Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Article: "Keeley Hawes on Ashes to Ashes"

"Keeley Hawes on Ashes to Ashes" by Benji Wilson. The Telegraph, April 17, 2009.

    Match the copper with his office: an empty whisky glass with greasy fingermarks all over it, a framed certificate for the police Armed Response Training Course and a film poster on the wall for a film called Wild West with the tagline, ‘The maverick sheriff clears it up.’

    The name on the door is ‘DCI Gene Hunt’, obviously. Outside is the desk of DI Alex Drake, complete with Silver-Reed typewriter and a couple of Betamax tapes.

    This is the Ashes to Ashes set, the Ground Zero for Eighties fetishism.

    If big calculators, rotary-dial phones and overflowing ashtrays are your thing, welcome to heaven. It’s wonderful to behold, although you wouldn’t want to live in it: 2009 is cleaner and tidier, and less beige.

    But then, as Marshall Lancaster (who plays junior copper Chris) walks past in a stonewash jacket, flecked trousers and slip-ons, remarks, ‘I bet at some point we’ll look back to the credit crunch with rose-tinted specs.’

    The first series of Ashes to Ashes ran riot with the Eighties theme. Detective Drake (Keeley Hawes) got shot in 2008 and woke up in 1981, becoming part of Hunt’s ends-justify-means police squad. Her series-long mission was to save her parents from their death, and then get back to her daughter in the present. But the show was just as much about the soundtrack, the brick-size Walkmans and the legwarmers.

    This time round, according to 33-year-old Londoner Hawes, things are getting serious. ‘The main storyline is about police corruption,’ she says. ‘It goes right the way through, so rather than it being about Alex trying to save her parents it’s a storyline that actually affects everybody.’

    It follows a pattern set by the show’s time-travelling predecessor Life on Mars, where in its second series, buoyed by its popularity, the writers started to explore weightier themes such as racism in the force. Now it’s 1982, so expect Thatcher and the Falklands to come to the fore. And the odd musing on the very nature of existence.

    ‘The line is beginning to blur between Alex’s reality and what she thought was her reality,’ says Hawes. ‘She’s starting to question whether she’s actually from here [1982] and in fact her other life [in 2008] is a dream. You have to keep up a bit.’

    Not bad for a prime-time cop show. Hawes says that the breadth of the subject matter is in keeping with the broad nature of the audience, which averaged more than 6 million last series. Some people, she says, watch Ashes to Ashes to gawp at the hair-dos, others to engage with subtler themes.

    ‘If the writers had gone straight in to more serious issues like police corruption from the outset, people would have said, “Where’s the fun?”’ she says. ‘The Eighties is a lot of fun to look at. There’s a lot of fashion and a lot of humour to be had from that. But there are other comments to be made. We were never going to please everybody all of the time.’

    Hawes’s arrival as Gene Hunt’s new sparring partner, following John Simm’s Seventies sojourn in Life on Mars, displeased a lot of people from the outset. Reviews of Ashes to Ashes when it began last year fĂȘted the gloriously unreconstructed Hunt once again, but criticised both the character of Drake and Hawes’s performance, often blurring the line between the two.

    ‘I don’t think I’d ever had a bad word said before, so it was very unpleasant,’ says Hawes. ‘At one point somebody had written, “It’s clear that the other cast members do not like this actress.” But their characters are supposed to not like Alex Drake when she arrives. We’re acting! The cast were all coming over to my house for lunch and I had to say, “I have got a bit upset by all of this – you do like me, don’t you?”’

    While she received encouraging letters from many women, as well as public support from Philip Glenister, who plays Hunt, most of the criticism came from men.

    ‘They didn’t like that Alex was coming in and shouting at Gene Hunt in a way they didn’t think was acceptable,’ she says. ‘I didn’t realise how tabloidy the show was either.

    In the Mirror they have pictures of him [Hunt] with his head on the Prime Minister’s body – he can do no wrong. I wasn’t aware of that. Foolishly. Otherwise I never would have gone.’

    If by ‘gone’ she means she never would have joined the show because of all the tabloid scrutiny, it has at least, she says, helped her to grow a thick skin. ‘Now I think it was probably one of the best things that can happen to me because nothing can ever get to me again,’ she says. ‘The worst thing that can happen, happened.’

    And it’s Hawes who has had the last laugh: a third series of Ashes to Ashes has already been commissioned. Then, just as with Life on Mars, that will be that.

    ‘Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah [the creators of Ashes to Ashes] have always said it was a story that would last three series and then be wrapped up,’ she says.

    How it will be concluded is something that, if the denouement of Life on Mars was anything to go by, will keep the blogosphere churning for months, and then confound all expectations.

    All expectations except those of the cast, that is.

    ‘They’ve told us the whole plan, yes they have!’ says Hawes. ‘It was very exciting. We had a read-through and they just told us, basically. It was a hairs-going-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck moment because of course we all try to guess all the time. And we were all wrong.’

    Ashes to Ashes is on BBC One on Monday at 9.00pm

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