(Photo: Getty Images)
You might know Jennifer Saunders from her iconic sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, or her comedy double act with Dawn French, or her guest appearances in Friends, or her "straight" acting role in the hit Netflix series The Stranger, or her voice part in Shrek 2, or... well, there are a lot of things to know her from.
She and French are now appearing in Kenneth Branagh's big-screen adaptation of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, which sailed into theaters last Friday (February 11). It's a relatively rare live-action movie role for Saunders, so we're taking the opportunity to get to know her a little better. Here are 10 things you might not know about this consistently witty and self-deprecating performer.
1. She doesn't think of herself as a natural performer.
"It was very lucky that I met Dawn in college," Saunders told The Times in 2020. "I'd never performed at school, and I would never have done what I do if I hadn’t met someone who made it fun and gave you the confidence to make a fool of yourself. We used to force our flatmates to push back the sofas and we would act out sketches for them. When Dawn and I first started performing on stage, honestly I used to pray that no one would turn up so we could just go home. It wasn't exactly the big time, but it was nerve-racking."
2. She and Dawn French turned down OBEs from Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.
As Yahoo! reported at the time, Saunders told Best magazine last year that this was partly out of respect for her father. "My father, Robert, was a pilot in the Royal Air Force and was awarded a CBE," she explained. "He got it and he deserved it. He worked really hard and he was a brilliant man and he did an awful lot. But we just jumped up on stage, messed about, and made money."
Saunders added: "We thought, 'There's a lot of people who deserve these things,' and for us to get it sort of made it a mockery. There are people who work for the NHS or do great charity work and we hadn't really done anything. It was silly."
3. When they were roommates in their early twenties, Saunders was messy. Very messy.
"When we lived together in Chalk Farm [in north London] she had a room at the top of the house," French told The Sunday Times in 2007. "We got broken into and the police said, 'Well, it is quite bad, but the worst is that room at the top.' And, of course, nobody had been in there. She used to be up to her knees in old pants."
However, French also revealed that Saunders got tidier with age, adding: "Something changed when she had the kids. She got organized. Now she can't stop sweeping."
4. Saunders is a non-confrontational kind of person.
"I'm a walkawayer," Saunders told The Guardian in 2013. "If someone brings me a really crap meal in a restaurant I will tell them it's wonderful and then just never go to the restaurant again. I think that's the best way to do it generally, rather than sit and fight and annoy your head. Just pretend to enjoy it and then leave."
5. She and Absolutely Fabulous co-star Joanna Lumley didn't click the first time they met.
The two actresses recalled their awkward first script reading during a 2016 appearance on The Graham Norton Show. Apparently, Lumley was so convinced it had been a disaster that she asked her agent to get her out of the show. Thank goodness this didn't happen!
6. She now appreciates why some people may be intimidated by her.
"Oh, everyone's always going, 'Jennifer, they think you're frightening,'" Saunders told The Guardian. "But what could possibly be frightening? They'd go, 'Well, because you don't smile an awful lot.' But I've had that face since I was a kid, actually. A sort of blankness, that's what it is, it's a blankness. And I think that's what people find odd, because if you're blank they don't know what to think."
7. She really does sing "Holding Out for a Hero" at the end of Shrek 2.
As Metro reports, the great Julie Andrews offered Saunders a thumbs up at the movie's premiere by saying "well done, dear" after watching the singing scene. You can check out a clip of Saunders in the recording studio below.
8. She and Dawn French absolutely loved making Death on the Nile together.
"I'm having the best time because a van picks us up – Dawn then me – and takes us into Longcross Studios [near London, where filming took place]," Saunders told You in 2020. "It’s an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening and we talk the whole way. Sometimes we repeat conversations we’ve enjoyed! We've had hours of travel and nonstop yak. The driver must be thinking, 'Do they ever stop talking?' And this is from five o’clock in the morning. Even then we’re just like, 'And, anyway…'"
Friendship goals, right?
9. Her daughter Beattie Edmondson is also an actress.
You might recognize her from the British comedy shows Fresh Meat, Upstart Crow, and Josh, or maybe from the 2018 movie Patrick, in which she starred opposite Doctor Who favorite Bernard Cribbins and her dear old mum.
10. And finally, she was once sent the weirdest gift by a fan.
Saunders revealed all during her 2020 appearance on The Graham Norton Show. Just be warned that this story is, well, pretty gross.
Do you have a favorite memory of Jennifer Saunders you'd like to share?