Life on Mars was quite simply one of the best series we have seen for years and like any show that is much loved you certainly don’t want it to finish. Luckily for us though the BBC very quickly commissioned a sequel, minus Sam Tyler (John Simm), who of course is in 1973 forever but featuring the now legendary Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and the gorgeous Keeley Hawes who plays DI Alex Drake, who like Sam, is transported into the past, this time the eighties, following a shooting. We recently caught up with Keeley to talk about the show.
What is Alex like?
She’s ballsy, confident and bright and is more than a match for Gene. Alex was a psychologist to Sam Tyler and, when she gets shot, she realises she has been propelled into the past; into the new world of Gene Hunt and the boys. She realises she is re-imagining somebody else’s creations. She doesn’t believe that they’re real; she believes they’re creations.
What is Alex’s main focus for getting home?
Alex has a daughter, Molly, to get back to in 2008 and obviously, as anyone would, she wants to get back as fast as she can. However, she does have moments that she really enjoys, like the different ways of policing, but ultimately, she wants to get back to her daughter. She enjoys her relationship with Gene Hunt – it’s sexy and fun, so there’s an emotional pull both ways, but she does want to get back to Molly and modern times.
Alex is haunted by an eerie-looking clown. What is his significance to Alex’s journey?
He’s an expression of her fears about death and Molly. He’s the very darkest, deepest parts of her brain that she doesn’t really want to go to. He is such a genius creation; lots of people don’t like clowns, especially the Pierrot clown which was very Eighties.
What do you think makes the clown so sinister?
I think it’s probably his unpredictability. I never know what he’s going to do from one minute to the next and it’s things that horror stories are made of. A clown should make you laugh, but this one actually just makes the hairs on your arm go up!
Alex is a really ballsy woman. Do you think she is brave to try to take on Gene or should she embrace his help?
It’s in her nature to take Gene on and she usually knows that she’s right, but occasionally she is prepared to back down and deals with Gene via a good sense of humour. Her knowledge of the future makes dealing with Gene easier for her. She doesn’t have the awe and respect for Gene like the others, because she finds him a bit of a dinosaur. Instead, she finds the way he carries on quite amusing, I don’t think she’s truly offended by him.
Gene and Alex have a real love-hate relationship. Do you think Alex could ever give in to Gene’s charms or will her pride always stop her?
I think their love-hate relationship is great. Quite often, when people fancy each other, they dress it up as love-hate because it’s easier to deal with. Gene and Alex go out for dinner and they have a nice time, so I think she’s actually quite surprised to learn that underneath everything, it’s possible for them to really enjoy each other’s company – which is what everyone will want to see, but it quickly goes horribly wrong.
What has been your favourite scene to film?
I love the scenes in Luigi’s since it’s great to be able to see people on screen have a drink and a smoke; it’s real and, quite often these days, you don’t see that. Generally, those scenes are at the end of the day so we’re all quite relaxed. We’re usually all in them and everybody gets on really well.
We shot some scenes with a DeLorean, which was fab – it felt really Eighties. There is nothing more Eighties than that car. It’s just like the car in Back To The Future.
Alex has some fabulous outfits. Did you wear anything similar in the Eighties?
I remember my sister wearing a denim boiler suit and I had an all-in-one – mine was more Grace Jones. I remember a mass of different colour denims all being worn at the same time. I recall having a perm quite young and wearing terrible electric blue leather, it was so bad. There was nothing classy about me or the Eighties in general. However, it was great fun and it’s always a pleasure to dress as Alex in the morning!
Is Alex’s style anything like your own?
I get to wear some Agent Provocateur underwear, that’s not too bad. It’s a kind of red basque-type thing, but that’s not in vision for very long. There is a bright, bright blue shirt that’s actually quite fun, but there’s nothing that I’d wear personally.
The series features the iconic Blitz Club. Was it fun to recreate and even have Steve Strange in to provide the music?
It was amazing. I used to go clubbing in the Nineties a fair bit and I remember Steve being on the door of a club [The Emporium, Kingly Street], but not really knowing who he was or how brilliant he was. It was great to have Steve in; it all works really well, it looks really great.
HRH Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding provides the backdrop for episode two. What are your memories of the “Big Day”?
I remember people talking about the dress and the train and, being a girl, I was interested in a [future] Princess getting married. I seem to remember it was all about her, rather than it being about the Royals or someone marrying the future King. It was about a Princess and her dress!
What are your most vivid memories of the early Eighties?
I was five or six, so I don’t really have an enormous amount of memories of that time. Lace being worn in your hair and Madonna was much more my Eighties, which was slightly later down the line. I had a pair of awful, huge, hi-tech trainers; that wasn’t a good look so I don’t miss any of it, I have to say.
The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai
Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.
What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.
It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.
Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.
Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.
One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.
Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.
What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.
Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!
What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.
I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.
Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small
Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.
What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].
How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.
How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.
Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.
What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!
What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.
Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.
What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.
How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.
Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.
How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!
Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.
Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!
What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!
Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!
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