Interviews

Dawn French talks The Trouble With Maggie Cole


Where did the idea for The Trouble with Maggie Cole come from?

I was due to write The Trouble with Maggie Cole as my next novel. Sophie (Clarke-Jervoise, Exec Producer, Genial Productions) came down to see me as a friend and asked me what I was doing. So I told her the story and she said, ‘Please don’t write that as a novel. Please can we have it for telly?’ I told her I hadn’t any time to write it for telly and she said, ‘I know exactly the right person.’ And she was right.

What do you think Mark Brotherhood (writer) captures so well about village life in his scripts?

Pretty much everything. He’s looked at all the little corners. There’s a bit of darkness in how everybody responds to each other and how you can be entrenched in your thinking with very little knowledge about the subject. And his dialogue is just very good. It’s very character led. It’s hard to learn because he writes a lot of broken sentences, like natural speech. But that’s a good thing. It’s good to have a challenge.

Can you explain the dramatic event that kicks off each episode?

There is a montage at the beginning of each episode. There has been an accident in the village. We don’t quite know who is involved in it and as each week goes by we find out a little bit more about who is involved and the series of events leading up to it. The accident kind of draws all the various characters together. So that’s a bit of tension that runs through it all.

What sort of person is Maggie?

She’s got a high opinion of herself. Let’s put it that way. But I think she’s the kind of person who is like that because she actually is the opposite. She has a low opinion of herself. She feels like she doesn’t matter very much. When Maggie is asked what she does she describes herself as an historian. She’s not really an historian. She’s a person who runs the gift shop at the castle. She does know the history of the castle. In the past she worked at the school where her husband Peter is the headmaster.

I’m imagining she probably had Karen’s job, the headmaster’s secretary who Vicki Pepperdine plays. Then when Peter became HM she took the gift shop job and regards that as a sort of promotion. In her own mind she’s got a job that matters.

It’s all about that for Maggie. Maggie wants to matter. So, when she is asked if she would like to do an interview for local radio she couldn’t think of anything better. It ticks all the boxes. Suddenly someone is listening to her. Somebody thinks that she matters. In fact they don’t think that. The journalist does not think that she matters at all.

He thinks that she is the conduit to the gossip in the village and indeed she is. What happens to Maggie is a kind of moral dilemma that any of us could get into. All of us tell stories. All of us enjoy elaborating. All of us are open to flattery and hubris. In a way Maggie is betrayed by the journalist but she also led herself into that. So, there is some responsibility for her to take.

Before all that happens though Maggie has got a funny, lovely, ordinary marriage. She and Peter have a son who is married and a slightly spiky daughter-in-law. They’re just a family muddling along. But Maggie is somebody who interferes. She’s got a need to control things. I think many of us will recognise that. She was born and raised in this village so she knows all the families and knows everybody’s business and she likes it like that.

Have you met many Maggies in your time?

Yeah, I think we’re all a bit Maggie, to be honest. Human beings have told stories since the beginning of time. You don’t need to tell stories to survive. It’s not food or water or shelter or clothing. And yet we’ve all done it because it intrigues us. It wakes our imagination up and it connects us. But the danger with the elaboration of stories is the damage you can cause by doing that. We live in a society where reputation is all. And Maggie carelessly throws people’s reputations down the toilet, because she’s had a few too many gins and because she’s been flattered.

Where it used to be possible to say that ‘today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper’ that’s now not the case with social media.

Absolutely. And in fact a small story, which it could have remained and just done a bit of damage in that village and then been mended somehow, because of social media it starts to trend. It becomes more national and it’s more embarrassing for everybody involved. She wouldn’t have wished that and she wouldn’t have considered that. None of us know now what we’re getting into until you’re in it.

How do you feel about social media?

I’m not really on it except for Twitter. Jennifer (Saunders) encouraged me to go on that. She said I’d have fun on it because there’s lots of good jokes. That’s really why I do it. I’m also aware that there is some of my work that is hard to let people know about. There’s an in-built system. When you write a novel or do a play or a one-woman show there is no such thing. You need to let people know. To be able to tell the very people who have got an interest in you – that’s all it is, an immediate connection to people who are interested in you – I like that. But I wouldn’t ever want to be just selling on social media. I think if you’re going to be on it you need to entertain people a bit or connect properly.

Once Maggie has made her terrible mistake she’s very quick to try and rectify the situation, isn’t she?

