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Murder In Provence | Interview with Keala Settle (Helene Paulik)

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What initially appealed to you about this show?

The first thing I heard was that there was a possibility of working with Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll, and I said I was happy to do anything at all with them, even if it’s just holding up a tree! Then the bonus turned out to be that not only could I work with these spectacular human beings, but we also had this lovely show to be in. I started getting into the books by M.L. Longworth, and the way she writes is so beautifully descriptive. I really didn’t expect these scripts to be as wonderful as they are. The job was a beautiful surprise that just kept giving every day!

It sounds like you were a bit starstruck working with Roger and Nancy?

Absolutely! I met Nancy first, a week before we started filming, and she was so lovely. Then, I went into the first rehearsal and walked straight up to Roger, saying “Hello, I know who you are, you made a movie called V for Vendetta, and you’re amazing!” He just had this little smirk on his face, and we ended up becoming really good mates. We have this connection through Les Misérables, because he was in the very first production and I was in the Broadway revival, so we chatted about our experiences there. We shared our war stories from being stage actors, and it just went from there, it was really lovely.

How would you describe Hélène’s relationship with Antoine?

I think they have been mates for a while and they’ve gone through the same protocols of study and education to get to where they are. Clearly, she’s younger, and she has always looked up to him, and he in turn has always taken her under his wing. That rapport is really important to me in playing that character and fortunately, it came very easily with Roger, which is really lovely.

This show is all about a triangle of investigators: he’s the judge, I’m a detective and Marine, played by Nancy Carroll is the criminal psychologist. Antoine gets as much information from Hélène and Marine as possible, to flesh out what is really happening in these cases. I think Hélène is always trying to get one up on him, but also to get the information that he can’t get access to. The relationship between all three of them is fantastic, it all works perfectly.

Hélène is based on a male character from the books, called Bruno. What did you make of the decision to change that figure?

That was a brilliant idea, I really thought it was a fantastic take on it. I give credit to Shelagh for that decision, and obviously if she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be part of this lovely show! To me Hélène is married to Bruno, who is running the vineyard, and we’re just switching what’s in the books. In my head they have a child too. But if we get to do more episodes, there’s more to explore – is she happy in her marriage? What makes her tick? I’ve created so much back story for her already, and we’ve talked about all the different ways she could develop.

Have you worked on any detective shows before?

None at all but I watch them incessantly, I love them. I’m one of those people – and there are lots of us! – who sit watching these series, intent on figuring out the killer. I’ll be calling other people, or watching with a mate and pausing it to go over the information and clues that have come up. I suppose if I wasn’t in the performing arts, I probably would have tried to go into forensics, I absolutely love that world.

Actually, when I was reading the scripts for Murder in Provence, I mostly had no idea who the murderer was, I almost got my post it notes out and started putting them on the wall to figure out the mysteries! We actually do that during filming sometimes, because we film out of sequence and sometimes Roger and I get the post-it notes out to remind ourselves where we are in the story!

Did you enjoy filming in Provence?

Yes, I felt so bad for the poor hotel because we literally drank all of their rosé in the first week we were staying there! They did restock the following week. We had a really lovely time and of course, Roger is a connoisseur of wines, and also an incredible chef. Plus, his best mate Shelagh lives there, who wrote the screenplay for Murder in Provence and it was lovely to spend time with her, getting more insight into all the scenes while we were filming.

We were all looking at holiday homes in Provence – me and Nancy were going past estate agents and looking in every window. Everything was so lovely and we were thinking, “What if we actually lived here?!”

How is your French?

I actually studied French as a child, because I lived in Louisiana, which used to be a French-speaking bit of land in the United States. So it was actually quite fun to film in France. I never thought in a million years that I would ever use the French that I learned at school – I was born in Hawaii, a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so how would I imagine I was going to find myself in Provence?! It’s mad.

Where were your favourite places to film?

My favourite locations were always in Aix, it’s such a beautiful place. My favourite all-time place to film was the Palace of Justice, which is absolutely beautiful, and smack bang in the middle of all this lovely life and culture. It was such a privilege to be there because it’s so historic. To walk within those walls and down those stairs was a very humbling experience for me. The beauty of it is not only the locations, even though they are spectacular, it’s also the tone of the story. It’s a whodunnit, but then you get a shot of beautiful Aix, or another chateau and a wonderful vineyard, and the story is unfolding through all of that.

Is it true that this role came as a bit of a surprise?

Yes, I’d made the decision to move to England – I was living in South California and I wanted to fly my dog, Izzy over to the UK because I knew she would love the parks. Once I’d made that decision and started putting my house up on the market, it was almost as if the universe opened up and all the calls started coming in. I booked the job on this British production before I’d even arrived in the country! It felt like it was all supposed to be happening.

How did your life change after The Greatest Showman?

It was a massive experience and I’m forever grateful for it, it changed my life. Before that film I’d had the privilege of being on Broadway, and I’d always considered myself an actor who just sings a lot. All of a sudden that screenplay came along, and it blew up in a very short space of time. I pour as much into my performances as I can, and the story of that character is very traumatising, so I was finding myself dealing with certain things I hadn’t processed, all while in the public eye and coping with becoming the face of a major motion picture. It was exhausting, but I love my job and I always want to tell stories. I’m slowly learning to make sure that I am taking care of myself along the way.

It sounds like Murder in Provence has taken you to a wonderful place in your career?

Make no mistake, this project has really helped me. After everything that has happened over the past few years, I’m learning to understand what people are seeing in me and to not to be afraid of it or push it away. Instead, I’m really welcoming it and Murder in Provence has created such a safe space for me, breaking down my walls that stop me from being able to flesh out an entire character. I’m letting go of things and letting people in, bringing more life into my storytelling and it’s an incredible gift.

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