Sarah Jayne Dunn is possibly best known for playing Mandy Richardson on Channel 4's soap 'Hollyoaks', but since she left the show to discover more of the world she's landed roles on TV, most recently playing Taylor Ashbie in the iconic British TV show 'Casualty', and had starring roles in plays which have toured the UK, including 'Birdsong', where she met her partner, Jonathan Smith.
The couple recently expanded their family bringing Ming Ming the Pug into their home. Kim O'Meara caught up with Sarah to find out all about her and what she's been doing since we last spoke – including becoming a qualified make up artist and personal trainer!
Tell us about your dog - we'd like to know everything about her!
Ming Ming is a black Pug, she's around 6 months old and she's a proper little madam. I've literally just had to remove a pillow from her mouth (laughs).
She's a small dog with a huge personality. When I first met Jonathan, my partner, three years ago we both shared a love of dogs and we'd speak for ages on end about what kind of dog we'd get when the time was right. I said I wanted 12 (laughs) but we had to decide which type of dog we'd start off with.
What made you choose a Pug?
Jonathan grew up around Labradors at home and I, as you know from when we last spoke, grew up with smaller dogs, Shih Tzus and a Yorkshire Terrier at home. We both loved Pugs but neither of us had had a Pug before so we did lots of research into different breeds we liked, what suited our lifestyle and jobs.
Jonathan's also an actor so we knew we needed to think of a breed of dog who could travel with us on jobs, for example. We knew we wanted a dog good with other dogs, people and children because that's on the cards at some point, and everything we read led us back to Pugs.
The more we looked into the breed and the more Pugs we met while out walking the more we fell in love. Eventually we just said let's start off with a Pug.
They are a small dog with a big personality (laughs). We definitely want more dogs though and we already know our next dog will be a rescue Staffy dog so we're forward planning (laughs).
Soap lovers will remember you for your time on 'Hollyoaks' playing Mandy Richardson on and off over the years . Mandy was recently voted no 5 on a top 100 favourite characters list by Hollyoaks fans. We last saw you on screen in Hollyoaks Later 2013, if you were writing the script for Mandy what would you say is next for her?
I saw that list, that was really nice. Well, since I left properly which is getting on for 10 years ago now, I've only ever been back for short stints so Mandy's not had a serious storyline for some time. I think she could come back with a bang and enough could have happened. We know she has two kids, one we've met and one who must be a teenager now. She could have got into deep water in those 10 years! (laughs)
I think she could play a really interesting role in the village and there will always be a link for Mandy as long as Tony's still around. Of course, there’s Darren Osborne who she had a fling with as well.
I'd be willing to go back. She'll always have roots there so she could come back and who knows what baggage she'd bring, or maybe she'd have a shop in the village.
When we last spoke you mentioned that leaving Hollyoaks gave you the chance to go out and explore the world and you've kept busy over the years, not just with acting.
I think I left at the right time and I've been lucky in that I've never once not worked solidly. I've done lots of theatre, found out lots that I like and some things that I don't about our industry and learnt a lot. I really enjoy plays and have been lucky enough to do a lot of them, including 'Birdsong' which is where I met Jonathan.
I've also spent time learning about different industries because I've always wondered if acting hadn't taken off for me what would I have done, so I wanted to find out about other things I was passionate about.
I've always done my own hair and make up for awards for example, so when I spent six months living in London with Carley (Stenson) I ended up taking a make up course so I'm qualified as a make up artist (find out more at: makeupbysarahjayne.com) and in doing HD brows, and at the same time did an acting course because I think you never stop learning, whatever you do there's always someone who knows more than you, who's had different experiences than you and so that was a really good time for me.
I'd always wanted to live in London and experience that.
After this point is when I did 'Birdsong' which toured for seven months and starred opposite Jonathan. I think we knew early on that there was something special between us but it was only after a couple of months that we got together.
We moved in together after the tour was up and we both said 'okay, what are we going to do next?'. We spent time thinking about the things we love and we're both really into health and fitness. When we go to the gym we both like doing different things and we really wanted to do something we could learn from and test each other on. We then thought why not personal training with the joint love in mind (thefemalefitnessacademy.co.uk is really useful).
We moved back to Liverpool after about six months and I contacted an old personal trainer of mine, Craig McNeil at the CMC Academy, for advice on how to get started or where to go and he told me he had started training personal trainers and said come on board with me. We hadn't spoken in so long and here we were. He took us under his wing.
We've both chosen industries which are hard and which challenge you to compete. As an actor you fight for the role. You have to take the ups with the downs and it's just the same as a personal trainer (coming soon at: sarahjaynept.com and jonsmithpt.com). You get to develop skills and I think the acting industry has really helped us.