Well, she’s a good-hearted person actually. I think that’s a key thing. Being a gossip doesn’t make you a dreadful person. We’re all gossipers. It’s how you handle the gossip and how you handle the aftermath. If you’re quick to be contrite. She does have a moment of shock and pride, if you like, where she is a bit numb. But then she very quickly realises that she has to apologise and she does with the help of her husband who guides her with that. He’s a teacher so he just says, ‘You have to make it right with everyone.’

Thus begins her pilgrimage to the door of each person to apologise. And like any good drama, and certainly like any good gossip, there’s a bit of truth in some of the stories and a lot of untruth. In some cases she finds out the story is ten times as big or it is about something completely different.

Some people it genuinely helps them. Not that she set out to do that but that is the result. For others it is just a massive learning curve for them and for Maggie about how people are perceived.

Are you a big believer in forgiveness? Are we too quick to condemn these days?

We are. I can be just like anyone else and be quick to condemn. But I know we all know in our hearts that there is no future to anything unless you can forgive. It’s just some things are harder to forgive than others. Very personal things are very hard to forgive. Being misrepresented can feel very closely akin to bullying. That’s the feeling of being helpless and needy and all the things you hope you aren’t ordinarily. Certainly a big untruth or a big injustice about you out there publicly is a horrible thing to have to deal with.

You and Julie Hesmondhalgh feel like a casting match made in heaven. How has this never happened before?

I know. That’s the good thing about this trade actually. At moments like this these worlds can collide. You’ve admired somebody from afar and thought, ‘I love that actress. I’m sure they’d be great. I like their politics. I like their attitude. I like everything that they’ve done. I’m sure I’d like that person’. Then you need to find a best friend for a part and you think, ‘Oh God, wouldn’t it be great if it was her?’ I was really chuffed when she said yes.

You tweeted your love for Vicki Pepperdine’s Dear Joan and Jericha podcast with Julia Davis. Had you been wanting to work with her for a while?

Absolutely. I love Vicki, I’ve seen so much of her work and it is so good. She is a supreme funny woman. She is also a great actress. Dear Joan and Jericha is just utterly hilarious. I didn’t know about it until we started making The Trouble with Maggie Cole. Then I listened to it in one big splurge. Bloody hilarious. Again with Julia Davis. How marvellous is she? We are living in a very rich time for women in comedy. And for women generally in this trade. We are spoilt for choice. We of course need more. We need to come to a time where usually the men who are in charge of channels don’t say things like, ‘Well, we’ve got a double act that are women. We don’t need any more.’ You don’t say that about the male double acts. There isn’t a quota for them. We need to stop being token and just be plentiful until we are ruling the world.

Maggie likes an 80s tune and you’ve played your fair share of 80s popstars. Do you have a favourite? Madonna? Bananarama? Bros?

That Bros documentary did take me back to our one when we did them (for Star Test on French & Saunders). The unfortunate thing is you are talking to the wrong person because I have a very bad memory, which anyone who knows me will attest to. I can’t remember anybody or anything I’ve ever done. All I can say is that when Mark Brotherhood wanted me to always have Aha playing on the radio for Maggie that slightly rankled because that was not my taste particularly. But I think it is his taste and he does get to have those little prerogatives every now and again. I remember a lot of 80s music being awful and a lot of it being brilliant. I did go and see the Bananarama girls on tour last year when Siobhan (Fahey) was back and that was wonderful.

Have there been stunning locations on this that you’d not visited before?

We’ve filmed on beaches that I went on as a kid like Mothecombe. Launceston Castle is somewhere I also spent time as a kid. We did film in a lot of places that are my manor. Of all the cast I am the one who does know this area a bit. But there are still little bits in Cargreen where I had never been down a particular road. There was a whole little village there that I had never seen. So that was exciting.

If Maggie survives would you like to explore the villager’s lives more in a second series?

Oh definitely. Our little family has worked very well together. I liked working with these actors very much. I love Mark Heap such a lot. It’s a very natural relationship. I knew it would be. It’s very easy to play his wife and see how a marriage would be with his character.

What we need to decide is what would happen next in the village to authentically explode it again? So that’s exciting. Funnily enough Sophie ran one of Mark’s ideas passed me the other day and I said, ‘Oh my God, that happened up the road from where I live.’ So that felt truly authentic. I know the people who it happened to. I love that when you can verify something. I’m really happy with The Trouble with Maggie Cole. It feels unique. The tone is quite particular. It’s drama, it’s comedy, but it’s got a big, big pulsing heart at the centre of it with true friendships and proper relationships.

