Matthew “Ollie” Ollerton is one of the stars of new Channel 4 documentary series SAS Who Dares Wins which begins on Channel 4 on Monday 19 October, here he talks about how he came to take part in the show and his own special forces background.
What was your role in special forces, and for how long?
I spent 6 years in the Special Forces in a number of roles ranging from Maritime Counter Terrorism, to VIP Body Guard to Mountain Warfare. I also qualified as pilot of a submersible mini submarine, the Swimmer Delivery Vehicle (SDV).
What work do you do now?
A couple of years ago, I came up with a business idea to bring Special Forces Selection and training into the corporate world. Foxy, one of the other DS and I have been working on a business model called Breakpoint, aimed at the corporate world. Merging military Special Forces operational planning and tactics will teach teams to work as a synchronised unit, not only streamlining individual performance but also focusing on team collaboration to achieve their ultimate business goals.
Why did you decide to take part in this programme?
I also love the selection process and the individual it delivers post-selection. I was also interested by the challenge of taking 30 civilians with minimal military experience through an eight-day selection process. This was very much a challenge for both the 30 recruits and the Directing Staff. I doubted very much from the start that any would get through.
What do you remember about your own training?
Seeing as I decided to put myself through selection twice which took the best part of two years I remember a great deal of my own training. What people should understand though is that Selection is very much the basics. The real training starts once you pass the process and continues throughout your career. From complex weapon systems to learning new skills and languages in varied environments, together with fine-tuning old skills to continually improve your personal and team performance when not on operations, these are a way of life for a Special Forces Soldier.
What was the toughest bit of all?
From a personal point of view the toughest part for me would have to be getting two days from the end of my first selection and knowing I had to come back and do it all again. 10 months of training for nothing not to mention the preparation. Secondly on my second selection early on in my ankle was so badly damaged I was in tears on the hills phase but I got through, I was determined and it was now or never, mind over matter!
Did you have any misgivings subjecting the recruits to such agonies? Or is there a perverse enjoyment to be had?
It wasn’t a case of enjoyment; we had an arduous task at hand not only for us as DS but also in respect of the history and representation of Special Forces Selection. Selection is a gruelling process that is passed by few men, we had to replicate and present to the best of our ability. We respected all that had the determination to put themselves forward and feel that was mutual from the recruits.
At a first glance could you tell which recruits might succeed or fail?
Selection requires strong mental ability, which takes time to asses and evaluate. So many aspects have to be considered, such as ability to fit in and making clear, concise, good decisions when under extreme duress. On first initial glance you can only make this assumption based on physical ability so only those that looked out of shape would highlight such an assumption.
Did you go easier on them, because they were civilians, and they aren’t trying out for the SAS?
This process was only eight days and although it represented aspects of Special Forces selection, it fails to come close to the real thing. However after saying that, in relative terms based on the fact these guys have not had the benefit of a prior military career it presented extreme challenges throughout.
What was the standard of recruits like?
The standard in general was good, of course you get the initial shedding of guys who realise this is not for them, but once we got to the core of men focused and motivated we were continually impressed. Their personal motivation interested me; it wasn’t love or money and they certainly won’t find themselves in the Special Forces, so based on that I was impressed without a doubt.
Obviously, as instructors, you have a duty of care to the recruits. Was that at the forefront of your mind?
Prior to filming the recruits underwent rigorous medical checks and this continued daily. Safety and welfare was a major factor throughout. At all stages we had safety processes and protocols in place. Without doubt it was in the forefront of our minds, we’re experts at seeing when danger is evolving so at no time did we take our eye away from the safety and wellbeing of all involved, including ourselves.
What precautions did you take to ensure their welfare?
The recruits were monitored constantly whilst on rig and off rig. We looked for any emotional and behavioural changes that would signify a specific concern of any individual. When this happened we intervened to establish the cause and action required if necessary.
Did you have favourites among the group?
I had a few favourites amongst the group, each of whom had individual qualities that shone through regardless of what was thrown at them. There was one in particular that shone for me, and all DS and most of the crew knew who that was from the outset. I did give him some encouragement to which I was pleased to hear him state to me post process that it was this encouraged pressure throughout that got him as far as he went.
What qualities does a potential recruit for the SAS need?
As mentioned prior physical fitness is a pre-requisite, however without strong mental ability you will fail. Recruits will need determination, the ability to think outside the box, a quick thinker with decisive judgment, self-motivated and self-confident. Humour in adversity, quick witted and strong willed. A team player able to communicate at all levels with the courage to pursue regardless of circumstance.
Did this experience make you want to return to that sort of life?
In many ways I haven’t left that way of life, my experience has opened doors into many tasks and projects alongside former colleagues. The simple answer is No! Although I miss my time back with SF, as my life evolves it’s merely due to me forgetting the hardships that SF life presents. The show did bring back some good memories for me and was at times emotional. I look back in awe of my achievement but my future is constantly evolving with no regrets.
SAS: Who Dares Wins starts on Monday 19th October at 9pm on Channel 4
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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