As Shameless barmaid, Karen Maguire, there's nothing that Salford actress, Rebecca Atkinson, hasn't done sexually on screen. Karen and her knickers, it seems, are always parting ways. But, back home in Salford, Becky's gran just wants her to play a costume drama virgin…
"My nana keeps on saying `I'd love to see you in that Jane Eyre, you'd be really good, you'd look nice in one of them dresses'" she laughs "And I'm like, `yes nan I'd love to do that'…But I'd probably be playing some Moll Flanders type character. I wouldn't get nice old Jane Eyre, it would be something more, er, controversial…"
It isn't hard to see why.
Shameless could be Karen Maguire's middle name, with her up-the-entry eyes and quick fire flings with a host of no-ones. It must be hard to live down the part. Even today, sat in the green room of the long running drama's Wythenshawe set, Becky's wearing the skimpiest little skirt and tight top, fresh from filming a naughty lingerie party. How does she cope, walking around Salford the day after one of those episodes has been shown?
"Everyone's fine, they don't even acknowledge it" she shrugs "It's just `Hi Beck how are you, how's work?' And that's how it should be, it's just a job."
Training for a career in musical theatre, the Shameless job began six years ago when Becky's agent sent her photo over to the show's casting agent who hadn't managed to find anyone suitable to play Karen.
"They were a bit hesitant at first" she recalls "But then I came in and read for the part, was asked back a week later to do some improvisation and that was it. I started filming a few days after that."
Never mind the casting people being a bit hesitant, try putting yourself in Becky's ill fitting stilettos. Trained for a career in stuff like Mary Poppins and Cats, and with a few episodes of Children's Ward and Corrie on her cv, it was…`here's your first big tv acting role and you'll be shagging everything that moves on the Chatsworth Estate, watched by millions on Channel 4's most hyped programme'. Not easy. Definitely not easy.
"Er, no at first it wasn't because obviously you're very aware of people watching you and your parents having to watch you, and that hinders your performance a bit to start off with" she says "Then you get over that initial hurdle and anxiety and you can just work through it."
Now in the sixth series, Becky's managed to move the character on and give her the depth she was striving for since day one.
"For the first couple of years Karen was very two dimensional, all she seemed to do was have different sexual experiences with random people, whereas in the last two series and this one we've seen her develop and perhaps understand why she's behaved in the way she has" Becky explains "We've seen that she can fall in love and her behaviour can change but then also that when turbulence arrives she can go back to the way she's been previously because that's her security blanket and where she hides."
In recent episodes, as her relationship with husband, Jamie Maguire, has dwindled, viewers have seen that security blanket in full fancy, ranging from a lesbian fling to having it off in the changing room with the captain of The Jockey football team - while Jamie's on the pitch waiting for kick off?
"She could be hated and thought of in a negative way, like she's such a bitch or something but I don't get that at all" says Becky "Everyone thinks she's just a bit way out, a bit crackers. And my family are massively supportive, they never say anything about what I've had to do in the show."
That's probably because the nearest Becky gets to her Shameless persona is watching her dad play in his band at the Wagon and Horses on the Height. She believes that the show is extreme but real. And reflects every area, not just Salford or Manchester, and not just council estate dwellers.
"I think it's very real, very raw and very relatable" she decides "Things like that go on everywhere it's just that Paul (Abbott) chose a council estate to base it. I went to school in Salford with girls who behaved perhaps a little like Karen but so does everyone. I'm very proud of where I'm from and where I've been brought up. I'm still very grounded and I like that."
Becky was born in Hope hospital and brought up in its surrounding streets. She might be trying to shrug off the sexy image to please her nan for future costume drama roles, but her friend and ex Shameless star, Maxine Peake - now almost a Claremont neighbour - has already made the break with parts in Little Dorrit and The Devil's Whore. So there's hope yet. The bodice ripping version of Jayne Eyre is beckoning.
For Shameless Part 2 click here http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=84
For Shameless Part 3 click here http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=94
For Shameless Part 4 click here http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=96
For Shameless Part 5 click here http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=125
For Shameless Part 6 click here http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=126
Words: Stephen Kingston
Photo: Jemma Cooper