The Trouble With Maggie Cole | Wednesday’s on ITV at 9:00pm starting 4 March

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Interviews

Noughts + Crosses: Jack Rowan Interview

The much anticipated adaptation of book one of Malorie Blackman’s award-winning young adult series Noughts + Crosses premieres on 5 March on BBC One, here star Jack Rowan talks about the series.

Did you feel a connection with your character, Callum McGregor?
Callum is so complex, I connected to him on many levels. He’s ambitious to better his life and is desperate to do some good in the world rather than sitting and simply hating authority.

He’s such a complex character, but one thing about Callum that remains true, even when he turns dark, is that there is a good and innocent boy in there. Life can throw things at you but you fight to remain true to yourself. Callum always wants to try to make a difference and it is constantly being thrown back in his face. Throughout the story he is this good guy who also has the influence of his more radical brother and his father’s politically active past weighing on his mind.

When you pick up our story Callum has made it into the final round of cadets who are hoping to join Mercy Point, a military organisation run by the Crosses, the ruling race. Callum is a Nought. This has never before been allowed so it is an incredible moment, although some Noughts are against it. Callum feels like he has a purpose, and depending on how well he performs maybe next year there will be more Noughts joining – and slowly and surely the world might change and he will have been a part of that, which is his driving force.

Can you describe the moment Callum sets eyes on Sephy, after many years?
One night Callum steps in as a waiter to help out his mother, Meggie (Helen Baxendale) at an extravagant party at the Hadley House, where she is the housekeeper. It is there that he sees this beautiful girl who turns out to be his old childhood friend, Sephy (Masali Baduza).

However Sephy happens to be not just a Cross, but the Home Secretary’s daughter. There is a lot of chemistry between these two, and soon enough they begin their forbidden relationship. A lot happens in this story but it always comes back to Callum and Sephy’s beautiful but dangerous love story.

What was it like working with Masali Baduza?
I got the part and then I read with a few final actresses for the role of Sephy, but there was one actress they were flying over from South Africa so I was very intrigued. Then we read together and there was undeniable chemistry.

Masali and I get along great and I did my best to make her feel welcome in my home, in London. So when we came to South Africa it was the first time we were meeting everyone else, but because we had each other it helped us to not feel completely alien. It was nice for us both to have a friend and someone we knew by our side, especially as this is my first time away for a job and my first time in Africa, and I hadn’t realised how much I would miss my family and friends.

In terms of the work, we bounce off of each other well and embrace each other’s ideas and so anything can happen and it will never be wrong. I really enjoy working with her.

Noughts + Crosses presents an alternate version of London, where 800 years ago history was changed dramatically from how we know it and Apricans ruled Albion. What was it like inhabiting this world?

I enjoyed wearing Callum’s wardrobe. I want it all for myself. It’s great in these crazy high temperatures as it’s a lot of loose, thin shirts.

As Callum has nothing against the Crosses he wears African prints and colourful shoes, because that is the fashion that would be in the high street shops, and being a Nought boy wearing that clothing would help him stick out less. Some young Noughts want to make a statement and decide to wear all black, like his older brother Jude (Josh Dylan), who wears gothic-style boots and only wears black and grey.

When you’re walking down the street in this world you realise you stick out even more if you do that. It is a rarity to find, to buy and to wear the plain, grey clothing worn by people like the members of the Liberation Militia, a radical organisation fighting for Nought rights, who are clearly trying to make a statement.

What is the relationship like between Callum, and his older brother Jude, who is more radicalised?
Even though Jude is older, he acts at times like the younger brother. Callum has his head screwed on a little more and is able to think with his brain more than his heart. Callum is strategic and smart where Jude just decides that hate and anger are the right way to go.

The cast of the McGregor family all came from different parts of the UK – although we were all part of this fictional family, all with different stories, we flowed as a family – we have real chemistry. I really enjoyed filming in the McGregor house – that’s more like where I’m from in real life, I like the rough and ready stuff, it feels true to who I am.

Were there any stand-out moments from the shoot?
In Cape Town there’s a place called the Chrysalis Academy, which is where we did the military training before we starting filming. There was me and 100 other guys chanting and doing something that looks similar to a Haka, a war cry or dance, and we are staring at the mountains with the sun shining and all of a sudden a family of baboons turned up and we had to stop and run inside. I liked to think they were curious about what we were chanting and came to have a look. It was that moment I realised I was a long way from London. That was a stand-out moment and was an experience to tell my family.

