Ann Mitchell: Star of stage and screen says “I would like to work till I drop.”

Sixty years after her first TV role, 84-year-old former EastEnders star Ann Mitchell talks longevity, learning and becoming a forensic psychologist.

Ann Mitchell

Ann Mitchell, former EastEnders star

Born in Stepney, East London in 1939, Ann Mitchell’s first major role was in Z-Cars in 1964. She went on to star in Dixon of Dock Green, Upstairs Downstairs, Widows, Bergerac and EastEnders – plus dozens of stage roles – and has just appeared in The Gold with Dominic Cooper and Hugh Bonneville. Twice divorced with two children, she lives in London.

Your first major role was in Z-Cars in 1964 and you’re still performing professionally today. What’s the secret of your longevity?

To start with I managed by taking other jobs when I wasn’t acting. I’m a single parent so I needed the money, so I worked as a receptionist, a waitress and barmaid. Anything to bring food to the table.

I sustained it by taking advantage of the free classes at places like Birkbeck College and making sure that my sense of self and self-respect wasn’t 100% dependent on my acting career. Of course, I wanted the roles but that way I didn’t feel so needy when I went for an audition.

That’s an unusually mature mindset for a fledgling actress…

My mother had to leave school aged 13, so my education was vitally important to her, and I was imbued with a sense of learning, and I think now at this age, those of us who are ageing it’s so important to keep learning new things.

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Estate planning for later life

What has age taught you?

What you do gain around this age is a great respect and admiration and love for simple things. And kindness, respect, politeness and being able to being able to engage with strangers and know that somehow you do have a shared history.

I’ve also learned to be more detached from my own psyche and toxic dramas to realise that I’m not the centre of the world so if you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.

You’ve been in many hit shows over the decades, including Widows in the eighties, EastEnders a decade ago and most recently The Gold with Dominic Cooper. What’s next?

I’ve just had a wonderful zoom meeting with Sony Pictures in America and one of the top casting directors who had seen me in The Gold and wanted to get to know me better so I’m hoping something will come from that.

Do you have any plans to stop work?

I would like to work till I drop. I love the work. I love the camaraderie. I love the whole family thing, particularly on film and television series.

Ann performed in Eastenders

Ann has no plans to stop working

You were 71 when you won the role of Cora Cross on EastEnders. How exciting was that time?

It was extraordinary in the sense that I’d never done anything like that before. It’s a very particular energy and very particular pace and is very draining work.

I can remember one scene where it was supposed to be summer, and we were filming in the square in little blouses, and it was absolutely freezing. Of course, they gave us coats, but it was very cold at three o’clock in the morning in February.

You filmed many scenes with the iconic June Brown who played Dot Cotton during your time in Albert Square. What are your memories of June?

I adored her because she was rigorous. Having been in it from the very beginning. When she got every single script, she would still go through it every time from the point of view of, ‘would her character say this?’ ‘Would Dot do that? Would Dot do this?’ we had lovely times in her dressing room, we would always work that scene before we went on to the set.

You’ve also imparted your wisdom to some younger actors through your lecturing work at RADA and the Guildhall School of Music. Any big stars we might have heard of?

I don’t know about imparting any wisdom but there are few who have gone on to do very well. Ewan McGregor was lovely. I loved Ewan and you could tell he had star quality. He had a smile that lights up the world – and an energy. There were others too, Joseph Fiennes who was very good looking and Dominic West who was extremely charming.

What impact do you think continuing to follow your passions of performing and teaching had on your ageing process?

They’ve both had an enormous impact on my life. Without them, I don’t know where I would have been. The funny thing about being an actor is that you are always reinventing yourself. Not just your character, but your adaptation to life.

Is the 2024 Ann Mitchell very different from the 1964 Ann Mitchell?

My core is the same but I’m very different in the expression of myself; my ways of being. I’m much more philosophical now.

Worried your loved one is lonely?

Loneliness and isolation in older people

What would your message be to people in later life who perhaps have let their passions drift away from them?

Try and get into a social situation, whether that’s a club, a book club, or a photographic club, anything that perhaps you’ve always been interested in, and never done anything about it.

Is that something you’ve pursued?

During the pandemic, I joined a course on forensic psychology. I’m fascinated by the subject, and I learnt so many things, primarily the need for detail in everything and the ability to be able to express it to other people so that they can understand it.

Why did you choose that course specifically?

I’ve already read a lot and I’ve read a lot of Freud and Jung. I’ve always been interested in the psyche of human beings.

 

Ann Mitchell

Ann shares her experience of being an older woman in the industry

Would you fancy playing a later life version of Emilia Fox’s Silent Witness forensic psychologist character?

Certainly. I’d love to. I love thrillers too, but I just think it’s so important to keep learning new things.

EastEnders characters exit stage left but they rarely exit forever. Would you welcome a return to Albert Square if Cora Cross returned?

Cora is currently alive in Devon with her daughter Tanya, played by Jo Joyner, who I’ve just worked with – again as her mother – on For Her Sins, and if I was asked back, I’d love to go back. Of course.

On and off screen what are you most looking forward to in the future?

I’ve been living in temporary accommodation for a year as my home had mould in it, so my main ambition is to get back into my own home. And I’m also really keen to join the Third Age University, which is a free university for older people with wonderful classes and all you pay is about forty pounds a year and you can do Greek history, yoga, memoir writing, all sorts of things. Top of my list is photography.