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‘My mum gave me a gift by showing me what I wanted to do… and that freed me’: Good Omens star Maggie Service on lightbulb realisation that guided her career

© The Other RichardMaggie Service
Maggie Service

Maggie Service was only five years old when she had a life-changing realisation. During the interval of a school production of Guys And Dolls featuring her brother, her mum asked if she was enjoying the show.

“I told her I liked the funny lady who did a song about having the cold, and my mum said that was Adelaide. ‘That used to be my part,’ she added. “I got confused, so mum explained that while daddy goes to the office for work, what we’re watching used to be her job.”

Unknown to young Maggie, her mum, Joanna Tope, had been a successful actor in the 1970s, with roles in Emmerdale Farm, Z-Cars and The Tomorrow People.

“She gave it up to have my two older brothers and I,” Maggie said. “I thought it sounded like a fantastic job, and I decided it’s what I would do when I grew up. Looking back, I didn’t realise how much of a gift it was having that information, because it meant I didn’t need to stress about getting good marks in geography!”

A childhood in the Scottish Youth Theatre and National Youth Theatre primed Maggie for a career in the arts. Her mum also returned to the profession.

“When I was 12 or 13, one of mum’s best friends wrote a new production of Oedipus Rex at the Citz and she said she wanted Joanna Tope. Thanks to that role, mum got an agent. But I never felt I was following in her footsteps, because to me she was just my brilliant mum, so it’s been interesting to see the similarities and differences in how we work.”

Good Omens

While Joanna moved north from England nearly 50 years ago, Maggie made the reverse journey to London three decades later to study drama. She has enjoyed a busy career in the years since – on stage, in voiceover work, and on television shows like Doctor Who, Quiz and Call The Midwife.

Her biggest role to date will be released later this month and she was able to come home to Scotland to film it. Maggie has one of the lead female roles in the second series of Good Omens, Neil Gaiman’s fantasy series starring David Tennant and Martin Sheen, which begins on streaming site Prime Video later this month.

Having played a small role in the first season, she made such an impression on Gaiman, whose other work includes The Sandman and Coraline, that he wrote a new, bigger part for her.

“In the middle of lockdown, in the bleakest period when I couldn’t envisage a time when the creative arts would exist again, I received an email from Neil informing me he was writing season two, and that he was writing a part for me and she would be called Maggie, so that there would be no confusion in casting.

“He asked if it was something I would be interested in, and once I stopped crying, I emailed back and said, yes please!”

Maggie with cast members from Good Omens 2 including Martin Sheen and David Tennant. © Andrew Timms/Prime Video
Maggie with cast members from Good Omens 2 including Martin Sheen and David Tennant.

Based on the novel by Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, the first series of Good Omens explored the relationship between angel Aziraphale (Sheen) and demon Crowley (Tennant), who were forced to team up to thwart the apocalypse.

“The first series was Neil writing a love letter to his pal Terry, and I thought it was finished with after season one since we’d done the book. But he could write whatever he wanted for season two since it was all in his head, and he decided to bring back the people he liked to work with. He said I’d brought joy to the set during the first season.”

Maggie was involved with Good Omens from its inception. Invited to a script read-through for Gaiman and the TV executives during pre-production, she made such a good impression that she was cast as demonic nun, Sister Theresa Garrulous. When she was killed off, Maggie thought it was the end of the adventure, but instead it was only the beginning.

“In the first season, I had no scenes with David or Michael, so to work with their characters in the second season felt like an out-of-body experience. It’s extraordinary what they bring to the parts. And the green room was ridiculous – some days I was looking around, thinking I was the only person there I hadn’t heard of!

“We filmed in Bathgate, where they turned the studio into the streets of Soho. It was incredible. We had electric cars, 350 supporting actors, and every corner, brick and poster on the walls looked phenomenal.”

Originally from Glasgow, Maggie spent a chunk of lockdown with her parents in their Highland bolthole and was able to extend her stay in Scotland thanks to Good Omens. She is back in London now, where she is working on The National’s new musical version of The Witches, which comes to the stage later this year.

She said: “I miss Scotland dreadfully and I’ve always wondered if I really needed to be in London, so I tried to make it work up here, but I just couldn’t make it happen and I was travelling too much.

“Lockdown brought up different thoughts about what life means to us all. I hadn’t been able to see my folks for a year. They’re in Argyll and I popped up for two weeks when restrictions loosened but then they were tightened again and I ended up staying for six months. Then I was put up in Glasgow for six months while we filmed Good Omens.

“I’ve come back to London with a fresh look on the place, but I know I need to make my little pilgrimages back home and enjoy quality time in the Highlands.”

‘A significant moment’

While Good Omens is her most prominent TV work so far, she has also enjoyed other memorable roles, including Quiz, which was the dramatisation of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire cheating scandal. She played the floor manager, Kerry.

“The timing of it was fantastic, because it was released when we were all locked in our houses and watching TV,” she said. “Everyone watched it at the same time in a way we might not have done otherwise, and it was quite extraordinary to see the response.”

She also guest starred in Peter Capaldi’s first episode of Doctor Who.

“I’ll never forget the read-through. There were hundreds of people there because it was Peter’s first time. We had to go round the table introducing ourselves and when it came to Peter, he mumbled his name, and Steven Moffat (the writer and executive producer) said, ‘No, who are you?’ and Peter replied, ‘The Doctor’, and everyone cheered. It was a good moment.”

Most recently, she featured on an episode of BBC2’s cult anthology series Inside No. 9, which also featured another thespian member of the family.

“Voiceover work is a big part of my career and I voiced a parrot and Alexa in a recent episode. My dad’s cousin, Sheila Reid, who I call my auntie, was also in that episode.”

Maggie Service. © The Other Richard
Maggie Service.

She hopes her role in Good Omens 2 proves to be a pivotal moment in her career. “I have a beautiful character arc this season and there are some pretty boss moments, which are divine,” she said. “This does feel like a significant moment in my career. Because I’ve never been here before, it’s difficult to see into the future of what it might be, but to get a story arc like this and to do things I’ve never had a chance to do on screen before will, I hope, shift things, because I love working and hope to do more.

“This feels like a weird time because it’s been nearly two years since we received the scripts for the new series and it’s been our little secret, now it’s about to go out and it’s quite a cool moment to see it go free.

“I’m hopeful that people who haven’t seen me before will see me in this. Whatever happens, I’ll keep saying yes to things and try to bring joy wherever I can.”


TV game is war of attrition

Having spent much of her early career working on the stage, Maggie Service fondly recalls her first television job.

It was for a 2009 episode of ITV drama Foyle’s War, Anthony Horowitz’s Second World War drama which ran for 13 years.

She said: “It was only a scene, but it was a long scene.

“The audition went on for 45 minutes and I was in the room with the director, producer and the casting director. We were talking about lots of different things, but then the producer looked through the notes and said, ‘Ah, but you don’t have a television credit on your CV’, and the casting director replied, ‘Well, if we give her this job, she will’.

Foyle's War.
Foyle’s War.

“Work breeds work and when you have one credit, you start to get more.

“But you can’t really plan how your career will pan out. It’s just about being open to all the good things that come along and, if you’re lucky, some of these jobs will fill your soul.

“I’m back on the stage later this year with the new musical version of The Witches, which I’m really excited about. I’ve never developed a new musical before, so it’s proving to be a great collaborative challenge.

“Every time I’m on a set or in a rehearsal room, I find it really galvanising.”

Good Omens 2, Amazon Prime Video, July 28