One minute Eve Myles was a disillusioned actress thinking about retraining as a midwife, the next her small Welsh TV drama Keeping Faith had more than 17 million viewers. She reveals how it felt to be catapulted to stardom – and what she has in common with her on-screen alter ego.
Eve Myles is telling me how, six years ago, she and her husband – actor Bradley Freegard, who also plays on-screen husband Evan to her Faith in last year’s surprise BBC hit Keeping Faith – decided to ‘elope’ to Tuscany, to marry in a ceremony consisting of just them and their then three-year-old daughter Matilda as bridesmaid. The couple had been together for 13 years and, says Eve, 40, in her soft Welsh accent, ‘We’d planned three weddings and three times put them off because I couldn’t face the thought of everyone watching me walk down the aisle in a white dress.’
Hang on, I squawk, this makes no sense! Eve’s a performer – whose CV highlights include five years as Gwen Cooper in the Dr Who spinoff Torchwood and sexy Claire Ripley in Broadchurch, not to mention her much-lauded role as passionate lawyer Faith, who’s plunged into an alien world of drug dealers, criminals and corrupt police after Evan vanishes while she’s on maternity leave.
‘I know!’ Eve grins. ‘It’s fine if I’m playing someone else, but if I’d been myself as a bride, anxiety would have kicked in. I’d have crumbled and Dad would have had to drag me down the aisle. It ended up just being a lovely day for me, Brad and Matilda. Our families didn’t mind not being there; they said, “For goodness’ sake, you’ve been together so long, just do it!”’
It’s confusing hearing this, as initially it’s easy to confuse actress Eve with mother-of-three Faith – who taps into a courage she never knew she had when it comes to confronting the shady characters with whom Evan has been entangled. As she chats about her own daughter Matilda, now nine, and her sister Siena, five (‘She was the result of that wedding’), her expression is suffused with the same intense love that made Faith such a hit with viewers. ‘I love how tactile Faith is – holding her children and kissing them and telling them she loves them. I’m definitely like that,’ she says, adding that she’d love a third child. ‘But at the moment, there’s no time! Everything’s so full-on.’
Yet in other respects Eve is a gentler, more sensitive soul than Faith, as made clear by her references to the insecurities that have dogged her. ‘I’d need to get a bit more fire in my soul to be Faith,’ she confirms. ‘I’ve lost so much energy worrying about things that nine times out of ten don’t happen. It can be hard to live in the now but when you try to do that, life is so much brighter.’
At present, life couldn’t be more glorious for Eve. Just six years ago, when pregnant with Siena, she was so disillusioned with her career that she was intent on jacking it in and had signed up for a midwifery course, having become fascinated by the work of the sonographers she met during routine scans. ‘I had a wobble. I wasn’t doing the parts I wanted and I was bored,’ Eve says. ‘Brad’s very patient; he knows when I’m a bit lost, so he was completely behind me. But then as soon as I signed up for the course, I was offered Faith and he said, “OK, here’s the challenge you need!”’
The challenge was that the series was bilingual, with each scene being filmed twice, in English and in Welsh. But Eve – despite being born and bred in the small mining town of Ystradgynlais, Powys – didn’t speak a word of the latter (when she was growing up, the language wasn’t taught in many Welsh schools; since September 1999 every child learns the language up to the age of 16). Bradley, on the other hand, was bilingual, having attended a Welsh-speaking school, and had often been cast in productions on Welsh-language channel S4C.
‘It was almost like asking me to learn a Russian script or Japanese,’ she says. On that basis, she turned down the part four times, but eventually couldn’t resist it. ‘I like to prove to myself that the impossible is possible,’ she says with a glint in her eye. Despite the fact Siena was still a baby, Eve embarked on a four-month crash course in Welsh, studying around eight hours a day, with Bradley on standby to help with her pronunciation. ‘It was incredibly intense,’ she recalls. ‘But it was so good for me, exercising parts of the brain that don’t get used much.’ Now she speaks Welsh with her daughters – Matilda is already studying it at school. ‘It sets a great example for them, to look at me and think, “If she can do that, I can.”’
Having already cast Eve, S4C originally asked Bradley to audition for a small role in the show. Eve recalls, ‘I was in hospital after a dusting accident – I’d polished my coffee table with a Dettol wipe and a piece of wood went into my hand and it seized up. I ended up needing two operations and I was in bed recovering when Brad came in and said, “Babes, I didn’t get the part.” I said, “Oh well, a door closes and another opens,” and he went on, “But they’ve offered me Evan.” Ijust laughed and said, “You’re going to have to get me more morphine!” I was just so thrilled at the prospect of working with Brad again, I couldn’t believe it.’ (The last time was in 2003 when they appeared as brother and sister in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Titus Andronicus.)
Still, Eve had no inkling that the show was to become a TV phenomenon. ‘Faith’s success was like an out-of-body experience,’ she says. The Welsh version, Un Bore Mercher (it means ‘One Wednesday Morning’) was first transmitted in late 2017 on S4C with English subtitles and watched by 46,000 people. In spring 2018, BBC Wales broadcast it in English with the new title, attracting 300,000 viewers. ‘We thought, “That’s nice, how did that happen when it’s had no publicity?”’ Eve says. But over the next few months viewers began raving about the show on social media and iPlayer audiences soared, with the show being downloaded 17 million times. ‘Heroes of mine, such as the actresses Kathy Burke and Amanda Abbington, were tweeting their recommendation of it,’ Eve recalls, shaking her head in wonderment. ‘It was a very special time.’
