Katherine MacAlister talks to Jeany Spark about how she fell in love with acting, here in Oxford

It’s Jeany Spark’s time, that age old media cliché ringing particularly true for this actress of the moment.

Having just filmed Series 4 of Wallander in Sweden, which will be screened in the spring, she starred as Detective Inspector Kate Gemmill in Interceptor in January, the UK’s equivalent of The Wire, is playing headteacher in Series 3 of Greg Davies’ comedy sitcom Man Down and nabbed a leading role in ITV1’s new prime time period drama Jericho which hits our screens in January.

“They told me at RADA I had a useful face, which was the last thing a 22-year-old wants to hear, but it does helps me swing between playing detectives, sitcoms and period dramas,” Jeany tells me laughing.

Having been selected for Wallander on leaving drama school, Jeany has always been prevalent, but more so now. “I know, people are going to get so bored of me,” the 32-year-old says gleefully.

Which makes it even more unlikely that the shy English student who arrived at St Margaret’s Hall, intent on being a journalist, would turn into one of our best actresses “I went to an all-girls comprehensive in St Albans and was acutely geeky and self-conscious,” she tells me. “In fact my acting career is all based on Dutch courage because we were wandering back from The Turf Tavern one night when we saw posters up outside Keble College advertising auditions, so popped along for a go and got the part.

“I just fell in love with the people and the whole acting lark, and one play followed another, I just wanted to do more and more then decided to go to drama college. And that was that really, but it was never a burning ambition.”

What did her parents think? “They were a bit surprised and slightly concerned. I was the first one in our family to go to university which was a big deal, and going to Oxford was an even bigger deal, but they have always been supportive, even if I always feel a bit of a charlatan, but they tell me story-telling has value,” she grimaces.

Is that why she always volunteers to read at the Macmillan Christmas Concert at Christ Church? “I was filming Wallander last year so couldn’t make it, but I’m delighted to be there this year. I think it’s very important for people to come together and support each other at this time of year, so coming back to Oxford at Christmas is a real treat.

“It’s a magical evening and I always try to make a day of it and pop into The Ashmolean, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the parks as well as snatch a quick pint in the Kings Head or The Turf. Oxford is very close to my heart so I’m no more likely to swing in and out of there without having a look around, than I am say Paris or Rome. It was a very formative time in my life.”

Now on a break before she starts next year’s hectic schedule, it’s been quite a year, starting off with Wallander which was filmed in Sweden. “There were lots of 3am starts, battling through the cold and dark and these incredible mists that come off the sea. But it is also very beautiful with its rolling hills, pine forest and sandy beaches; very beautiful and very wild. The quality of light and landscape really lend themselves to the whole Wallander atmosphere and otherness.”

So does the bleakness of the landscape and plot affect her? “You know what, it can be unnerving. When you go home after filming and have a hot bath and sleep in your own bed it’s fine. But when you are away and staying in a hotel room, all that violence and drama can get to you, so you have to make an effort to have cast dinners in the hotel and have that camaraderie to take the edge off, or it can be quite isolating.

“But when you redo a scene over and over again it does desensitise you so that when I watch it on TV I am as scared as everyone else and hiding behind the sofa as well,” she laughs.

Whether Wallander is done and dusted, Jeany can’t say: “They have tied up the story-line, but with Ken, (Jeany plays Kenneth Branagh’s daughter) you can never say never.”

What is a cert is Jericho, a new period drama set in a Yorkshire frontier town in the 1870s in which Jeany plays Isabella Lambton, a Victorian businesswomen wanting to invest in the man’s world of building and construction.

“It’s been all bustles and petticoats, corsets and parasols, which was a nice change.

With so many roles to play however Jeany is having to juggle and multi-task.

“Yes, it’s a bit like playing a game of Tetris and trying to make sure everything fits. It’s a good problem to have though and and it beats sitting on the sofa in my underwear eating biscuits and watching Jeremy Kyle.

“So long may it continue because it’s all very exciting.”

Jeany Spark will be reading at this year’s Macmillan charity concert at Christ Church tomorrow with Michael Palin. 01865 305305, or oxfordplayhouse.com/tickets