Denise Black returned as Hazel Tyler, Vince’s mum in Queer as Folk, in tonight’s episode of Cucumber on Channel 4.
CultBox caught up with Denise, currently in Australia, for an exclusive chat about the episode…
[CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 6 IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN IT]
When did Queer as Folk writer Russell T Davies first approach you with the idea of bringing Hazel back?
“I was out in Benidorm filming Benidorm and I got an email from Russell and he said: ‘Everyone’s saying I should bring back Hazel for Cucumber and I said no, no, no – it’s a new series, that was then, this is now. But what’s happened is I’ve written this one episode and it doesn’t follow the formula of the series and, blow me down, at a certain key moment I found that my pen wrote Hazel.’
“So he sent me the script and I guzzled it from beginning to end and I cried most of the time. I emailed him back and said ‘oh my God, I’m crying’ and he said he’d been crying when he wrote it. And that was that!”
Has it been hard keeping it a secret?
“We agreed right from the beginning that we wouldn’t let anyone know. Obviously, these people who I made Queer as Folk with are my friends now, because being part of it has changed my life and I’m very, very fond of Nicola Shindler who’s worked so well with Russell. Russell has these amazing ideas and Nic makes them happen, just as Russell wants them to happen.
“I was doing Hazel’s karaoke for gay pride, doing a gig up in Manchester, so being around Canal Street wasn’t so unusual, it was a smokescreen!”
What was your reaction when you found out that you’d be appearing as a ghost?
“I think he primed me before I read the script. Of course, I emailed him and said ‘Shame she’s only in one scene and shame she’s a ghost’, because you’ve got to tease somebody, but the truth is she’s there for a reason, it isn’t just out of affection that she comes back.
“What Russell said was ‘I’m not religious, I don’t believe in all that stuff’ and he was very, very, very particular about how she was dressed and how she would behave. He instructed very particularly what he wanted from me.
“It’s not about Hazel, I just like to think that she was there for those boys, at that moment – I just thought it was a beautiful thing to say.
“You see, Hazel’s never left me, she’s been the angel on my shoulder for years! I love all my work, but she’s probably my favourite character I’ve ever played.
“The funny thing is, I’m Denise, I’m not Hazel, I’m not like Hazel. In fact, when my son watched Queer as Folk, he said ‘wouldn’t it be fantastic if you were more like Hazel?’
“I was just so thrilled, I was the first few episodes that they’d already filmed and I was just blown away by Cyril [Nri] and Vincent [Franklin].”
How did it feel filming the scene?
“We filmed it at 5 in the morning when nobody’s at their best ! My daughter was leaving for Australia that night, so I wasn’t there to say goodbye to her, so I was actually feeling quite sad. So I tried to use that for Hazel. Russell gave me a note that said Hazel had just a trace of bitterness; she doesn’t want to be dead.”
What song do you imagine Hazel was singing when she had her heart attack?
“Of course, in the original series, it was Rolf Harris! Which is slightly more difficult territory now. I was asked to sing it on Canal Street for gay pride and I said ‘I don’t think I can now’, but they said ‘oh we don’t care!’ – so Lord knows, maybe Hazel didn’t care and went down singing ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’! I don’t know, darling.”
Did Russell ever approach you to be in Doctor Who while he was working on that?
“Funnily enough, I have done two Doctor Who audio books this year, one of which was Russell’s. It was a book that Russell wrote, which actually led to him working on Doctor Who. This lady’s called Eva Jericho and she’s just the most wonderful, evil woman.”
Would you like to play the character on screen if they did that story in the TV series?
“Of course I would, of course I would, my dear! I love playing evil! I think Denise was the first nice person I played.
“Did you know, there was nearly a spin-off series from Queer as Folk about Hazel’s house, but it didn’t happen and I think the stories went over [to the US remake] and Sharon Gless got to play it all in America.
“Sharon and I were corresponding for a while, I sent her some of Hazel’s hair baubles from Woolworths that I bought and wore in the series. She wore them in the American series and she sent me a photo, I have to tell you, she looked like a complete cunt and I loved her for it.
“Sharon Gless, of course, is one of my heroes, she really is. I grew up on Cagney and Lacey and was so thrilled that women could do action drama and not just be sitting at home making the tea while men do the action!”
What else have you got coming up this year?
“I have got a really juicy job, but I’m not at liberty to say what! So that’s why I’m adventuring in Australia before I come back, so watch this space!”
What did you think of Hazel’s return? Let us know below…