TCA press tour: ‘Call the Midwife’ star Miranda Hart gets motherly

Miranda Hart, a cast member in the PBS series "Call the Midwife," addresses reporters during the PBS Summer 2013 TCA press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP)

To say starting production on Season 3 of “Call the Midwife” is like riding a bike has an entirely different meaning for Miranda Hart -- so she backpedals when using the turn of phrase.

The 6-foot-1 comedic actress has more than convincingly displayed poor bike-riding skills as Camilla Cholmeley-Browne, affectionately known as Chummy, on the period drama. Such lousy hand-eye coordination is just one of the many ways the clumsy and lovable character has endeared herself in the eyes of “Midwife” viewers.

“The idiom has lost its power when Chummy’s riding skills are considered,” 40-year-old actress told The Times during a trip to Beverly Hills for the Television Critics Assn. press tour. “But in the everyday sense, picking up on the show has been without wobbles and crashes -- thankfully.”


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The popular series, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, centers on a group of midwives and the nuns of the nursing convent Nonnatus House in post-World War II East London. Season 3 of “Call the Midwife,” now in the early stages of production, is set to roll out in Britain in 2014 before making its stateside debut on PBS soon thereafter.

We talked to Hart about playing the fan favorite, the trouble of filming with babies and Chummy’s Charlie Chaplin clothes.

The big “Doctor Who” announcement was recently made -- and people were going nuts about it. Were you just as eager to learn who it was? You were one of the speculated names!

That would have been fun to see -- journalists going crazy on Twitter! It was funny because there was speculation about whether the next one was going to be a woman. And, yeah, my name got thrown into the pack quite a few times. So it was fun to be a part of that ride. So, I was caught up in it all a little more than I would normally be.

Would it have even been something you would consider had they made an offer?

You know, I haven’t thought about it. If you get an offer like that, it’s definitely something you have to think long and hard over. Hello, it’s a big show. But I love the actor they’ve selected -- Peter Capaldi. He’s great.

You’ve started production on Season 3--

Yeah, we just started. We’re actually filming the Christmas episode first -- naturally, when we’re having a hot week in London. We have to have summer now when I’m in wool and tweed, scarves, coats and gloves. Lovely.

Is it weird to go into this season, in that it’s reached the point where the show has run out of stories from Jennifer’s memoir?

I was a little worried, initially, but it was a seamless transition. We don’t get the scripts in advance, so we’re kind of seeing how things are turning out as we go along. There doesn’t seem to be a jolt of difference. And I think she always had to make up some things -- not necessarily big stories, but to create the television world of it. But, no, the main creator and writer Heidi Thomas has continued the great stories and has made them feel part of the word. There are still a few Jennifer stories going on in Season 3, a few.

And we’re in 1959 now!

Yes, 1959! We’re about to hit the ‘60s. I’m scared for Chummy. I don’t know how Chummy will cope with that. She’d be like [clutches her collar], “Oh, gosh. I’m not sure about this.”

A lot is happening. Contraception is being mentioned -- it hasn’t in the scripts I read, but they’re probably hearing more of that at work. One of the mothers who’s about to give birth wanted to give birth in a hospital -- and even that was quite shocking. It was like, “What do you mean you want to go to a hospital? We’re fine at home with just us. What do you mean you want a doctor?” Things are shifting health-wise, medically .... But in terms of gearing up for swinging ‘60s -- no way. We’re very pure. We might go to a jazz club, and that’s already pushing it.

I sort of love that simple, calm way of life. I kind of wish I was there. It was more peaceful and less frantic. People didn’t live on their iPhones. They weren’t trying to communicate all the time or work all the time. They were incredibly hard-working and had amazing jobs, but their home life and community life was very simple.

Yeah, but would you want to live then if you were a pregnant woman?

Um, no. Definitely wouldn’t want to give birth in those days. Have you seen what they do with chairs? I’d rather enjoy the jazz clubs, the music, the jive, the knitting -- I’m into that. Not so into the idea of giving birth on a dirty carpet with a twentysomething midwife.

