The witty star of Screw and King Gary talks prisons, queer representation and her wedding day


Laura Checkley is a lesbian icon and irresistible comic actor – or, as she puts it in her Instagram bio, someone who “pulls faces for hard cash”. She’s best known for playing Terri in BBC sitcom King Gary, but her CV also includes Bridget Jones’ Baby and In My Skin, which dealt with the difficulties of queer coming-of-age. She also co-hosts the podcast Proper Class which discusses “all things working class”. 

Most recently Laura has starred in the new capitalist-dystopia play Hope Has A Happy Meal and returned to Channel 4 as the warm, sharp-tongued Jackie in prison drama Screw.

I’m lucky enough to talk to Laura ahead of the climactic final episodes of Screw’s second season. She’s fresh from a yoga session when we hop on a Zoom call. (“I know, get me”, she laughs. “I’m so middle class now!”)

How are you feeling leading up to the season 2 finale of Screw?

I’ve been quietly confident about this series because we knew from the start that it was a different gravy, a step up. The run up to release is stressful because you don’t know how it’s going to land. But it’s just been overwhelming. People who usually say “Well done” were saying “Oh my god, this is incredible”. Episode six – gosh, it’s such a good ep. You can expect to come away wanting a series three. 

A lot of people, including former prison officers and inmates, have remarked on how true to life Screw is. Has it changed the way you think about prisons?

There’s a morbid obsession with prisons, isn’t there? I certainly have one. My nan’s house used to back onto Wormwood Scrubs – I was always intrigued, and terrified. I grew up on prison dramas like Cell Block H, and I’ve recently been bingeing Wentworth. It’s a fascinating world. 

A prison guard we spoke to when we were doing research for Screw said that whatever’s going on in the world, it’s ten times worse in prisons. We’re struggling with a cost of living crisis, but inmates are fighting over food. Yes, these people are being punished, but they’re not animals – I wouldn’t even treat an animal like that. If we want people to go out into the world and do better, we need to treat them like human beings. 

I think Screw, without hammering it over your head, touches on that subject brilliantly. It’s something the cast have got passionate about. Prison officers provide a public service and risk their lives, they should be paid more.

Do you see yourself in Jackie?

I wish I was more like Jackie! She’s all the things I’d like to be. I sit on the fence more. But I’m fair like Jackie. I feel a massive sense of injustice if things don’t feel fair in life. I’m a classic Libra, I like things to be balanced! 

Jackie’s like many women in my family, witty and sharp. When I read the script I thought, I know this woman. The difficult themes she’s been dealing with this season only make me fonder of her. I hope I can explore her some more. 

In your last interview with DIVA, you explained that you find comedy in certain rhythms of delivery, and learned from the funny women around you. I want to ask you the same question, but about your more serious, sad moments acting. Where does it come from? 

There’s a science to comedy. You have to land the words with the right emphasis to get the laugh. With drama, I just say to myself, Laura, listen, feel it, and tell the truth. That sounds really wanky, but it’s true! I just think about where [my character] is at in the story and her relationship with the character she’s talking to. Connecting with exceptional actors like Nina Sosanya and Stephen Wight makes the job easier. 

I don’t cry in my own life, so I find crying on demand difficult. It’s exhausting – your body doesn’t know that you’re not actually going through that trauma. But we do prat about. A lot of us in Screw come from a comedy background, Jamie [Lee O’Donnell] and Stephen, and Nina. After me and Nina did our big scene in Episode five, we pratted about for about an hour. We needed to shake it off.

You’ve spoken in the past about people assuming you’re straight. Does that still happen even though you’ve got a higher profile now? 

Now most people know I’m gay and it’s nice! It still happens occasionally when I start new jobs. It is boring sitting in the makeup chair and hearing “Oh, is your boyfriend in the industry?” and say “Yep, she is!” Every job is a bit like coming out all over again. But it has got easier. 

If you had to write a queer storyline for yourself, how would it go?

I am writing something at the moment! I can’t talk about it much. But I want to write about a working class middle-aged lesbian who’s trying to keep up with the world! Myself, basically. 

Most things I write now have queer characters. Because there’s not enough stories, we’re starved of them. Until there’s a queer person in every cast, it’s not even, is it? And not just a token queer person, or another coming out tale – let’s see people existing and thriving. That’s what was so lovely about The L Word. But it got cancelled! It feels like we’re not allowed anything, or we’re allowed it for a couple of seasons, and that’s it. 

Do you think writers and streaming services are ‘box-ticking’ with LGBTQIA storylines? 

Yeah. I feel like that happens with all marginalised communities, don’t you? It’s disappointing. In My Skin, which was so important, the second series only got five episodes – why? We were a BAFTA award-winning show! It’s getting better, but it’s not quite there.

Hope has a Happy Meal showed companies hollowly celebrating Pride month whilst funding hate groups. How close do you think this is to reality? 

I do think that’s the case. It’s like companies who greenwash, they say they’re doing the right thing but they’re not. The play was set somewhere in the near future, but we felt like it was happening now!

My character, Hope, was queer, but it wasn’t really spoken about, which I liked. We also had this incredible trans actress Mary Malone, who had a great storyline. I’d love to do more work with queer actors. I’m often the only queer person on set. There’s nothing like being around your people, and feeling safe. I’m the same with working class actors, I gravitate towards them. 

Is there any kind of acting/character you’d like to try that you have never tried before? 

Writing and starring in my own comedy, which I’m working on. Beyond that…a cop drama! Line of Duty vibes. I love stunts! I did a job recently where I had to jump off a car. They offered me a stunt double and I said “No!” I had a really bad back the next day. 

What’s been your high point of 2023 so far? 

Getting married! I got married in May, to my beautiful wife. I’m not sure how I feel about the word “wife”. It feels patriarchal. But she’s my wife, and I love that I can call her my wife. 

I’d dreamt of marriage, I’m a real romantic, but when I was growing up it was nowhere near a possibility. I never thought it would happen, so I was quite emotional on the day. It was pretty special. 

My friend who’s the co-host on my podcast, Hannah [Chissick], married us. Twenty of my mates sung us down the aisle. They’re not all performers, one of them’s a gardener, but they were up for it! It was a pub wedding. My wife’s Irish Catholic, so her parents would probably have loved us to get married in a church, but that’s not how we see marriage. The old folks were saying: “Never seen anything like it! It’s so quirky!” 

But yeah, I’m a married woman now! Sorry DIVA, I’m off the market!

Both series of Screw are available to stream here:

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