In the 1980s, the world was fawning over a stunning young British actress who was set to become the next star of Hollywood.
Aged just 21, Cathy Tyson was already one of the UK’s most recognisable actresses after wowing audiences as a glamorous prostitute in the 1986 film Mona Lisa with Bob Hoskins.
She had been nominated for a Golden Globe and had won best supporting actress at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards.
The Liverpudlian was spoken of in the same breath as other emerging stars such as Julia Roberts and Sharon Stone.
But her upbringing left her cautious – because she had been raised to believe America was bad.
“I was brought up by a mother who was anti-American and pro-Russia,” says Cathy, “She wasn’t a spy, she was a socialist. So when I went to Hollywood at the age of 20, I went with this kind of attitude. I was very wary.
“I spent some months there, and I did one film, but it was shot in Haiti not in America. I was getting lots of offers to do auditions in Hollywood.
“But I just thought, ‘I’m not a capitalist and this is the land of it. I don’t want to live here because of all that it stands for.’
“It was a big thing for me, a bit like going to the moon. I was too much. My mother didn’t deter me, but it did have a lot to do with my upbringing.”
Cathy, 55, says she was also put off by the way industry people immediately started urging her to change her body.
“I was just 20 and already skinny and people were saying I needed to have this and that done, I need to shave some inches off here. I found that odd, especially as even the women were saying it.
“I just thought, ‘I don’t want to have plastic surgery, I’m a feminist. What am I going to have to do to myself if I want to stay here?’”
The Band of Gold actress, who had married actor Craig Charles when she was 19, insists her feelings about the US have changed and she wouldn’t turn down a Hollywood role now.
She says: “That’s not my attitude now and I’d go if had the opportunity today.
“For a black artist it’s a great place to be right now and really I should go. Back then diversity was at its mere infancy and there weren’t many black and Asian faces in Hollywood. I was also still growing up. I’d got married too young, I was still working out who I was. I hadn’t expected all that so early. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m a very fortunate human being for those experiences.”
Cathy is back on our screens on Sunday in the first episode of a new series of detective drama McDonald & Dodds, in which she is joined by Martin Kemp, Patsy Kensit and Rupert Graves, playing friends who –ironically – were rising stars in the 1980s. The detectives are called after one of them disappears when their hot air balloon crash lands.
“It was great,” says Cathy. “All those people were stars in the Eighties in real life. We spent a day squeezed together in the basket. All of them had stories to tell about their amazing lives. By the time we filmed the scenes we all knew each other which made it look even more natural.”
After Mona Lisa, Cathy starred in the Wes Craven 1988 horror film The Serpent and the Rainbow but it was another prostitute role, in the hugely successful ITV drama series Band of Gold, which returned her to the spotlight in 1995.
Cathy, a fierce activist for women’s issues and racial equality, said she continued to turn down opportunities that might have led to global fame.
“In my early career I felt I should turn down roles. That’s what my activism involved, especially at the beginning.
“I also had to turn down Kevin Spacey, when he pleaded with me to do The Iceman Cometh. But it was to play another prostitute.”
But being a single mother to son Jack, born two years after her Mona Lisa success and just as her marriage was crumbling, didn’t stop her working.
Cathy, who also played Miss Gayle in Grange Hill and single mum Andrea Hayworth in Emmerdale, says: “I had to work. I was 23 and felt there was so much to give. So I went away and worked and my mother would look after my son. Sometimes I’d take him with me when I was doing theatre, and the landlord and landlady would look after him at night.
“I’d feel guilty sometimes when I couldn’t do the sleepover he wanted because I had six scripts to look at over the weekend. There were times when I thought, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t handle it.’
“I’d get criticism from other mothers. I thought, ‘Is that any of your business?’
“Jack has been a supporter of my career which I’m so grateful for. He became a singer and drummer. When he was older Craig has been more involved in his life, and has performed with him, which has been really nice.”
Born in Liverpool to a Trinidadian barrister father, who was largely absent from her childhood, and a British social worker mother, Cathy was a different kind of rebel as she grew up.
She would regularly play truant and when she was 13 ran away from home, finding a job as a chambermaid in London for a week before she was tracked down by the police.
“I found Liverpool totally uninspiring,’ she says. “I knew I didn’t want to stay there. We lived in a block of flats which was mainly filled with single mothers.
“There were lots of things that made me frightened to walk out the door.”
She recalls how “being told to go back to where you come from” was normal. “There was this fantasy if I was white I’d have no problems.”
Often only turning up at school for drama lessons, she found in acting a way of coping with her emotions – as well as a way out of Liverpool. After a spell at the city’s Everyman Theatre she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. She once said: “Liverpool gave me a mouth, Shakespeare gave me a voice.”
The passionate activist believes last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were a turning point for equality in the industry.
She says: “Part of me had Imposter Syndrome. Even seven years or so ago I remember walking into rooms and being hyper aware of being the only black person.
“The big difference is that I now really do feel heard. Now I walk into a room and feel confident to be able to speak.
“I took part in the protests. It was so harmonious with black and white people all coming together. I just felt there is now hope for change.