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Nia Roberts talks Tree on a Hill and challenging stereotypes of middle aged women

21 Apr 2024 6 minute read
Nia Roberts. Image: Faye Thomas

Nia Roberts has shared her thoughts on the pressures facing middle aged women in TV, and discussed the freedom of playing Margaret in Tree on a Hill.

Set in the Upper Swansea Valleys and written and created by Ed Thomas and the makers of global crime hit series Hinterland / Y Gwyllt, runaway success Tree on a Hill sees Nia Roberts playing a completely different character to the ones she usually portrays – which took her on her own journey of self-discovery and reflection. 

The series follows the very ordinary and long married middle aged couple Margaret and Clive Lewis (Nia Roberts & Rhodri Meilir) who, after a series of events, find themselves in the middle of a mystery and on the wrong side of the law.

“Liberating”

The Actress, who was nominated for Best Actress in this year’s RTS Wales Awards said: “When I first read the script, in my head we could  easily have gone down the mumsy route and made her quite boring, but I love that we tried to do the opposite really.

“Margaret’s eccentricity comes from her trying to stand out, but she fails miserably. She was so different to the parts I’ve played historically, and I desperately wanted to play her.

“Costume played a big part in that, and I was happy to cut and dye my hair. I’m not going to lie…it was initially quite terrifying to go completely without make up but ultimately very liberating.

“As a woman, I feel there is so much pressure to look good all the time especially in some of the parts I’ve played in the past.

“I’d recently come off a series where I was very blonde and groomed and was spending an hour and a half in make up every morning.

“The older you get the harder it becomes but there is something so liberating about stripping yourself bare, putting your vanity to one side and jumping right in.” 

“Self-discovery”

With its breathtaking craftsmanship and design and a stellar cast, including Hannah Daniel and Richard Harrington, the show transports viewers to the fading frontier town of Penwyllt.

Nia as Margaret. Image: Warren Orchard

In this setting, another aspect of the show strikes a chord: Nia Roberts appears in a different light, where she looks and sounds completely different from what we’ve become accustomed to. 

“Every character I play takes me on a journey of self-discovery.

“With Margaret, she is so different to me on the surface that it felt like a huge mountain to climb when we first started.

“She actually came to me very easily in the end so I guess I discovered there is more Margaret in me than I initially thought!”

Comedy muscles

Nia added: “I did quite a bit of comedy when I first started out. I worked with Steve Coogan in the late 90s who taught me a lot.

“But comedy has been very much out of the picture recently, so it was so great to be able to flex my comedy muscles again.

“The way Tree on a Hill is a written, directed and shot gave us so much freedom as actors. It’s an actor’s dream to work on something that is so character rather than plot driven”

From the glittering world of corporate intrigue and high-stakes power plays as ‘Delia’ in S4C’s Art Crime thriller Yr Amgueddfa to the eccentric and unglamorous Margaret in Tree on a Hill, this was an enormous change for the actress, but a change she says she has truly embraced with a character that made her think of the wider society we live in and the portrayal of middle-aged women on screen.

Nia said: “When Ed Thomas the writer and director started to shoot me from a low angle, I started freaking out…being 50 I knew this wasn’t the best angle for me, but I had to trust him and that switch finally went off in my brain….that it really didn’t matter.

“I think female actors feel a lot of pressure to look their best on screen and not age. No one seems to be ageing anymore!

“And can you blame them? When no one seems to want to tell their stories? When every male actor I know in their 40s and 50s always play opposite women in their 30s, what is all that about?

“The reason I was so drawn to playing Margaret is because it was so unusual to see an ”invisible” middle aged woman having her story told.

“Of course, it’s her transgression that makes the story interesting but having this frumpy, awkward, unsexy woman at the heart of it was so unusual and therefore so appealing to me.”

Nia as Margaret. Image: Warren Orchard

Stereotypes

In an industry that tends to sideline actresses as they age, Roberts’ depiction of Margaret allowed her to challenge age-related stereotypes.

Her performance not only showcases her comedic ability but also serves as a poignant reminder of the talent and depth that seasoned artists bring to their craft.

“It’s been an interesting journey being a woman in this industry”, said the actress.

“The goal posts change for women in a way that they don’t for men. As an older woman in the industry, I’ve been lucky to play some really complex characters.

“I’ve certainly played a lot of supporting wives and concerned mother roles too but I do think there are more stories out there for middle aged women now but just not enough.

“There are so many great female mid-life stories to tell. It can be a challenging but very interesting time of life, and as we make up quite a large portion of the population then there is an audience for them!

“By not making stories about middle aged women, we are effectively saying they don’t matter. That nobody cares. And that’s not good enough.”

Tree on a Hill is being broadcast now on BBC One Wales and all episodes are available on iPlayer


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Rhosddu
Rhosddu
1 month ago

Pren ar y Bryn (Tree on a Hill) is quirky and original, well acted, gripping, and compulsive. Definitely a success.

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