Since making her acting debut in BBC One's The Lakes in 1997, 35-year-old Debbie Chazen has been a regular on the small screen, appearing in the likes of Holby City, Casualty and the comedy series The Smoking Room.
However, she's currently making a name for herself as one of the stars of the BBC Three sketch show Tittybangbang, where she's created such characters as Paula the Darter (who's hopeless at both darts and pub quizzes) and Carol-Anne (who'll go to any lengths to get herself on TV).
As the first series is released on DVD, SJ's Caroline Westbrook spoke to Debbie about the show, her Jewish background and whether she's the new Miriam Margolyes…
How did Tittybangbang come about and what was it that attracted it to the show?
My agent rang up and said they were looking for people for a new BBC sketch show, so I went along and auditioned for it, along with about 150 other girls, and Lucy and myself got the parts and it sort of went from there really. I hadn't met Lucy before the show, we met for the first time on the first day of rehearsal.
Who's your favourite character to play?
I think probably Paula the darter, because she's so grotesque. I get quite cross when people recognise me as being Paula because I like to think I'm nothing like that, but obviously I am a little bit like that. A lot of it has to do with the teeth – they came in during rehearsals. I like Carol Anne as well, she's very much like a lot of people in the country today, trying to get on TV for absolutely any reason whatsoever.
What are you up to at the moment?
I'm doing panto, I'm playing a fairy in Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Barbican, and loving it. I'm starring with Roger Lloyd Pack from Only Fools And Horses, he plays the dame, and Sam Kelly from Porridge and Allo Allo. It's such fun, I've lost my voice already from shouting over the children who are shouting back at me. I've never done panto before, and I'm really really enjoying it. I'm doing that until the 20 th January, and then I'm off to Sheffield Crucible to do Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. I don't see myself as a comedienne, I see myself as an actress, but I suppose the things I've been most well-known for have been comedies, but that's what I love about my job, that I can do a variety of things, from a sketch show to a panto for children, to Chekhov – that's such a joy, and a privilege as well.
How did you get into acting?
I went to drama school after studying Russian and Spanish at Manchester University. I always wanted to be an actress but my parents said no, go to university. When I left I still wanted to be an actress, but I did a job as a youth worker for two years at the Sternberg Centre, then two years later I thought why am I not getting on with what I really want to do? So I applied for drama schools then and got into Lamda, and spent three years there, loving every minute of it, and then left and have been working ever since.
What do your parents think of your job now?
Well sadly they've both passed away. My mum didn't want me to be an actress because she didn't think it was a steady enough career, which it normally isn't. But I think she would have been proud that I've managed to make a career out of it.
What was your very first acting job?
It was in the BBC One show The Lakes. I had four words.
Do you ever get compared to Miriam Margolyes?
(wearily) Yeah. If I have half the success that she does though I'll be very very happy indeed. The first time someone said that was when I was in Nicholas Nickleby and it said I was a worthy successor to Miriam Margolyes.
Have you ever met her?
I have, very briefly, it was at the stage door for Mike Leigh's play 2000 Years. We both saw it on the same day and we both went backstage afterwards. I couldn't really look her in the eye though!
What's your Jewish background?
My synagogue throughout my childhood was North-Western Reform, Alyth Gardens. My sister is the community co-ordinator there actually. I'm not a regular shul-goer now. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but even then sometimes I have to work!
How Jewish do you consider yourself now? Would you like to do more Jewish projects?
I suppose Judaism is obviously something you're born with and it never leaves you. If something comes along I'll consider it but I don't go out of my way to do anything Jewish or not Jewish.
Have you had support from the Jewish community?
I suppose so, yes. My own community is very nice to me, they're quite proud of me, and I think all my sister's friends in the congregation are going to hire a minibus to come and see the panto.
Do you have a nice Jewish boyfriend?
I do have a nice Jewish boyfriend! His name's Michael Korel, he's a writer and he reads tarot cards, which is quite an interesting job. He's lovely.
Do you have any Jewish hangouts?
To be honest, not really, I'm not really in that scene at the moment. I'm more into a showbiz scene.
When did you last set foot in a synagogue?
Oh, quite recently. I didn't go last year but I went this year as I was free, with my boyfriend's family to Upper Berkeley Street. We were in the overflow in the Quaker's House. It was quite a nice service.
Tittybangbang volume 1 is now out on DVD