Shakespeare on the BBC
Starts Monday 7 November on BBC ONE
This autumn, the BBC brings Shakespeare and
his stories to audiences with a variety of new
programmes and initiatives across its
services – television, radio, online and interactive.
Much Ado About Nothing - Billie Piper
The long-range career forecast is looking sunny for Billie Piper. The 22-year-old actress is about to star as weather girl Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, one of four modern adaptations of Shakespeare's plays coming to BBC ONE this autumn.
David Nicholls' adaptation sets Much Ado in a regional newsroom, where presenter Beatrice (Cutting It and Blackpool star Sarah Parish) is appalled when her ex-lover and arch- enemy, Benedick (Band Of Brothers and The Forsyte Saga star Damian Lewis), is hired as her co-anchor.
"It's so funny and every line in the script is a corker," declares Billie, "David Nicholls is a brilliant writer."
The girl once labelled England's "pop princess" – she was just 15 when her debut single, Because We Want To, topped the charts – was eager to play Hero after starring in Peter Bowker's adaptation of Chaucer's The Miller's Tale for BBC ONE two years ago.
"I really enjoyed doing that – I thought it was a great concept," explains Billie. "At drama school we studied Shakespeare three days a week, so when the script was floating around, I was quite keen to get a look at it.
"It's so good, and when I heard that Sarah and Damian were involved, I knew I'd be in good company."
But there was a time when the prospect of interpreting the Bard was an awesome one for the fledgling actress.
"I think Shakespeare dominated about four years of my life and, at first, I used to find it so daunting. The thought of sitting down with Shakespearian text used to scare me. But then I went to theatre school and it took on a whole new life. I became a huge fan."
Billie's research for the role of Hero, a new recruit to the regional news studio, included a visit to the home of a real-life weathergirl.
"She showed me some footage of her when she first started and that was really beneficial. There are certain ways to hold and present yourself and there's also a rhythm in the way news reporters speak – you have to get hold of that intonation. And then I just watched daytime TV solidly for about a week!" she says with her ready laugh.
The main challenge, shared by both Billie and Hero, was wrapping their tongues around mind-boggling meteorological terms.
And the most difficult word to pronounce? "Altostratus castellanus," fires back Billie with crisp expertise. (That's something to do with clouds, by the way).
"Mid-take, you'd find your top lip curled and you'd be sweating like a pig," she confides. "Those lines really did give you the fear.
"But I was working on Doctor Who at the same time, so I was getting used to saying words that I'd never used in my life, and also words that weren't in the dictionary – just made-up, [writer] Russell T Davies words – so I started to get better and better at pronouncing the difficult ones.
"The great thing about playing Hero was that she was new and so she had to be quite green and a bit vague about what kind of weathergirl she was trying to be."
One scene in Much Ado finds Billie at a fancy dress party as Marilyn Monroe, wearing the same style iconic white dress from The Seven Year Itch.
By a strange coincidence, she goes to fancy dress parties in real life wearing exactly the same outfit.
"She's always been one of my heroes – I love Marilyn Monroe and I've had this small obsession with her, so I felt right at home in the wig and dress," admits Billie.
Another scene, this time for Hero's hen night, called for Billie to don a pair of angel wings – but the result on set was less than heavenly.
"I nearly took out every member of the crew when I walked in at first with these bloody wings on my back!" she reveals.
The best aspects of filming Much Ado included the script – "genuinely funny, with laugh-out-loud jokes" – and the friendships which developed.
"It was an ensemble piece and we all gelled and got on so well – that was one of the highlights," adds the vivacious actress.
In a very different role, she played single mum Bella in BBC TWO's Bella And The Boys, which she describes as "hardcore, heavy and insightful.
"It was three solid weeks working with kids from care homes and you're kind of blind or deaf to some of the things that people go through in life.
"You read about them in the papers, but you never really get inside the person's head, and so working with these kids that had such crappy starts to life made me think a lot and it was a great project to work on. I feel it was quite a true account of what happened."
Swindon-born Billie had wanted to act from childhood and began studying at theatre school when she was 12.
She caught the eye of record producers and, by the time she was 16, had released four singles that all made the top three.
Now she's reunited with her first love, although next she'd like to try writing.
"I write a lot, but I've never actually finished anything I've started," she confesses.
"So one day, I hope that I could complete something. I don't know that I want to act for ever and ever – but I always want to be involved with this industry because I find it exciting and there are lots of different avenues to go down."
In her precious spare time, Billie enjoys movies – "I'll go to the cinema for an entire day and just do back-to-back movie watching" – and driving her beloved 1989 911 Porsche.
"I bought myself this amazing car that I've wanted since I was a little girl," she says, her enthusiasm in top gear.
"It's white, with black bumpers and a black leather interior with cream piping. It's so beautiful, I can't believe I'm allowed to drive it – and nor can my dad," she adds, laughing.
With a practical outlook on the future climate of her career, she adds: "Sometimes I get itchy and need to experience some life that isn't just strictly entertainment.
"It's fantastic, it really is great, but I worked like a crazy person when I was younger and I'm keen to strike more of a balance now."
No doubt it's a situation on which this sensible young star will keep her weather eye.