Emma Pomfret talks family values with Joanne Whalley...
One could be forgiven for wondering where sultry Scandal actress Joanne Whalley, ex-wife of Batman Forever hero Val Kilmer, has been hiding for the last decade.
But the refreshingly down-to-earth British star happily explains that there have been far more important things on her mind for the last few years than just making movies - namely being a mum to her two children in sunny Los Angeles.
"I'm not so good at doing more than one thing at a time so I've not really worked much over the last ten years since I had the kids," says the stunning mother-of-two, who turned 40 last year.
"Being a mother is a big job, it's very time-consuming, crucial in fact, but the thing is that really wouldn't miss any of it for the world because you never, ever get that precious time back."
Indeed Joanne, who was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the world in 1991, jokes that her children, 13-year-old daughter Mercedes and 10-year-old son Jack, are growing up so quickly that she can barely keep up with them.
"It's such a shock to me that my daughter is now as tall as I am, and even worse that half of my clothes are now missing too - which I inevitably find in her closet!" she laughs warmly.
"In fact, I'm shocked on a daily basis - you turn around and they're wearing your jeans but hey, at least they're cool enough that she wants to borrow them!"
Despite her fiercely private family life, the talented Manchester-born actress is set to explode back into the spotlight in ITV1's long-awaited drama Child Of Mine.
The psychological thriller, from the team behind BBC One's critically acclaimed series Spooks, charts the twists and turns of the powerful but dangerous bond between a mother, Joanne's Tess, and her adoptive daughter Heather, played by 12-year-old Canadian star Hannah Lochner.
It also stars The Crying Game's Adrian Dunbar as Joanne's long-suffering on-screen husband Alfie, and veteran RADA actress Sylvia Syms as his domineering mother Alice.
"When you sit down and read a script, the first thing is always to check how many times you feel like putting it down and wandering off to do something else more interesting - but I really loved this script, it was a real page turner, so I thought 'why the hell not?'," says Joanne of her role as child psychologist Tess, desperate to become a mother yet driven to the brink of suicide by her infertility.
After many traumatic - and failed - attempts at IVF, she and husband Alfie decide to adopt, a process they are forced to undergo illegally as a result of Tess's record of depression.
The fragile couple find two young sisters through a backwater Canadian adoption agency, and hastily fly their new daughters, Heather and Grace, back to London - but the siblings are both traumatised by the brutal murder of their mother Jane.
Tess, Joanne reveals, is desperate to bond with the strangely withdrawn Heather, but when she takes her back to the scene of the murder in an attempt to unlock the secrets of that fateful night, Tess realises that something far more terrifying and twisted lies at the root of her daughter's disturbed mind.
"You always try to find the natural parallels with your character but for me personally, as a mother of two children, I didn't fully realise that for so many people pregnancy is simply not an option - I suppose you just take it for granted," Joanne says thoughtfully.
"I think the hardest scene to shoot was right at at the beginning when Tess and Alfie find out about yet another failed pregnancy test - simply knowing what they've been through to even get to the point where a test would be necessary was very tough to get my head around," she admits.
"It's such a huge mountain to climb and requires an awful lot of commitment as well as physical strength - it completely changes your whole identity and perception about life."
As well as seizing the opportunity to sink her teeth into the complex character of Tess, Joanne adds that one of the key reasons for accepting the role is that the film effectively blends the topical issue of infertility with the best aspects of a traditional thriller.
"The two themes in tandem serve to give weight to each other - films are most effective when the wider implications go beyond your immediate experience," she says.
But it's not only Joanne's depiction of Tess which provides the audience with some serious food for thought - Dunbar's perceptive portrayal of her husband Alfie is also a crucial focus of the film.
"Adrian plays Tess's husband and to be the partner, and to go on that journey with someone that you really love and care about, is very, very difficult," says Joanne.
"It's a very challenging role and but Adrian is such a sensitive actor that he was able to highlight the male perspective of that relationship.
"Adrian and I go way back, so it was an absolute joy the day that I found out that he was playing Alfie - we just picked up right where we left off which was just fantastic," she beams.
In fact, now that Joanne has a renewed taste for how much fun it is to be back on set, there is no stopping her.
She has already filmed her part in the new Sean Stanek film, Played, which also stars Gabriel Byrne, Vinnie Jones, Patsy Kensit - and her ex-husband Val Kilmer.
"It has a great cast, all of who just said 'sure I'll do it for nothing' and we all did it for no reason other than the fact that we love what we do for a living," she says.
"I actually introduced Val to the film, and he decided to get involved because we both think it's just great when people decide to make a film outside the usual Hollywood system."
But although Joanne says that she's had a ball filming back in her home country, she can't see herself moving back across the Atlantic just yet.
"I won't let the kids miss a single second of school so we certainly won't be moving just yet," she laughs.
"I've been in LA for nine years now and it was a slow sell for me but now I have some great friends out there - I love it and I'm very comfortable with everything in my life."
*Child Of Mine is on ITV1 on Sunday November 13