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Murder In Provence | Interview with Nancy Carroll (Marine Bonnet)

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What initially attracted you to the role of Marine?

I heard about the series from Roger (Allam), who I had worked with a few times, and the fact that he and (writer) Shelagh were involved was hugely exciting. When I read the script, I just loved this couple and the fact that they are slightly older than in the books, but still really fun. Both of them have really strong, slightly traumatic individual histories, but unlike a lot of characters on TV at the moment, they don’t wear their damage – they aren’t walking around with great shadows of tragedy hanging over them, in fact they are quite comic. There’s a great wit to their relationship and I like the fact that very unconventionally they’re not married. They have taken their experiences and designed a life that suits them.

They have very different personal tastes. Antoine is very controlling of his environment, he likes things just so, whereas Marine is quite chaotic, but they completely adore each other. It was incredibly attractive, the fact that they’re still having fun despite being older. Marine is menopausal and Antoine has got prostate problems, but they still obviously have a good time. I felt that was a really fantastic, fresh voice.

Does Marine enjoy chipping in with the crime solving?

Yes, she’s genuinely intrigued by it all, she laps it up. She’s a criminal psychology professor, and she and Antoine are intellectual equals. They love what they do, and one of the things that connects them is that they can sit down over a coffee for hours just playing out scenarios, working out the minutiae of what could have driven somebody to commit a certain crime.

Each member of the team in Murder in Provence brings something different to the table and it’s so interesting how the psychology comes into play. Every single murder is terribly complex and there are lots of brilliant red herrings, but in this show, nobody commits a crime because they are just intrinsically bad. Invariably they are despairing or cornered, or misunderstood. So psychological vocabulary has entered into this thriller. Marine sees things from an academic point of view, but ultimately, she’s passionate about detail and the unravelling of the crime.

Is she a classic chic French woman?

Well, I definitely loved her costumes! The producers had very strong ideas about the palette of Marine’s wardrobe and the fact that it should be very unapologetic, with really strong colours and strong shapes. Even though she’s an older woman, she is very much like other French older women, in that there is still a virility to her.

We’re only catching on to that slowly in Britain, but it’s something France has done well for years, the idea that older people are still allowed to be sexy, sensual and available. In England you still wonder to a certain extent about what you can get away with – having had two children, am I allowed to show my naked back? Of course, you’re allowed! So Marine’s wardrobe is deliberately happy and bold. Roger’s suits are beautifully cut too, everyone looks brilliant, it’s part of the atmosphere of the show – it should all have a delicious quality to it.

How long have you been friends with Roger?

I feel like I’ve known him forever, but I first met him back in 2011 when we did a show about the Titanic and we played a husband and wife, reading testimonials from real-life survivors. Then we were lucky enough to win Olivier Awards on the same night and we ended up being thrown together in a particular circle. And then we did two productions of a play called The Moderate Soprano together.

I suppose we found a chemistry that we both loved. It’s a bit like throwing a ball back and forth and realising it’s coming back harder and faster, it’s great when you find people like that, who you can play with properly. Our relationship has a foundation of shared humour, real friendship and respect for each other’s work, but he will tell me what he thinks about what I’m doing in a scene and vice versa. We love working together and if you’re lucky enough to meet people that you get on with both onstage and offstage, and you have very similar taste in work, then you want to hold onto that. We’re both passionate about comedy and he’s just a glorious human being.

Did you enjoy acting opposite Patricia Hodge as Marine’s mother Florence?

Yes, my husband has worked with her a few times, but this is the first time I’ve acted with Patricia and I think she’s the secret weapon of the whole show! She’s such a brilliant actress, with great understanding of comic timing. Florence is an unbelievable gossip: Provence is a small town and she’s the kind of woman who is in everybody’s business, and has an opinion about every neighbour. I don’t know there are many people who could deliver her lines like Patricia does, she’s so dry. It was such a joy to spar with her as Marine and Florence!

How would you describe the relationship between Marine and Hélène?

They’re both quite unconventional women, and there’s a huge mutual respect there, they’re both very good at what they do. I hope we have the chance to make more episodes to explore their friendship further, and there’s a lot more to delve into with Hélène’s background and home life. Hélène is another character in this show, who has tragedy in her past, which she doesn’t wear in an obvious way. She’s just strong, good at her job and dealing with men who probably don’t think as fast as she does.

Did you have a wonderful time filming in Provence?

Yes, Provence is really the main character of the show – that landscape, with all the colour and the extraordinary light, provides such escapism, and it was a real privilege to film in that part of the world. It was touch and go for a while whether we could film there because of the Covid situation at the time, but we had brilliant producers who made it work by the skin of their teeth, and it was really exciting.

We were only there for three weeks or so, but it’s just beautiful – the weather was amazing, the locations were extraordinary and we drank lots of rosé. There was one museum with a small bar and restaurant out the back, in a little walled courtyard with trees, and we ended up sitting there quite a lot, working our way through lots of bottles! We were still working long days, but of course French crews are much better at stopping on time. In this country we tend to say, “Can we all do another half an hour?” but the French were very clear, it was a case of “See you tomorrow!” which is a valid lesson for us all.

There’s something about filming in these beautiful places – if you think about the success of Midsomer Murders, Endeavour and Father Brown, the location can drive the atmosphere of the entire piece. And there are so many beautifully untouched places in Provence with the cobbled squares and the fountains. At the moment going on holiday is still a novelty and I hope the chance to lose yourself in these locations, with the vitamin D coming off the screen, will be very welcome.

Did you have to work on your French?

We had two weeks of rehearsals, with a voice coach telling us how to say the French words in the script, because of course when we referred to local towns or French names like ‘Florence’, we all had to make sure we were saying them in exactly the same way. It’s an odd thing, picking out French words and speaking in English, and maybe it will take a couple of episodes for people to get completely used to it, but ultimately, it’s a convention that works. It’s just like the Kenneth Branagh version of Wallander, which kept so much of the essence of Scandi noir, but in the end it’s English actors playing the parts. I hope that the same translation can work with Murder in Provence – yes, we are clearly English actors, but we’re completely saturated in this French world.

This series is really a love letter to the south of France from our writer, Shelagh, and having lived in France for many years she also wanted to show the right pace of French life in the series. She feels the British take on French culture isn’t quite right, that it’s less uptight than we give it credit for, so she wants to represent that, and a lot of the idiosyncratic things she has noticed while living there.

What do you hope the audience will most enjoy about the series?

The first port of call is Provence – there’s a real detail about the way the place has been filmed, and you absolutely get a sense of the atmosphere of those extraordinary locations. So anybody who loves France should really enjoy watching it. Secondly, I hope viewers will love these really interesting, unconventional relationships that have depth, wit and potential. I hope you feel a chemistry and an understanding, because we all completely love working together, and we hope you get a real sense of these people knowing each other for years. Then I hope the audience gets into these really complex, surprising thriller detective stories set in these stunning locations, which aren’t so dark that they leave you depressed, but they do get your grey cells churning a bit – just enough that you feel that you’ve been stretched.

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