The response has been overwhelming and I’m so over the moon it has resonated with so many people. I can’t tell you how many messages I get every day thanking me and the cast for bringing joy and laughter into their lives. That’s all that matters, to be honest, not awards or reviews. King Gary is made for the people I love and grew up with so it’s a pretty special feeling knowing they love it as much as we love making it.
Why do you think King Gary is a success and why would you recommend watching it?
I think it’s a show for the everyman and I think everyone has met or knows someone like Gary and Terri. They are so flawed but undeniably lovable and they’re just trying to be the best human beings they can. Like us all right? I think there’s a character and storyline in there for everyone. Mainstream sitcoms can be incredibly hard to get right but I think Tom and James have managed to shake the format up and make it feel fresh and exciting again. King Gary is just silly, joyous and will fill your heart up and I think we could all do with a bit of that in our lives after the last 18 months we’ve all had.
What is Mrs Blocker like to play in In My Skin and what was the show like to work on?
Mrs Blocker was such a joy to play and I feel really privileged to just be a small part of what I think is a really important show. Working with a predominantly female heavy cast and crew is so empowering, there’s nothing like being with your crowd is there. Also, Kayleigh Llewellyn (the writer) is the best in the game and she’s going to take over the frickin’ world so watch this space.
You played Maz in feature film Military Wives, how was this?
Military Wives was an incredible experience with an awesome bunch of women who have become lifelong friends. We all had to sing live so I think that brought us closer together. It was a lot of fun but when the movie was released it was only in cinemas for little over a week and then the country went into lockdown. So unfortunately it got a little lost which is a massive shame because I think it could’ve been a huge hit. I’m just glad my mum got to see it on the big screen, to be honest. It’s available on Amazon now though so if you haven’t seen it, please do. It’s lovely and really heartwarming.
Do you have any stand-out memories from your time playing Louise in Detectorists?
Ah Detectorists will always be so dear to me. It was such a beautiful show to work on and it really got my career going. I have so many wonderful memories from that show but the real stand-out moments were the ones that took place off camera. Being out on the beautiful Suffolk countryside, talking shit whilst metal detecting… Well, I say detecting, we were giving it a go even though we were all shocking at it, lol!
What are some of your favourite TV shows and films to watch?
I watch all sorts, it depends what mood I’m in to be honest, but one of the few things I can put on regardless of mood is Schitt’s Creek. It’s my go-to when I just want to forget and laugh, well that and RuPaul’s Drag Race. My new love at the moment though is Ted Lasso. It’s just totally joyous and really funny.
Can you say about your comedy duo Checkley & Bush?
Yeah, you know I am hugely proud of my time in my comedy duo Checkley & Bush. It’s how I cracked the comedy world. I was in musical theatre for years pre-TV and was so desperate to crack the comedy world but it was impossible to penetrate. So I made it happen myself. Got on the comedy circuit and earned my stripes. Although Bush (my comedy partner) and I haven’t performed together for years, we are actually back together writing something at the moment so we’re still going, sort of.
Where does your love of acting and comedy come from and how did you get into both?
My love of comedy started from a very young age. I was obsessed with Victoria Wood, Julie Walters and French and Saunders. I was just drawn to funny women and knew I just had to be like them. I have a very funny family who love comedy so I was surrounded by humour and comedy was always on the box growing up. I have never known a time where I wasn’t doing impressions, comedy falls or pulling faces. Like I said though, getting seen for comedy at the beginning was almost impossible, I couldn’t get a seat at the table so I decided to build my own and that’s when things started happening for me. Being funny is just in your bones I think and it just had to work out for me. There was no B plan, it’s all I can bloody do!
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