Exclusive Interview: Nina Sosanya

Exclusive Interview Nina Sosanya


With second seasons of two projects coming to television screens imminently, Nina Sosanya’s face will be everywhere this summer; she talks about being recognised, returning to familiar jobs and making something from nothing

Words by Liz Skone James

Photography by Danika Magdelena

Styling by Deborah Latouche

Hair by Molecia Seasay

Make up by Min Sandhu

(This interview was completed before the SAG-AFTRA strike.)

You’ll probably know Nina’s face, but where from? With a career spanning several decades, she’s appeared in countless TV shows including Teachers, Last Tango in Halifax, His Dark Materials, Marcella, Killing Eve and Staged, and of course, she played the private secretary to prime minister Hugh Grant in Love Actually. “I think I’ve got one of those faces… You hear a lot of actors say the same thing, but people tend to look at me and go, ‘Either you work around the corner from me, or you’re on the telly, but I can’t think what it is’,” she laughs. “I’ve been doing it for over 20 years, so there’s quite a lot to draw on. Depending on the type of person, I can sort of guess, or I think I can guess what they’ve seen me in. I think Last Tango in Halifax was one of those that really appealed to a wide variety of people; that’s often something that I’m recognised from. If they’re people of a certain age, it’s Teachers. And if all else fails, it’ll be Love Actually!”

“I’ve been doing it for over 20 years, so there’s quite a lot to draw on. Depending on the type of person, I can sort of guess, or I think I can guess what they’ve seen me in…” NINA SOSANYA

More recently, Nina has been widely recognised for playing the lead in Channel 4’s darkly-comic Screw. In the series, which first screened at the start of last year and was written by Bafta nominated Rob Williams, she plays Leigh, an enigmatic officer in a male prison. “There are things that attract such wide audiences, and that’s very true of Screw.

It has a very wide demographic, which I think is fantastic. I don’t know if there’s any one type of person who is watching Screw, I think it goes really, really across the board,” she explains.

Nina wears dress by Bernadette

For Nina, the appeal was that it was like nothing she had ever seen on TV before. “On paper, it was a prison drama,” she explains. “It seemed like one thing, and then I read it, and it was another, because it was from a different perspective to anything that I’d seen. It was funny, it was pretty honest, it was quite shocking. But most of all, it was a lot from the officers’ point of view, which was the bit I hadn’t seen before. I was sent the first script and the opening scene is of a woman (Leigh) waking up in a prison cell. This is someone who’s clearly used to being there, is kind of comfortable being there, and then she gets dressed in a prison officer’s uniform. And I thought that was not only a brilliant way to start any show, but a brilliant way to introduce a character. You just don’t know who she is, or what her motives are. And from the very first scene, you’re questioning and wanting to know more.”

This summer will see the second series hitting our screens, and Nina is delighted to be back in Leigh’s steel-capped shoes, patrolling the corridors of HMP Long Marsh. “There’s a bit of a thriller element to this series. It’s a bit darker, but it’s still funny. And I think, actually, the funnies sort of work even better set against the intensity of plotting in this new series,” she tells me when I ask what’s in store for the staff and inmates. “It starts only six weeks after the end of the last one. So, we sort of find the officers dealing with the aftermath of what occurred at the end of series one, with the murder of one of their own. They’re kind of dealing with trying to get back to some sense of normality. And of course, that’s just not going to happen… To say anything else would be giving away something that I wouldn’t want to. The joy of Screw is that it sort of confounds your expectations quite a lot of the time. We set up one sort of argument, usually with some sort of moral basis, and then we’ll sort of pull the rug out from under you.”

Nina is set to appear in Good Omens 2, which is due to screen at the end of this month, but this time in an entirely different role. Was she surprised to get the call offering her the job? “I mean, I was surprised that there was another Good Omens,” she exclaims. “Because I have long been a fan of the book, and I know that it’s a story in its entirety. When I got the call to be in the first series, I was sort of beside myself. I auditioned and I got the part, which was fantastic. And then I assumed that that would be it, because there were no more books because Mr. Pratchett was no longer with us. But, of course, Neil and Terry had been collaborating for a long time and had many ideas about how the story might go forward. And so yes, Good Omens 2 turned up. And I was completely surprised, because not only did I not know that that series would occur, but I also had no idea that I might have another role to play…”

Nina-Sosanya yellow dress by ALEMAIS; and boots by Underground England Nina wears dress by Bernadette

The new role is quite different to the one she portrayed in the first series. “I play a character called Nina, which is a feat of imagination on the part of Neil Gaiman. And my friend, Maggie Service plays a character called Maggie – so draw from that what you will,” she laughs, when I ask about this new role. “We are both humans in the world of Good Omens: as you know, it’s set in a world that encompasses heaven, hell and everything in between. So, we are very much human beings who you meet in Soho, on the same street as where Aziraphale has his bookshop. Nina runs a coffee shop, and Maggie runs a record shop on the opposite side. Nina is a slightly… let’s say, sulkier version of me, I suppose. Quite acerbic. Doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And she just wants a quiet life. She’s fiercely independent. And she gets embroiled in the goings on at the shop across the road…”

What can she tell us about those goings on? “To give anything away… I can’t! I’m so frightened of saying anything I shouldn’t say,” Nina tells me, emphatically. “I mean, there’s so much that has to be top secret with Good Omens, because the thrill of it is finding out how just how inventive Neil Gaiman has been. And that’s the case with everything that he writes, it’s just it would be so sad to know what was going to come.”