Within the story, Callum is one of the very few Noughts to make it into Mercy Point, but when we were actually doing the military training I was also one of the very few white people there, and it ended up being about four white people and around 100 black people. Our stunt co-ordinator called us by our character names and had the actors come forward to explain their roles – it was quite method in the approach. Everyone was informed that in the story they would not like these Noughts and everyone fully embraced that within the training, so we, the actors playing Noughts, were isolated deliberately and it was good for me to take away that experience.

Being from London and being white, it was the first time I have ever experienced that feeling of isolation, of feeling alien, and it was an important experience to take forward. It was also really hard on a physical level as I am not used to running in that heat or on sand, so it all helped immerse me in that word.

Tell us about taking on a character who negotiates topics like injustice and racism.
I like the fact that I am able to play a part that is impactful and important. I relish doing meaningful work that makes people think, that gets a reaction. I enjoy the thrill and the buzz of being involved in something controversial. I am very proud to be a part of this story – it’s a unique take on something that is still relevant in some parts of the UK and in the world now.

I’m happy to be involved in something that will resonate with people and perhaps cause a conversation. We are presenting a modern-day Britain that has been colonised by Africa – it’s fascinating.

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Interviews

Annabel Scholey talks The Split Season 2

At the end of series one Nina was in a relationship with Rex, how has that developed?

We leave her in a disconcertingly calm place at the end of series one, and so I suppose it’s not very surprising that we start the next series and she’s not in a calm, settled place anymore. She’s in a classic Nina situation again. Rex is not in the picture, and while we don’t find out loads about what happened, it’s clear it isn’t Nina’s fault that it’s broken down. She started to trust him and fall into that relationship and then she was let down.

So at the beginning of series two we find her in quite a similar place, in that she’s dating… well, not so much dating just sort of sleeping around really!

It’s fair to say that Nina’s behaviour in series one was increasingly self-destructive – has she got things more under control?

No, not in any way! She hasn’t learned any lessons. She goes on a massive learning curve in this series and she really does become a different version of herself by the end of this series. She has a lot of big, life things to tackle that sort of shock her into really dealing with her issues. Obviously, she has a drink issue and then a sex issue and she steals ‘just because’. And so, while we go back into all of that and you see her struggling again, this time she has to face everything.

Having lived with this character for one series already, what were you excited to explore for a second series?

I was interested to explore her vulnerability actually, because it’s really good fun playing somebody who’s self-destructive and a bit wild. And I always get to play these parts, even though I’m literally the biggest square ever! Nina has a ballsy lawyer facade and she seems to have everything. She’s got this amazing career, her own apartment, all the money she could ever wish for. And then you start to see the really vulnerable woman underneath, who is starting to face all the demons she’s had her entire life.

At the beginning of the series, we are introduced to a new character called Tyler who has joined NHD, his arrival comes at a time when Nina is clearly under pressure, what effect does this have on her?

Well, she can’t stand him. She’s transitioning from being at Defoe’s, to merging with Noble and Hale, and he comes in as a sort of head-of-the-merger kind of guy. He’s watching everybody and looking to see how productive everybody is and how they’re using their time and quite quickly, obviously, sees that Nina is late nearly every day and hungover nearly every day. So, he’s just on her, he pops up everywhere!

He’s always in her way and there’s a real chemistry right from the beginning, but it’s not a good chemistry, it’s a ‘I hate you’ kind of chemistry, which is amazing to play. That was really fun. So, she hates Tyler because he just will not let her get away with anything. Basically, Tyler can see her. He sees through all her fronts that she puts on.

The Defoe women were all facing personal crises at the end of series one, has that brought Hannah, Nina, Rose and Ruth closer together or further apart?

It flings them further apart for most of the series, actually. And there’s a real sense that they don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives, apart from Rose. We know what’s going on with Rose, she’s the one who always communicates everything, but certainly Hannah and Nina have got major crises happening which they are keeping them very much to themselves.

Can you tell us about some of the cases Nina encounters throughout the series?

The one that comes to mind straight away was a really interesting one about adoption. Two elite athletes, Olympians, are adopting and it’s an interesting story as they’ve been through the wringer with the process. How difficult it is to adopt is something I don’t think is spoken about enough.

Abi creates such beautifully authentic characters, what is it about Nina that audiences can relate to?

I think the fact that she’s completely imperfect. The feedback I got from series one was that people particularly loved that party, the dinner party scene. People love a disastrous dinner party! People enjoy that about Nina, that she’s not perfect and she doesn’t pretend to be perfect. She is an absolute car crash. I think people enjoy watching people messing up, don’t they? Because then it makes them think ‘oh god, I do that’ or it makes them feel better about themselves.

