Rowan Atkinson is back very soon on ITV in two new Maigret mysteries, here he talks about the first two productions and whats in store in the new episodes.
What were your thoughts about the reaction to the first two Maigret films and then returning to the role?
“I know very little , unfortunately, about the viewers’ reactions because I tend not to read reviews. You just get a vibe from what people say to you in shops and things. Or what people don’t say to you. And the vibe seemed to be generally a positive one. So that’s good.
“He has come on quite a bit since the first and second film. The third film, Night At The Crossroads, is different again. Helped, I think, by the story. The story of Night At The Crossroads is richer. Like Poirot and many detective stories like it, you rely very much on the strength of the supporting cast and the guest cast. That was certainly what we enjoyed hugely in the previous films with David Dawson, Fiona Shaw and people like that.
“And then in this one with Kevin McNally as Inspector Louis Grandjean, Danish actress Mia Jexen as Else and German actor Tom Wlaschiha, who plays Carl Andersen. They were all absolutely excellent. All these things help and it doesn’t half improve your own performance when you’re acting with a very good performance from somebody else.”
So you are learning more about Maigret all of the time?
“Yes, you do. And you can’t really put your finger on what you’re learning. You’re just settling into it. The old cliche is finding your feet, finding the road. Rather than meandering off into the undergrowth. It’s almost the muddiness of the character which brings the clarity.”
“You don’t want a character who is just the same all the time. It’s a matter of exploring how he is in this kind of situation, how he is in that kind of situation. How is he when he’s angry? When’s he’s interested? When he’s intrigued? You’re trying to find the 360 degrees of a character. You can come up with a caricature in a relatively short space of time. But if you want a character, that takes longer.”
“I’m very aware even of how, say, the Blackadder character developed over a period of years. I think by the end he was more interesting. Although, of course, he went through many different periods. But nevertheless it was a better focused thing after the fourth series than it was in the first series.
“Even Mr Bean – we’re doing these animated cartoon versions of Mr Bean that I do the voice and the noises for, and I’m so aware, actually, how much more developed the character is now than when we first started doing him on television 25 years ago. All characters for me are a voyage of discovery.”
There is a sadness about Maigret when we meet him again. Why?
“Maigret is at the funeral of an old colleague who died, forgotten by those who once loved him. It makes him think about the lot of a police officer. The officer who died was a drinker who drank himself to death. He had separated from his wife, his whole life had collapsed and he died alone.”
“Maybe that’s not unknown in this day and age but I’m sure it was a relatively common thing in Paris in 1955. It’s very sobering for Maigret. Like anyone who has the same job as the person who has died, you think, ‘Could that be me?’ Maigret is very reassured, as he always is, by his home life. Which is rooted in tragedy. It was stated in the first film how he and his wife lost a child in infancy. So they are childless but they are very close and rely very much on each other. He finds his home life a great comfort and a very important balance to his professional life, which in those days was pretty challenging and rough. Dealing with the underworld of 1955 in Paris only 10 years after the end of the war, a city full of guns, full of corruption, suspicion and distrust. Who collaborated with the Nazis and who didn’t?”
“All of that was still rumbling on in 1955. So it’s a rather dark underbelly of the city. At the same time, the other side of mid-50s’ Paris was in American eyes the glamorous romance capital of the world. To the outside world there was that lovely gloss to it. But Maigret is dealing with the polar opposite end of it.”
How does Maigret react to Else’s (Mia Jexen) sensuality?
“Else has influenced, not always to the good, an awful lot of men. She is clearly someone who is a damaged but attractive individual. Else is very glamorous and seductive, using her femininity to her own ends. There is no doubt Maigret feels himself being drawn to her. It’s an interesting dilemma for him because we haven’t seen that before. The degree to which, in the end, Maigret is human. He’s human and he’s male.”
How would you describe the feel of Night At The Crossroads?
“The location is very interesting. The crossroads in the middle of nowhere, through which fruit trucks pass going into the markets of Paris in the early morning. And they stop at this isolated crossroads on the way. At the crossroads there are just three dwellings – the garage, the Michonnet house and then the Andersen house. It’s quite a way out of Maigret’s patch because it’s not Paris. It’s a good 20 or 30 miles outside town. But he decides to take it on because the local cop Grandjean, played by Kevin McNally, is an old colleague and Maigret decides to take an interest. It’s a very complex web of villainy all rooted in this crossroads.”
Madame Maigret (Lucy Cohu) tells her husband she fears he may one day not return from work. It’s sometimes forgotten that families of police officers still feel that to this very day?
“Maigret’s wife brings it home. People often don’t think about the police in that way. If someone tells you they’re going to be a soldier, you think, ‘Oh my God, you could die.’ Whereas people tend not to think that about police officers. Which is not the case. Police officers are on the front line. Fewer of them may be killed than soldiers. But there is a ‘war’ going on with which the police are involved every day of their lives. I think it is something you forget. It’s easy to remember with soldiers and it’s easy to forget with police officers.”
You have also filmed Maigret in Montmartre. Can you give us a glimpse into that story?
“All of the stories have been expanded somewhat for the screen by Stewart Harcourt. Because Maigret novels are rather slim volumes, literally and figuratively. Maigret In Montmartre revolves around a woman again. Which was very much Georges Simenon’s infatuation. I suspect he was depicting a fantasy woman of his own in this story. That’s my feeling. She has a very startling effect on a wide range of men. And it’s got her into a lot of trouble. It all feeds into the great seediness of the time and of the place. And of this nightclub in particular, Le Picratt.”
Are you keen to make more Maigret films?
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. All I would ask is that people watch them and make their own mind up. I think they’ve got a lot of appealing qualities. And I like the world we’ve depicted. Virtually every shot in every location has an atmosphere which I think is unique. It’s enabled us to present a world that I hope people want to be part of. And people want to see.”
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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