“Yeah, I kind of grew up with fantasy. I was a big reader from a very young age. And it was always other worlds that just utterly absorbed and fascinated me…” NINA SOSANYA
Nina wears dress by Bernadette; trousers by The Fold; shoes by Bimba y Lola; and ring by Moushe Designs Nina wears dress by Bernadette

Has she always been a fantasy fan, I wonder. “Yeah, I kind of grew up with fantasy. I was a big reader from a very young age. And it was always other worlds that just utterly absorbed and fascinated me,” Nina agrees. “You know, whether that was the Hundred Acre Wood, or The Jungle Book. Or Enid Blyton – the more magical stories that she would tell like The Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair. Then I started reading Piers Anthony and Ursula Le Guin, and then I discovered Douglas Adams, which was a kind of confluence of everything that I loved… this really irreverent sense of humour mixed with something that I feel is really profound. I think the best science fiction and fantasy is saying something very profound about where we are now, where we’ve been, where we’re going. It’s just a sort of different version of the world we live in. I don’t really see it as escapism, I just see it as a different way of looking at who we are.”

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that she is drawn to roles in these types of production. But what else appeals? “It’s really tricky to know what makes for a good role until it sort of turns up in front of you,” Nina explains. “I think it always has to be within the context of something that I also find interesting. I want to be part of telling some story that I’m interested in, that excites me in some way. Some characters that are so opposite to me or have a facet of themselves that are not me. Those are the ones that I find really interesting and that make my heart race a little bit. Then there are characters I can understand, because there are various traits where we do cross over, and I feel I’ve got some insight and might be able to offer something to the character, as well as what’s written there.

That’s always fun as well. Yeah, the things I’m drawn to watch, I suppose, are the things that I would love to be in.”

One of her favourite ever jobs was in a series she finds that not many people have watched. “I keep telling everybody to watch it,’ she tells me. “It is a show called Little Birds, which was a fantastic ensemble piece that was on Sky. It was adapted from the book by Anaïs Nin. It’s very melodramatic.

It’s set in the 1950s in Tangier. It’s got a multinational cast. It’s got Juno Temple in the lead, Hugh Skinner, and a whole host of amazing actors. It looks beautiful, and it’s quite out there, quite shocking. It’s Anaïs Nin, so it’s going to be… I’m playing someone called Lili von X and she’s a sort of very risqué fading film star from the 40s who’s come to Tangier because she’s been blacklisted in Hollywood, and she wants to make her own sort of surreal, weird films. She was a huge amount of fun to play. And it’s period as well, I love anything period.”

Nina wears jacket and trousers by The Fold; and shoes by Bimba y Lola Nina wears jacket and trousers by The Fold: And shoes by Bimba Y Lola

Nina has been acting for so long now that it is perhaps inconceivable that she might have ever done anything else, but I wonder what she sees herself doing in a parallel universe. “So many things,” she exclaims. “Archaeology, although I think I would have needed to be of a much more academic bent, and I’m just not. I always thought perhaps I would be a musician. Again, you need the talent for that, which I was sadly lacking. I think, actually, my family is sort of quietly creative – there’s just always drawing, painting, making things, fixing things… and I think I would love to have an alternative life as a carpenter. If I had my time over again, I would definitely train as a joiner, a cabinet maker.”

Indeed, the latter is not just a pipe dream – she is currently teaching herself basic woodworking skills. “I’m a beginner, and I’m teaching myself, so, you know, making boxes, stools, trays…” she reveals. “I don’t have the room to make anything larger. But I have grand designs that one day I will have a workshop… It sort of started before the pandemic, but once the pandemic hit, it was something that was really a very useful way to distract the mind. I guess I just love the idea of just making something out of nothing.” In that way, it is not so very different from what she does for her day job – taking the materials from the script and creating a believable 3D character. And after all these years it is something that she has become very good at.

A role that Nina possibly isn’t recognised for so much is that of Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order in Good Omens, the Amazon adaptation of the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The fact she is not recognised has nothing to do with the success of the show, which was critically acclaimed and loved by fans, but everything to do with the “bizarre upside-down satanic nun outfit and monobrow” she was required to sport throughout.