When Billie Piper left her hugely successful role as Rose Tyler in the popular British science fiction television program Doctor Who, it was possibly the most heart-wrenching time of her professional life. She had been part of the Doctor Who family for two years and it was during the filming of the first series (with Christopher Eccleston) that her marriage to "the British Howard Stern," TV host and DJ Chris Evans, ended.
Although it was her choice to leave Doctor Who it was nevertheless a sad time.
"When I told the producers that I wanted to leave they were supportive and gave me words of encouragement that I took with me on my next adventure — Philip Pullman's brilliant Sally Lockhart series. Russell (T. Davies, writer) put pen to paper and gave Rose a wonderful exit. When my last episode of Doctor Who aired, I clutched a pillow and sobbed my heart out. I miss them all so much and thank them for the springboard they gave me. It was an experience that was out of this world! The Ruby In The Smoke is my first drama since leaving Doctor Who — and I wasn't sure I could pull it off. It was also my first lead role and a period drama. Lots of firsts there but I had the support of people around me. JJ (Feild) and Julie (Walters) had both worked on loads of period drama as had Brian Percival, the director. I was in really good company.
"I suppose there is a danger in working on a show like Doctor Who because audiences fall in love with a certain character and they can't get used to seeing you in something else. It must be the same for soap actors who move on. I've only really ever seen myself as Rose — I know I've done The Miller's Tale and Much Ado About Nothing but it really felt like Rose was mine."
While she was filming The Ruby in the Smoke Billie was simultaneously writing her autobiography with the help of Gay Longworth.
"Writing my book was really cathartic for me and I'm often asked if I was scared about writing it. No! It was a load of fun! I learned a lot about grammar and really basic things like spelling and how to construct sentences and make sense of a story. Gay helped me with the process, which was that we would sit and talk for about three days on growing up in Swindon, and then she would go off and interview Mum, Dad, members of my family and friends and dig up old press cuttings which would help put the pieces together. I met with quite a few writers that were recommended by the publisher but I liked Gay. When I met her she was really feisty and a bit of a troublemaker, a mum herself and just good company. Since I knew I had to enjoy spending time with the person I was going to sit down and tell my entire life story to... it was imperative that I trust her."
Since Piper was first propelled into the limelight by Hugh Goldsmith at the age of 15 her life has been in the public eye and most of her growing up has been done in full view of the public. Winning a two-year battle with anorexia, meeting, marrying and separating from Chris Evans, disappearing from view for two years and returning to resume her acting career — Piper has packed a lot into recent years. She feels she has finally found her forte in life and is constantly pushing the perimeters of her comfort zone to embrace new challenges.
"I feel like I am fulfilling all the big dreams I had as a kid. I hope to grow and adapt and learn different things and I am so ready with The Ruby in the Smoke and my first lead role. I love all the different areas of this profession and I do feel like I am finally on my way. If the right movie came along I would love to do it but I am enjoying television work at the moment. I have seen a few big action scripts but I would love to do something a bit more domestic like current affairs or a political thriller... anything with a social conscience. But we shall see what comes along."
Piper had great fun shooting The Ruby in the Smoke despite having to wear a corset and layers of clothing during one of England's hottest summers in years. She loved playing Sally Lockhart because of the modern nature and personality of the young investigator.
"I wore layer after layer after layer but I found the corsets really helped me get into character. It is actually really hard to become a Victorian woman without donning one because the minute you put it on you hold yourself differently. Your hair is up and you are wearing period jewelry. In the beginning you find you eat very little because it sits on your chest but after a while I got so used to it that I was totally able to wolf down a shepherd's pie for lunch without blinking. I felt dainty and feminine in the costume and a lot more happens in your head in terms of the role because you don't have much freedom of movement... which is great for this part because Sally is a deep thinker and true to her emotions. Sally isn't oppressed despite the world she is living in; she is quite free. She's a very modern woman who doesn't get beaten down with stuff that society dictates at that time. She is headstrong and that's what gets her through this very strange time in her life... the realization that there are mysteries within her own family that she had no idea about.
"James Keast, our costume designer, gave me a book on etiquette to read which was invaluable — how to sit at a table, who to acknowledge on the street and how to acknowledge them; do you pass to the left or the right in order not to collide with someone... It was all fascinating. The only women who were seen working at the time were prostitutes — women didn't have a big place in the world which was just so tragic. It was such a male-dominated time. I learned about basic things like class systems to economy and found I really got into it. I'm pretty thorough when it comes to background and I always research a project for a couple of months but the minute I start working I stop the research and just get into the part — you could go on forever!"
Billie Piper's autobiography, Growing Pains, was published in the fall of 2006.