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The Prime Suspect 1973 Interviews: Stefanie Martini is WPC Jane Tennison

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Starring Stefanie Martini (Doctor Thorne, Endeavour) as the young WPC Jane Tennison, six-part prequel Prime Suspect 1973 charts the rise of the novice police woman as she assists in her first murder investigation, revealing her first steps towards becoming the complex and formidable character that viewers have come to know.

What can you tell us about Prime Suspect 1973?
Its a prequel to the original Prime Suspect and focuses on a young Jane Tennison starting out as a WPC in a police station in Hackney. The series starts with the team discovering the body of a young girl in a car park and follows her getting involved in the case, as well as her relationships with her colleagues.

What can you tell us about Jane when we first meet her?
She’s very young, naïve doesn’t have a lot of experience, doesn’t know how everything works yet. She has the spark, determination and drive to become a really good police officer and detective, but it’s without the other knowledge she has to attain in the future. She’s eager and keen though, and puts herself forward to contribute and be involved in the case, but doesn’t really know the procedures behind everything and the right and wrong ways to do things. She’s clumsy and messy and much so`er than the previous version of the character.

Did you see any of yourself in her?
I think she’s quite close to myself in some ways in that she like so get involved in things but she’s also much straighter than me and has one direct focus and that’s her whole life. I relate to her quite strongly and I understood the things she was going through.

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We see her for the first time with her family and the contrast between her and her sister – what do we learn about her relationship with them?
I think her sister is very supportive of her in what she does but they’re like chalk and cheese. Her sister wants the more conventional female things for herself in her life. She wants to get married, have children, whereas Jane couldn’t have less of an interest in boys, gettng married, dresses or hairstyles. It’s really great to play that sort of character.

How does she react to the case when she’s thrown in the deep end?
I think she does really well. She has a few wobbles, makes a few mistakes but I think in terms of not getting emotional she’s very good at compartmentalising what’s happening, being practical and being able to think on her feet and respond in an appropriate way. She’s good at it. She’s naturally very good at it but also doesn’t yet have all the experience to back that up.

She seems to impresses everyone when she attends her first post-mortem.
It’s very much part of her to put up a front and to be hard and to see it through and not do what people expect her to do. She’s also interested in pathology and interested in the case and that’s her main drive and her main focus. Everything else goes to the side of that – it’s almost an after thought. Also because she is a woman and having to prove herself in that way, she has to have that guard up even more.

How does she react to working in such a male-dominated environment?
I think they don’t take her very seriously. They make her type up their reports for them and get them cups of tea and mop up vomit and that sort of thing. What’s good about it is, throughout the series she gets listened to more and more because of how proficient she is. It’s also because she puts her opinions forward when she’s not really supposed to and makes herself needed in the investigation when actually she should just be making tea!

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Were you a fan of the original series? Did you watch it in preparation for the role?
Yes, I was a fan of the original and have watched it before and I re-watched it after I got the part in preparation. It’s great to have that as research, but I did have to approach this role completely separately.

Is it daunting stepping into the shoes of Dame Helen Mirren?
I totally respect and admire her. I think she’s amazing and it’s great to have the opportunity to look back at the character. It’s interesting, as you don’t get to do that very often. Helen’s performances are amazing and I found it really challenging and exciting to be stepping into her shoes.

Whereabouts did you film?
We were all around London in the heat of the summer, mostly in Uxbridge. We were isolated in this police station in a department store in West London for four months so it was nice when we got to be on set in all these beautiful, amazing houses. We were by all these roads in Waterloo that look like they’ve been untouched since the 1930’s. There’s no sign of modern life there – that’s amazing. That’s when we do all of the running, car chases and stuff like that. We got to go to some really amazing sets.

Because of the challenge of being set in the 1970’s, were there challenges in where you could film?
Locations did a really good job with that. Sometimes they would have had to edit the skylines in post production. At the back of the set the car park outside the police station is a huge Odeon Cinema, which would have been edited out! They were really good, were really on it.

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What about the costumes? Did you enjoy being in the 70’s clothes?
I lived in my police uniform every single day for months. Whenever I was in something more exciting, it was really fun but Jane is a bit of a dork and I don’t think she really cares! The way I saw it, she’s not that bothered with fashion so it was great to be out of the uniform and in cool flared trousers with a big shirt and then at her sister’s wedding she wore this monstrous yet amazing white and pink meringue. So it was quite exciting to look like a different person but I really identified with the uniform, as it felt very much like her.

How do you think you would have fared as a police officer in the 1970’s?
I’d have been awful! I’m far too scaly. She has a true grit to her that I don’t have. I’m far too squeamish and not nearly practical enough. She’s very practical and logical and thinks in an interesting and clear way and I’m much more all over the place.

Prequels and remakes are hugely popular across TV and film at the moment, why do you think audiences are loving them so much?
I think the psychology behind it – we love this character, but how did they come to be like this. We’re expanding on a world that is already familiar and viewers find interesting. Also different time periods and different issues – there’s a lot to be explored in that, I think.

Prime Suspect 1973 premieres on ITV on Thursday 2 March 2017 at 9.00pm.

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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