Being in the same industry, we understand what each other is going through in a job sense. When you go up for a part and get it, we know what that's like. Equally when you're having a down period and don't get the jobs you really would love to or money's tight and you have to say no to going out, we know what that's like for each other and we understand each other.
You really had quite an intensive beginning to your relationship being together day in and day out touring for seven months, you must have known a lot about each other before moving in!
Definitely. We're both laid back people but from day one we've been together. When you've visited places good and bad, stayed in accommodation good and bad, and you still enjoy being together you know it's right (laughs).
You've most recently starred in the iconic Brit TV show 'Casualty' as Taylor Ashbie. She made a come back most recently in the 30th series in a special Red Button episode. With a daughter on the show, have we seen the last of her?
I've really enjoyed being on the show. I've played Taylor on and off since last year and I think because the show always has guest characters, like me, there's a real family feel but not one that's closed off because they're so used to having people come and go and it's such a friendly atmosphere around the place. Also, because our industry's so small relatively I knew most of the crew before starting.
Taylor's a really fun character to get stuck into as well because in all honesty as a viewer (and I count myself in this) you don't actually know if she's being truthful or lying the majority of the time (laughs).
Yes, she's really quite a complex character isn't she? That must be fun to play!
Definitely. I mean is Taylor even her real name? Did she actually ever love Cal Taylor (her on-screen beau)?
Richard (Winsor) and I worked together briefly on Hollyoaks so we also knew each other beforehand and before filming last time we sat in a hotel in London and just spoke about the characters for about three hours. I'd say one thing and he's say 'great, but...' and we thought we should write this down (laughs).
As characters there's so much still unanswered about Taylor and Taylor's daughter which she's left behind, that during the last episode you felt you saw the real Taylor but then she left, so you're left wondering was it all a con?
It's been so much fun to play because you really could get stuck in, but no one really knows what the future holds.
It's often said that owning a dog can be great for helping to meet people, get social and out and about. In fact Abi Titmuss once told us something very similar to us about life in London opening up when she rescued her dog. Have you found life in Liverpool has changed for you since you brought Ming Ming home?
Definitely. I remember we met someone who was walking a Pug in a park and they said to us to give yourself for double the time when you go out for a walk because everyone will stop you. Everyone loves a puppy don't they, I mean we do the same thing (laughs).
A dog can start so many conversations, whatever age you are. They really do open up a new social world to you where one minute you can be talking about your dog and giving or getting advice, and the next you're talking about your weekend plans.
Since we got Ming Ming I've found out about this event called the 'Pug Pride of Liverpool' and it was established a few years ago and we were invited along. The lady then told me they even go on camping trips together.
Another really nice part of owning a dog is that they give you a reason to get out and about, especially in the winter months when it's a bit dreary and you might want to hibernate. You can go outside and blow the cobwebs away getting some essential vitamin D as well if it's sunny.
I do think Liverpool is still catching up in that it's not really as dog friendly like London, or even the countryside, for having dog friendly restaurants or cafes. We have one near us called 'Neighbourhood' which we really like, but there's no where near as many as London for example.
If you could go back in time and be on set for a particular scene of a show or film, what would you choose to be present for and why?
I absolutely love 'Mary Poppins' I pop it on every year. It's so twee but I love it, and love Julie Andrews.
I also love those iconic rom coms with a strong female lead like Bridget Jones. They look like a lot of fun to do.
I'd also like to go back and experience 'The Dark Knight' again because I was so petrified the first time around, almost overwhelmed taking it all in. I think whoever you are you, even if you're an A list actress you might still feel this way working with your idols because everyone has them don't they, but I'd love the chance to experience it again knowing what I do after the first time.
What three words best sum up your personality? And thinking similarly, if you were to choose three words to describe Ming Ming which words best fit her personality?
I think the three words which best sum her up are lovable, because you can't help but love her, mischievous and hilarious, because she's both in equal amounts (laughs).
Do you have a motto that you live your life by? What would you say Ming Ming's motto might be?
I'm a big believer in fate so mine would be 'everything happens for a reason'. I really do believe that even if you don't know at the time why things aren't going to plan, you can look back and put it in perspective that if that hadn't happened, this wouldn't have happened instead.
Ming Ming's motto would be 'take every opportunity'. Whether it's good, toys, it doesn't matter just go for it (laughs).
If you were to swap roles with Ming Ming for a day, how do you think she'd cope being you and what would you love most about being her?
(Laughs) Oh wow, well I'd love to be her. We call her the little Princess because she's doted on and always being cuddled, and who wouldn't love that. Although she does happily let you know when she's had enough, I'd love all of the attention.
If she were me, well my day would fall apart. She gets so easily distracted nothing would get done (laughs).
