THE QUEEN THAT
WOULD BE KING
“Being funny is the biggest gift of a job you could ever have. It's always in me to want to make people laugh. I don't care if it's a room full of my mates, a woman on a bus, or millions of people sat watching TV. It's the same buzz for me.”
Laura Checkley is clearly a woman who loves comedy. You can see it in her face, hear it in her voice, and witness it every time she lights up the screen with that signature grin. After years of being one of the UK scene's best kept secrets, Laura has been turning heads on an international level with her stellar portrayal of council estate queen Terri King on the hit BBC show 'King Gary'. In the midst of a heavy media push for the show's much anticipated second series, Laura was kind enough to sit down with Dreaming Magazine to discuss 'King Gary', her career as an LGBTQ+ entertainer, and her lifelong obsession with comedy.
“Victoria Wood and Julie Walters were my heroes, and I just wanted to do what they were doing. I was obsessed with this show in the 80's with Ruby Wax and Jennifer Saunders, called 'Girls On Top'. My mum says that I would just sit there, glued to the telly, and I would physically mimic them. She doesn't know where I got it from, It just happened!”
When you talk to Laura, chances are that her family will come up a lot over the course of the conversation. She speaks in the highest regard about the women who have been present in her life, and the undeniable role they have played in her development. Perhaps that's why fans of her work will cite her genuine warmth and intense likeability as two of the reasons that she is such a special talent.
“I grew up around very strong, funny women. They're the type of women that I draw upon when I'm approaching a character. I can hear their voices in my head. My Mum's family are hugely funny, and they're brilliant storytellers. If you came out with us to our local ,“The Cricket Club”, you'd be in fits of laughter. My Nan was my comedy hero, she was just the funniest woman ever. Terri is an amalgamation of all the strong women and girls I've met along the way. Brilliant working class women.”
Speaking of strong women, the character of Terri King is undoubtedly on the way to becoming an iconic staple of British TV. Not only does Terri represent Laura's influences and experiences, but she is also a fantastically written character. Indeed, Tom Davis and James De Frond have done an immense job constructing an accurate portrayal of a hilarious working class queen that commands attention, and lets no-one mess with either herself or her family.
“They're two working class men that know how to write for women, because they grew up with strong women around them. In the houses they grew up in, the women were the matriarchs who ruled the house, and that's exactly what they've made with characters like Terri and Denise. There have been a lot of times where I've picked up a script and gone “This hasn't got the laughs”, and you'll have to go and create something funnier than what the script is giving you. Some people are frightened to let women be funny, James and Tom definitely are not. I love how they've made Terri just as funny as Gary.”
Terri and Gary are an incredibly loveable pair, and their relationship truly is the cornerstone of the show. There is such an amazing chemistry between the two leads that one could easily assume that they were a real life couple. As a Gay woman, Laura had to draw on the strong bond of friendship between the two actors to create their heart warming connection to each other.
“I spent half of my adult life pretending to be straight, so I'm quite good at it! But pretending to love Tom is not that hard really, we have a beautiful relationship. We're like brother and sister!”
Coming out quite late, Laura was initially trepidatious of the impact that revealing her sexuality might have on her career. These fears were compounded by the fact that Laura had little to no interaction with other members of the LGBTQ+ community in her formative years.
“There wasn't much visibility when I was growing up. I mean we had Ellen, who came out and was then immediately cancelled. So I grew up thinking “Crikey” Is that what happens when a Gay woman comes out?”. I mean back then, when you grew up in a working class environment, you didn't meet anyone who was gay. But then I remember seeing Anna Freil in Brookside and that famous kiss and thinking ”Oh! What's that funny feeling in my tummy?”.”
Thankfully Laura's fears of rejection were unfounded, as the wonderful family bond she champions held strong and came through for her. Slowly but surely, Laura found the strength to push past her own self doubt, and let her true self be seen by the world.
“My family were incredible when I came out, and I really underestimated them. We can often do that, we can build up a narrative in our heads that everyone will disown us and walk away. Of course that's a reality for some people, but I was incredibly lucky. Everyone was so supportive that I realised that the fight was actually with myself, and being comfortable with who I was. It took a long time to learn to love that because at the time I didn't want to be gay. I wanted to have an easier life, whatever that means. I wouldn't change it for the world now – you couldn't pay me to be straight!”
It seems like Laura has been on two parallel journeys in her life, simultaneously rising to the top of British comedy and finding herself in terms of life and love. Both these journeys will intersect this summer with two very auspicious occasions – life imitating art with a wedding both on and off screen.
“One of my best friends on set is our incredible make-up artist Nicola. The day that we filmed the big wedding, and she did that brilliant look for me, we just sat there and cried. I was so proud of her as a friend for creating this beautiful look, and she said “I feel like it's your actual wedding day!” because I'm planning an upcoming wedding of my own. It was all so bizarre and surreal.”
So with love in the air on all fronts, we concluded our chat with Laura by seeing if we could get the scoop for the highly awaited second season of 'King Gary', and in particular what Terri will get up to in what's sure to be appointment television for comedy fans.
“It's all about the build up to the wedding, and as you know Terri and Gary do nothing by halves! It's got all the inevitable politics and drama that comes with organising the dig day. There's also a new nightmare neighbour that Gary is swept up with, and Terri is going on too many mini Hen do's. It's great! And it's got a lovely pay off at the end that will hopefully tug on a few heart strings.”
'King Gary' season 2 is streaming right now on the BBC iplayer.
You can follow Laura via her Instagram