Has working on The Split changed your view of marriage and divorce?

I don’t think so, because when you get into your 30s, your perspective changes anyway. Abi highlights it all so well though, and Stephen and Nicola play it so beautifully. It’s heartbreaking to see how brittle it can be. The mistakes that one person, or any of us can make, and how that affects everything. The Split highlighted that fragility for me.

The Split airs Tuesday nights at 9.00pm on BBC One.

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Interviews

Rufus Sewell on The Pale Horse

The Pale Horse is the latest in the BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. It begins soon on BBC One, here Rufus Sewell reveals all about his starring role in the three parter.

Tell us the story of The Pale Horse.
The Pale Horse is actually an old village pub where three women who are rumoured to be witches live. There are a series of deaths that are inexplicable until they seem to be brought together by a list of names found in a dead woman’s shoe. Mark’s name is on this list with a question mark after it, and he doesn’t know why. In his past he lost his first wife and that haunts him. When she died he remarried very quickly after which was his way of coping with grief. That is certainly how some of his friends see it. This is the story of tracking down what’s behind these murders, why they’re connected and how and why they are connected to him.

Can you describe your character?
Mark Easterbrook is a man of his time. He comes from a very comfortable background, is used to wealth and has extremely good taste. He works in high-end antiques and has his own, very large store in a smart part of town. He likes flash motorcars and is a society person and is relatively well known. He has a certain confidence about him, which carries him quite far. He got married quickly to a very young and beautiful woman. To all intents and purposes he is someone who makes his life look good from the outside, but on the inside it’s a different story. He has a side to him that you wouldn’t necessarily spot.

What drew you to the script?
It has a viciousness to it, a dry, witty nastiness which appealed to me. It also has a surprisingly dark turn. In terms of genre, it’s a little bit indistinct. You may think that it’s one thing, and it may or it may not turn out like that. I was really surprised by where it went. I’ve always loved watching Agatha Christies and I’d never made one, so I was delighted to have the script sent to me.

Mark Easterbrook is a man of his time. He has a certain confidence about him, which carries him quite far. To all intents and purposes he is someone who makes his life look good from the outside.

Which scenes have you found particularly memorable to do?
Filming scenes with Henry Lloyd-Hughes has brought out such a different aspect of my character because we have a bit of fun together – our characters go out on the town together. It’s a very different feel with those scenes and they were great fun to do. All of the actors are so fantastic – Kaya, Georgina and the three brilliant women playing the witches! And Bertie Carvel was really wonderful, he’s a completely different character to who Mark Easterbrook is.

Which other characters do you find intriguing?
Hermia is an interesting character because you meet her at a certain stage in their relationship, where it’s very acidic between them and there is a lot of tension. You can tell that she’s lonely and haunted. They’re very separate, but there is a desire there, on at least one of their parts, to make it closer. Kaya was wonderful to work with.

How do you think the show will feel different to a usual whodunit?
It’s like reading something that’s a cross between An Education, The Wicker Man and Jacob’s Ladder. There’s an element to this story that is really quite surprising. It reminded me of a phrase Hitchcock once made about one of his film scripts: “It’s a nice, nasty little piece.”

What has Sarah Phelps brought to this adaptation?
Sarah has eeked out the underlying energy, the twists and the turns that this story takes slightly more than in the original. People think they know this character but I don’t think they will after they’ve seen this. Sarah’s dialogue and scene descriptions are fantastic; it’s a delicious read for actors. It’s so well written.

What’s it been like to be transported back to 1961?
England in this period is new to me – it feels like a different world. It’s an exciting period to explore with great suits! It’s interesting for me because I come from a very different background to Mark and I really enjoyed slipping into that. I often find myself playing characters like this when the truth is so very different.

What is it like being directed by Leo Lonsdale?
This has been a great experience and quite intense in a way because we had to start with really big scenes. I like that because if you start with an incredibly important scene on your first day, day two is easier than usual because you’re already really blooded. I liked working with Leo the director very much, I could trust her. She’s really young and really talented.

Why should people tune in to The Pale Horse?
It appears to do everything it says on the tin, but look closer and it is breaking the mould. It’s set in hip London of the early 1960s which I don’t think audiences ever really associate with this genre or Agatha Christie, so it’s familiar yet strange. What I’ve always loved about Agatha Christie is the misfits she writes; she creates these wonderful, central characters who are both odd and so wonderful.

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