Josie was actually born Wendy Lawrence, but changed her name on realising that actors union Equity already had a Wendy Lawrence on its books. A regular on Channel 4's hit improv series Whose Line is it Anyway?, Lawrence is best known for her comic roles in TV series such as A Many Splintered Thing, Fat Friends, The Flint Street Nativity, Friday Night Live and Absolutely Fabulous.

Her extensive theatre work has included the musical version of Moll Flanders, The Taming of the Shrew and Faust at the RSC, Much Ado About Nothing at the Manchester Royal Exchange, The Alchemist at the National, and Alarms and Excursions at the West End's Gielgud Theatre.

In May 2001, Lawrence took over from Elaine Paige playing the upright English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens in Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical, The King and I, at the London Palladium.

Date & place of birth
Born in Dudley on 6 June 1959.

Now lives in...

Professional training
Dartington College of Arts.

First big break
I suppose that must be Whose Line is it Anyway?.

Career highlights
Reading a sonnet during Shakespeare's birthday celebrations at the church in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Favourite production that you've worked on
The King and I because it's the happiest show I've ever worked on.

Favourite co-star
Keo Woolford - he plays my gorgeous King, and every night when I perform with him he remains real and fresh which is quite a joy.

Favourite director
Bill Alexander, who I worked with on The Alchemist and a very dark modern play called Frozen. He understands me, and I trust him completely.

Favourite playwright
Shakespeare - he's the man!

What role would you most like to play (if you haven't already)?

How does your comedy work influence your work as an actor?
I've never really done stand-up routines. My work in comedy has always been character-based, so my comedy and acting work are totally combined.

How does your preparation for a TV role differ from that for a stage role?
Television work is closer and rather more intimate in that you do a scene and then "cut" onto the next one. Stage work is more of an ongoing process. I enjoy the rehearsal period and I love a live audience.

What's the best thing currently on stage (not including this production)?
I haven't been able to see any productions for months because of work commitments.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
More money please! But I'd say that about the NHS first.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
I'd like to be Madonna on a day when she's performing one of her shows.

Favourite book
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes.

Favourite after-show haunt
Sitting in my garden with a glass of stout.

Favourite holiday destination

Favourite joke
My favourite jokes are visual ones and often involve falling down a lot.

What attracted to you to performing in a musical?
It was too good an opportunity to pass up. Mrs Anna is a part that offers everything to an actress.

What's your favourite line from The King and I?
"Every man is like a King, and every woman like a Queen when they love each other."

How do you feel about following in Elaine Paige's footsteps?
It was a great honour for me. But Christopher Renshaw, the director, has worked with many actresses on this production (the first was Hayley Mills in Australia) and each one has brought something different to the role. I tried not to think about what had come before me - my Mrs Anna is unique to me.

What's the funniest thing that happened during rehearsals for The King and I?
Getting used to the crinolines was difficult because they are massive and very heavy. At first I was knocking people over with just one turn. I also took on a couple of dancers' flip-flops by unknowingly whisking them up in my skirts and depositing them on stage. But the thing I will always remember about the rehearsals is that we became very close as a company very quickly, and the show feels like a real ensemble piece. I hope people enjoy watching it as much as we enjoy performing it.

- Josie Lawrence was talking to Terri Paddock

The King and I is currently playing at the London Palladium.