Well, in the Season 2 finale, we see Chummy give birth. Was it weird to be the woman giving birth, rather than the woman helping to deliver a baby?

Luckily, I didn’t have a full-on birth -- it’s weird that I’m happy she got sick, isn’t it? But, yeah, she ended up at the hospital. It wasn’t a yay moment for the story line, but it was a yay moment for me as an actress. The girls found it hilarious, though, that I now had to be the one doing contraction noises. I didn’t want to even do them until we were on set. I remembered when I did, they all laughed at me.

How weird is it to be all up in the lady areas for TV? Obviously, it’s PG, but still, there are some awkward positions.

It’s so weird. You either become friends with the actress or you never see them again. So having their legs open in front of you is sort of make or break.

Small talk must be crucial.

No, really. It’s like, ‘Uh, hi, hello, how are you.” Weirdly, I suppose it’s like doing a sex scene -- a sort of heightened scene like that. After the rehearsal, it’s just completely normal, and you’re just sort of bent over going, ‘So, where do you live?”

And then you guys love those shots peeking from the side of the leg, looking as the baby’s head comes out.

It’s all very well done. I promise. It’s very well-planned, and very well-lit! This year it’s all female directors, so they’re really sensitive to that.

But there is a lot of stretching. Whenever they say cut, both actresses -- those giving birth and those delivering -- find that the room spins once they get upright because the one doing contractions has been hyperventilating for a good while and the one helping with birth is holding their breath. It’s an intense thing.

Chummy went from barely being able to ride a bike to having a kid. That’s quite a journey.

I know! I’m so pleased with the curve of the story lines. I think people have really warmed to her character, and they want her to win and see her do well. She has had quite the journey, and now she has a baby. She loves being a mom. What’s great about the character’s being based on real-life stories is you know their background a bit. The fact that Chummy had this quite tough upper-class upbringing with not much emotion going on makes me think she is so in love with this baby because she’s pouring all the love she needed and never had into him.

It’s quite difficult to act, though, with somebody else’s baby. Because you don’t know them and they’re wriggling around. You’re actually going “Stop it!” I wore a necklace -- Chummy wears a cross -- and the baby kept grabbing it. I was like, “How do I make him stop?” And then the poor mother is off to the side going, “My son!” But I have yet to drop a baby. In fact, no one has ever dropped a baby on set -- at least not that I know of.

But it was very emotional for me to watch her reach this point. To be a mother -- it’s a huge turning point for her. And it’s interesting to get in that skin, to see how she navigates this new world.

And what I love about her is that she, the most unlikely of the girls to find love, is in the midst of RomCom-style love story.It’s really fun to be that girl. For me as an actress, I’ve never been married on a show. That was really nice to play that. And also in the ‘50s, it was all so romantic and simple and sweet. Although, when you do a day of dancing, that song gets stuck in your head. “Angellll ...”

But as great as that all is, I’d like to see her have an argument with her husband. I’ve always wondered if they ever argue, and what that would be like. I mean, they’re so in love, they would never split up.

Who would say ‘sorry’ first?

Uh, they’d probably pause and then bust our crying, saying “Sorry!, Sorry! Sorry!” together. If not that, Chummy would say sorry first. She hates confrontation. But yeah, I want to know if Chummy would ever get angry. I’m fascinated by that. I don’t know if she goes there.

How about Chummy’s style -- are we going to see that change as new fashions are introduced?

You might see some new Chummy outfits in Series 3 because she’s a mom. She has her confidence as a woman. There’s tweed suits. The costume designer was like, “Let’s see her grow as a woman.” Before she was so gangly and awkward. She’s got these dreadful slacks that made me feel like Charlie Chaplin. 1950 slacks, can I just say, are not a good look. The sexy girls on the show are fine -- they’ve got these sleek styles -- a bit like we wear now. Chummy has got these massive, flannel Charlie Chaplin-like pants. It’s like, thanks costume guys, thank you so much.

That’s what your modern-day series “Miranda” is for!

Good point. I shouldn’t complain.