Switch Interview: Caroline Quentin

Noone asked if she'd mind being dressed as a squirrel, but Quentin enjoyed playing an old-fashioned hippy witch in the new ITV2 series all the same...

Caroline Quentin as Gloria in Switch

Switch is a new series from the same stable as Being Human . Produced, like that show, by Touchpaper TV (and sharing a lot of the same crew), it centres on four young witches living in Camden, played by Lacey Turner, Nina Toussaint-White, Hannah Tointon and Phoebe Fox.

Caroline Quentin features in a couple of episodes as the hippy mother of one of the witches, who is a bit handy with magic herself. We spoke to her on-set earlier in the year.

SFX: So what is your character like?
Caroline Quentin: “My character is called Gloria and she’s the mother of one of the witches, the head of the young coven. Phoebe Fox plays my daughter, Grace, who is living in Camden, having a pretty groovy life. These girls have a pretty cool life: they live in Camden, they’ll all got jobs, they’re all meeting people, dating and all that stuff, and suddenly this brown-rice hippy mother turns up and tries to control them all and make sure that they’re not screwing up on their magic - which of course they are! She’s an old-fashioned witch in the sense that she believes the coven should be together and should get their spells right, and the girls are a bit more wild and undisciplined. They find Gloria a bit of an embarrassment, cos she wears head-to-toe tie dye and she’s got massive crystals round her neck, and puts dreamcatchers round the flat… they’re all there in their groovy little clothes and their Camden lifestyle in their retro flat, and this Janis Joplin lookalike comes along.

“Grace is completely different to her mum and she finds her mother absolutely infuriating because she is so controlling. I mean, her mother sends her self-defence manuals, and I sent her a rape alarm because I don’t think she should leave the house without one around her neck. ‘You’re living in Camden? You’re going to get stabbed, you’re going to get raped!’ Properly controlling parent. So yeah, she’s very different and finds her mum hugely embarrassing.”

It sounds like a fun role to play...
“Yes. I’m sort of dipping in and out - I come in and do a bit of showing off and then I can go home again! And I get to do some of the more camp and stupid bits. It’s quite nice to come in and muck about, have a laugh, and float about in a silly frock.

“Someone came to my trailer this morning and said, ‘I’ve got to do all your measurements cos you’re going to be wearing a squirrel costume!’ That’s as much as I know about episode six at the moment! I don’t know what they’re going to do with this character, but noone seems to think it’s remotely important to ask me, that’s what I really like about it. Noone’s going, ‘You’d better check with Caroline she doesn’t mind being a squirrel’. No fucker’s asked how I feel! I think it’s for some type of Glastonbury event. The costume designer actually went to Glastonbury to buy my costume, so I look proper. It really is funny. I kind of hate wearing it, though…”

Were you ever a hippy in real life?
“No, it doesn’t appeal to me at all. It really doesn’t! I really don’t like it, I find it claustrophobic, so I can see why the girls find her really irritating when Gloria comes in and starts smelling of patchouli! It’s actually quite intrusive behaviour, cooking lentils and smelling the place out and hanging things up. It’s quite domineering, in a kind of passive-aggressive way.”

So what sort of circumstances do they use magic in?
“Well, the thrust of it is what they need to use it for. There’s enchantments on bosses who aren’t doing what they should be doing or are a bit shitty to work with; there’s love enchantments; spells to alter circumstances that need help. Sometimes it’s by mistake. And the girls are all so different: they’ve all got very strong, defined personalities so they each have different territory to deal with.

“So the girls live in a very normal world but they are witches and they do have powers. They’re trying to lead a normal life, these girls - who happen to be some of the prettiest girls on television! Have you seen them? They’re so pretty, the lot of them! It’s like Hollyoaks with magic! Anyway, they’re trying to live this modern, young life of these young chicks in Camden having a good time, but they do have a huge responsibility because they’re powerful as well.”

How does the magic work? Is it like Harry Potter , or are there incantations…?
“It’s recipes more than spells, in a way. And there’s a lot of comedy around the way they’ve handled the magic. You’re just there sort of staring into space. By the time it comes back it’ll look like a spell has been dashing about the set, whizzing around, but I’ll have to wait and see what it’s like. I think they’re doing it like a great whoosh of energy, but of course it won’t have the budget of Harry Potter or anything like that. Also it’s lighter in tone - it’s got proper jokes in it. There’s proper, funny comedy in it too. And the girls are funny - they’re all really comedic. So it’s really good fun.”

This is from the same production company as Being Human - how do you think it compares?
“I like Being Human , but it’s very different actually. I don’t think this will go to quite such dark areas, I just think the tone of it is going to be much lighter - much, much more jovial. The scripts are so entertaining. I have to say, I looked at it and thought, ‘Oh god, I dunno if that’s my cup of tea'. But they’re really charming, because you’ve got comedy, sexy young people, and magic, and it’s quite funky as well - not that I know about that part of the world, but it is! I know that young people will find it appealing and they’ll recognise stuff in it.

"It’s comedy, really. It’s very beautiful comedy, with very pretty people, who are having a bit of a laugh. I would be so amazed if this wasn’t successful, because it’s charming and the scripts are so funny, and it looks beautiful. It’s really exciting visually, it’s beautifully lit, it’s funny, and the girls are just so fucking beautiful; you’d just watch it for that, to be honest - it’s like flicking through Vogue, they’re so good looking. And they’ve got two blokes in it, and they’re fucking delicious as well! And then muggins here turns up with a big ladel and a plate of lentils… so there’s a bit of balance!”

Have the other actresses asked you for advice? Do they see you as a mother figure outside of the role as well?
“I don’t think so at all, I think they think I’m an idiot - a complete buffoon! They know exactly what’s what, these people; they’re all so experienced, and they’re really au fait with how it all functions. They’re proper professional people and they’re quite intimidating - they really are! They’re not like kids at all. So no, they don’t. God, I’d love them to ask me for some advice! I haven’t got any to give them, but I’d like just to be asked! We do have a laugh though, they’re very good fun.”

Read our Lacey Turner interview .
Read our Nina Toussaint-White interview .

Switch starts airing on ITV2 on Monday 15 October, at 10.00pm.