Steele, 46, has become a familiar face on television over the past two decades, from her early roles in Monarch of the Glen and Sea of Souls to landing high-profile parts in Wild at Heart, River City, and even earlier this year. General, Holby City.
Most recently, she’s graced our screens in the BBC crime drama Scotland Granite harbourwhich was filmed in Glasgow.
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Set in Aberdeen, the three-part series revolves around a new recruit to Police Scotland, Lance Corporal Davis Lindo (Romario Simpson). A trainee detective cop is thrown into the deep end with his first case as he investigates the murder of a well-known figure in the oil industry.
Steele plays alongside up-and-coming acting talents Simpson and Hannah Donaldson, as well as Gary Lewis, Fiona Bell, and Ron Donachie. As DCI Cora MacMillan, the formidable “chief” of the police operation, her character is tasked with keeping an eye on wildcard Lindo.
“She loves him and wants to give him a chance,” Steele says. “He’s very impulsive and works in a different way than how detectives are trained. He’s in over his head, and she has to keep him in line. It turns out that DCI’s role is a little grumpy…”
As a search for the part, the actor picked the brains of a real-life police detective – a woman whose daughter goes to the same dance class as Steele’s 11-year-old daughter Coco.
“It was cool talking to her, even seeing the way she dressed and acted — a woman in a man’s world working her way to the top. There were so many things she couldn’t tell me. She was so secretive. I’d be like, ‘And…’ But she was She says, “I can’t tell you…”
“It was exciting talking to her about what a DCI does. It’s quite a management role. It’s like any industry, the higher you go, the farther away you are from the actual crime scene.”
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Photography of Granite Harbor (Photo: Newsquest)
This is something Steele can relate to as much as she does Granite harbour The character has been largely office-bound throughout the series. “I think I once left the office to go to the cemetery,” she laughs. That was it. It was the exterior of the Police Department in Aberdeen, but the interior was shot in a studio in V Glasgow. This was kind of a loss for them [her cast-mates] Everyone has to go up to Aberdeen.”
Steele, who now lives in Whitstable, Kent, enjoyed filming in her hometown of Glasgow, taking the opportunity to catch up with friends and family, as well as reconnect with familiar faces in the industry.
“I will always work in Scotland,” she says. “I love him because he’s so at home and I know everyone. It’s great because you walk on set and there’s a lot of the crew that’s been a part of your life over the years — our lighting guy Stuart was with me on Monarch of the Glen.”
During her career, Steele has variously turned her hand to roles such as Highland housekeeper, paranormal investigator, veterinarian, and doctor. Granite Harbor allowed her to tick Police Detective off her acting list. “I think that’s why I wanted to do this,” she muses. I thought, ‘I’ve never played a detective before. It will be cold.'”
However, as a rule, crime dramas are not her bag. “I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan — it’s just not my thing,” Steele says. “My brain doesn’t work that way. There were also points in that script where I was like, ‘Okay, wait. What is happening?’ I don’t tend to watch a lot of crime dramas.”
But she has dipped her toe in the genre over the years. “I don’t read much crime, but I did a Peter James play. I love Denise Meena and I love the Garnethill book series. I remember calling her up and saying, ‘If this is for TV, I want to play the lead.’”
“I may be a little old now because it was written so long ago, but I know Dennis has been trying to make this happen for years. It would be great to see him on screen.”
“I loved watching Rebus when Ken Stott was doing it. I had a role in Case History, which I loved. So when I say I’m not interested in it, maybe I’m a little more involved than I think?”
What makes Steele tick? Here we dig into her life and love. Buckle up…
Books that changed her life
In a 2006 interview with The Herald Magazine, Steele listed Armistead Maupin, David Nicholls, and Zadie Smith as among her favorite authors. “I still have all those books on my bookshelf and can’t wait for my daughter to read them,” she says fondly.
“I read a lot. I have a book collection and I do my reading too. One of my latest favorites is Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet. I’m in a real Maggie O’Farrell race right now — I just finished another one of her books yesterday.
“I love writing it. Hamnet has stayed with me. I think about it most days. I found it touching how it portrayed grief. The Royal Shakespeare Company will be doing it next year in Stratford-upon-Avon. I’m excited to see how they bring it to the stage.”
“I also loved The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I recently joined John Boyne. I could talk about the books forever. My daughter is reading Judy Blume right now. I bought her Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret, and I read it in a day.”
“I personally don’t have a motto or philosophy,” Steele says. “But the thing that constantly rings in my ear is something my mom says and that is ‘what is yours will not pass by you’.”
It’s hard to get your head around that as an actor. You’re constantly looking forward because that’s just the way our industry works. You’re always like, ‘What next?’ What is the next job? What is the next income? What is the next challenge?
“I think sometimes things happen for a reason. I had a stroke in 2014. It turned out fine — I had a little procedure to fix everything — but it kept me from functioning for a while.”
Steele is as optimistic as she reflects now. “I didn’t die. I could have learned how to walk again. I would have lost my speech. It would have been horrific. It turns out I had a hole in my heart since I was born but I didn’t know about it and that’s what caused the stroke.”
She believes that when life jumps on the tracks, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. “What is yours, shall not pass by you”, Steele repeats. “Things happen and they take you to different places. If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t have gone to River City and after that, I got Holby City.
“These things have a way of resolving themselves; you have to trust the universe. But it’s hard, especially when you need money to pay the mortgage—the universe won’t.”
Best advice received
“When I was doing Monarch of the Glen we all went shopping in Inverness on our day off,” she recalls. I remember Alistair [Mackenzie] And I buy MiniDisc players. Richard Briers said, “Don’t spend your money while you’re working; keep your money when you’re not working.”
“God rest him, he was right. But, of course, I could never do that. In this job, it’s feast or famine. Once you’re working, you’ll say, ‘Well, I’ve got a little money…’ forgetting that you might have 12 weeks of unemployment at the end of it.”
A passion for adventure
“I go swimming in cold water,” Steele says. “I am lucky enough to live across the road from the beach and swim there. I started in February two years ago, and have been doing it ever since, in every weather and without a wetsuit.
“It’s changed my life. I feel so much clearer and calmer and the world is okay again. There’s also that whole gritty feeling about it.”
“People say, ‘You’re crazy!'” And they shout things when they see you in the sea, while I think, “You’re crazy you didn’t try it.” because its awesome. I’ve met a great group of women. We all went on a swimming weekend to Norfolk. There were eight of us and we had a big cabin.
“When I was doing Granite Harbor, I was able to do some snorkeling [fellow actor] Julie Wilson Nemo in Los Angeles. She swims in cold water, too.”
Granite Harbor concludes on BBC Scotland, Thursday, 10pm and BBC One Scotland, Friday, 8pm. Watch all episodes now on BBC iPlayer.
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