For this question, we ask our celebs to match up the following people’s personality to a breed of dog, for example, Winston Churchill = Bulldog or J.Lo = Afghan Hound, Frank Bruno = Boxer etc. If the following celebrities and dog lovers were breeds of dogs, based on their personalities alone, what type of breed do you think they'd be...
Jonathan Smith (Sarah's partner) - We do regularly have chats about what animal he'd be, so if he had to be a dog (we say he'd be a walrus normally), I think he'd be something large, lazy and fluffy like a St Bernard.
Carley Stenson – She has Cockerpoos, so I'm debating whether she'd be one of those of a Chihuahua because of her days in 'Legally Blonde'. I think she'd be a Chihuahua because you just want to pick her up and put her in your pocket.
Paul O'Grady – I think he'd be an Old English Sheepdog, loving, placid and kind to the world.
Gemma Atkinson – Oh wow, Gemma would be something lovable but who's also no nonsense. I think she'd be a Staffy.
Ricky Gervais – He's such an animal lover isn't he, I think he'd be a Bulldog.
Which do you prefer and why?
Big dogs or little dogs – My experience has solely been with smaller dogs, so if I had to choose one of the two I'd say smaller dogs.
Pedigree dogs or cross-breeds – I have no preference, I think with a pedigree dog you know what you're getting whereas with a cross-breed you have that fabulous unknown breed almost.
Days off or days at work – Whatever I'm having, I want the opposite (laughs). So if I'm working I crave a day off and vice versa.
Describe the last time you laughed out loud because of something you saw Ming Ming or another dog do.
Yesterday Ming Ming tried to jump onto the sofa and she just face planted right into the side (laughs). She's such a live wire, she's always doing things that there's never a dull moment. She makes us laugh every day.
Also, yesterday we had new carpet put down and I sat down on it to feel what it was like and as soon as she she stepped on it she was so excited she just kept running round and round in circles (laughs), like the Pug Run videos you see on YouTube.
She also wiggles her bum everything the hoover comes out, even if it's not on. It's so funny, we keep saying we'll video it.
If you were arranging a dinner party and could invite anyone from any era, past or present, which three people would you invite and why?
Firstly I'd invite Steve Coogan, he's played so many different characters but from interviews I never think you really know who he is as himself so I'd love to find out.
Secondly I'd invite Beyonce because I love her so she'd have to be on the list.
Thirdly I'd invite Jamie Oliver because he can do the cooking and he seems like a nice guy.
If I could invite a fourth person, I'd invite Fearne Cotton because I think we'd get on well. And she can bake a good cake, so she could bring one and the food would be sorted (laughs).
What is your current favourite…?
TV show – Friday nights are pretty good just now with 'TFI Friday' being back. I also really like 'Gogglebox' and 'Chatty Man'. If it's mid week I really like 'New Girl', I think that's getting close to 'Friends', although that's still my go-to show.
I watched the new BBC show 'Cuffs' last night. I think it's really great to see shows coming out bringing new talent through, and so important to the industry.
Book – I really like James Herbert as an author and his book 'The Others'. I really liked Stephen King growing up so really love this genre. I also really love the Philip Pullman 'His Dark Materials' trilogy.
Album – Well, anything by Beyonce, but I also really like Sia and can go back again and again to listen to her latest album. I also really love John Legend, he has such a soulful, chilled voice.
Film – Anything with Will Ferrell is good, I tend to really like whatever he's in. I can watch The Anchorman and The Anchorman 2 again and again.
I also watched 'Bridesmaids' again when it was on TV and was reminded that anything Judd Apatow directs tends to be up my street.
I'm not a big James Bond fan either but I do like a good action film so am quite keen to see the latest film.
Tell us something no one else knows about you.
I'm quite an open book but people might not know that I don't really like flying. I'm also petrified of spiders.
Also, the end game for us would be to be self sufficient and settle down with a home in the middle of nowhere with lots of animals.
If you could sum it up, what do you think is the best thing about being a dog owner?
I think it's the loyalty between you and the fact you know they love you regardless like it's the easiest thing in the world and they don't ask a lot in return do they. Plus, the greeting you get, even if you just go out for 10 minutes, is the best thing in the world (laughs).
Finish the following sentence, my dog is...one of a kind!
And finally, this is always a tough question and often requires a fair degree of thinking time but….If Ming Ming had the ability to speak and answer one question and one question only, what would you ask her and what do you think that she would say?
Let me think about this one. Okay, I think we'd ask Ming Ming "What's her favourite thing she likes to do?' and I think her answer would probably be 'eat, sleep, play with the hoover', in that order!
Many Thanks Sarah!
Keep up to date with Sarah's latest projects online at www.sarahjaynedunn.co.uk or click on any of the links above.