Now excitement is building about the show’s return later this month (the Welsh version has already been broadcast). This series starts 18 months after Evan’s initial disappearance, interlaced with flashbacks outlining events – spoiler alert – after his shock return. In the first series, Faith found herself simultaneously running the domestic show, trying to save the sinking family business and discover what on earth has happened to her supposedly respectable husband, who turned out to be concealing some very murky secrets. ‘Series two is about the scars that appear when there’s been so much lying and deceit and how we carry on,’ Eve says. ‘It’s a tougher story and a harder path for Faith – last time I thought I was digging deep to play her, but it was nothing compared to this.’
While Faith’s family ties unravelled shockingly quickly (in the last series her in-laws refused to back her when she temporarily lost custody of her children), Eve herself clearly has a rock-solid support system. She was raised in a series of council properties by her single mother Jennifer who worked two cleaning jobs in the morning and in a shop in the afternoon to support Eve and her elder brother. ‘We were skint,’ Eve says with a wry chuckle, ‘but rich with love and warmth.’
Her parents split up when she was three but her Scottish father lived nearby in Swansea. Eve didn’t see so much of him when she was a child as he suffered from alcoholism and spent a lot of time in recovery, but now he’s been sober for 20 years and the pair are close. ‘He’s always been a great dad – he has that ability to say helpful things. At times when I’ve been tempted to stay quiet when something’s upsetting me, he’s said, “Flowers don’t grow in the dark – voice your concerns”, and it’s helped so much.’
On the advice of a teacher impressed by her school performances, the teenage Eve applied to the National Youth Theatre of Wales, where – aged 16 – she met Bradley, 18, from Pontypridd. Five years later, they became a couple when she was studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. One of the main themes of Keeping Faith is how little we really know about the people we think are our nearest and dearest – but it’s not one Eve can relate to. ‘Brad and I have spent more than half of our lives together,’ says Eve, who shudders at the very idea of ever returning to the dating scene. ‘How do people do it?’ I tell her these days it all happens via dating apps. ‘Well, I’d be doomed because I can hardly work my phone!’
The couple’s work has seen them live in London, Stratford-upon-Avon and Hollywood (where Torchwood was filmed and where they hung out with other Welsh stars such as Matthew Rhys and Ioan Gruffudd). Although she loved Los Angeles’s outdoor lifestyle, when it came to starting a family, the couple wanted to return to their roots. ‘We feel we’ve chosen well, living in our village [near Cardiff],’ Eve says. ‘We like the kids going to a normal school and I like being near the sea – surfing, playing with our dog Holly on the beach. I wish I was in heels or a dress more often but I don’t have the time or the energy.’
One of the qualities that made Faith so popular with women viewers was the way that – as her world collapsed around her – her frequent reaction to the terrifying situations she found herself in was to pour herself a drink. ‘It’s refreshing to see a woman who isn’t perfect,’ says Eve. ‘I recognise and like Faith because when she’s got a hangover, she takes a nap in her office storeroom.’ Female viewers also loved the fact that, however terrible the situation, she still had to factor in everyday duties, such as taking her children to swimming lessons. ‘Well, it’s just what parents do!’ says Eve. ‘My own kids are so busy, there’s something on every night of the week. Brad and I are trying to juggle it all.’
Fans were especially taken with Faith’s sunshine-yellow mac from lifestyle brand Joules, which even inspired its own Twitter account – @faithyellowcoat. ‘I loved the fact that Faith put on that mac in times of crisis,’ Eve says. ‘It’s not quite a cape but then she’s not a superhero, she’s a contemporary woman under ridiculous pressure. She has a gun pulled on her, for heaven’s sake!’
Her on-screen relationship with Evan is tempestuous, to say the least – so was it hard to switch into a different mode at home with Bradley? ‘I was too knackered to give it any thought. I put so much into Faith that I’d get home to be greeted by two little grinning faces and I would melt. I’d have some wine to take the edge off or a pot of peppermint tea and watch Countryfile or Antiques Roadshow. I’m an old fart really. Sometimes my eyes would close and Brad would have to pick me up and pop me into bed. It must have been such an attractive sight for him,’ she giggles.
It must be daunting, waiting to see if series two lives up to its hype, but Eve is relaxed. ‘If there’s a third series that’s lovely; if not, we’ve had a really good time,’ she shrugs. She’s recently set up her own production company and is brimming with ideas: ‘Faith has changed me. Having to go on set and find that rawness has given me so much confidence.’ Filmed in hyperreal style, the cameras lingered on every blemish on Eve’s skin, every less-than-pretty expression of anguish. In a close-up ‘you had to forget to care about how you looked, which was refreshing,’ says Eve. ‘Though, actually, the older I get, the more Idon’t give a toss about what people think of me. All I care about is making sure the family is OK.’ Eve may not yet consider herself as formidable as Faith, but I’d say the gap’s narrowing fast.
Keeping Faith will be on BBC One and iPlayer from 23 July
Interview by Julia Llewellyn Smith