Prime Suspect By The Numbers | The Actors on Their Roles
The Actors on Their Roles
On set during the filming of Prime Suspect 7, Stephen Tompkinson is talking about the moment when he got the all important call:
I had a call from my agent who told me they were to film the last ever Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren. And I said, 'Yes!' before she could finish. She said, 'There is a part you might be interested in...' and I said, "I meant 'Yes, I'll do it,' not 'Yes, please continue!' I mean, here is a chance to work with one of the greatest actresses there is. Taking a part in the final Prime Suspect was the quickest decision I've ever made!
I have been a fan of the series since the outset. The writing is gripping. Prime Suspect is a benchmark in terms of TV drama. And I got to work closely with Helen Mirren who was tremendous, very supportive and great fun to be around. Sean is a very dark role but I had tremendous support and Helen was more than I'd ever hoped for. She was very generous with her time -- always available to talk things through which I was so grateful for
It's hard to watch the destruction of Tennison and I think we are all rooting for her as of course we want her to leave with as much dignity as possible. She's had a brilliant career and her fans don't want her to be forgotten; they want her to go out in a blaze of glory.
But life just isn't like that and the wonderful thing about this series is that every character is flawed. They are all human and real and as we all know, that's what life is really like. This piece has attempted to remain true to the essence of what has made this series so incredible... I hope that viewers will recognize that.
Robert Pugh is no stranger to Prime Suspect; he worked on the critically acclaimed Prime Suspect 6. Looking back over the legendary series, he is quite clear on what he feels the show's success to be:
It's a number of things all coming together at the right time. Good writing, good directors, and, of course the cast has a lot to do with it, but essentially it's Helen. She is at the center of everything. She imbues it all with so much truth and honesty. Quite simply, Helen is a wonderful actress, and this character is just made for her.
Tennison has strength, vulnerability, and of course a deep intellect and all of these are fierce qualities in anyone, but in this particular woman they are the key to her success. She broke new ground in a man's field. That was the original attraction -- a character who was then placed at the center of a drama in such a way that a woman had never been before. Here was this petite woman thrown in with this butch team of blokes, and in fact, she was more butch than all of them.
Detective Alun Simms is a Welshman like myself. He's been a detective sergeant for 20 years who has been assured promotion. He's always wanted to work with Tennison, as he thinks she's the best, and they have a good, strong working relationship. As a bloke he's a bit slovenly, clumsy; he's the old fashioned type of copper, very forward and methodical. But also he relies on inspiration, instinct, and all the experience that's come over the years.
A lot of him could be me. He's very close to how I assume I would be as a policeman at this point in my life. That's in the way that he works through things, and still has the hunger to do the job well and to worry about it. Also, he gets on well with the people around him, and to be the joker and to have a laugh and all that. I suppose in certain ways I am similar to my character.
But, as we see, he too is lost. The job has destroyed both of his marriages, and he's a bit of an emotional mess, really. Life doesn't always play fair, and that's particularly the case with this profession. Eventually it's going to wear you down, no matter how resilient you think you are.
Jane is a superb copper, but she's not super human -- she's human just like the rest of us, and has failings just like the rest of us. Previous Prime Suspects have been very much about her as a policewoman, about her first and foremost as a professional. Here she is someone different, someone fallible.
To be part of something like this is a fantastic and tremendous compliment, to even be asked to be in it. And as for a fitting end, well yes, I think so. The only honest and real way to do it, given the world Prime Suspect has created for itself, is for the main character to be a casualty to her work and the world.
Robbie Gee says that playing Traynor has been one of the highlights of his career.
It's brilliant. It's just such an honor to work with someone like Helen, such a loved and acclaimed actress. It's a dream, really.
The first Prime Suspect was ground breaking, simply by the fact there was by such a strong woman. But it wasn't about blatant feminism, it was about someone who simply said, 'Yes, I am a woman in a man's world, and I will prove my worth.' And she did and, of course, continues to do so. She's removed all barriers. No matter what obstacles have been placed in front of her, she has kicked them down. She's always come out fighting, stronger and more determined than ever.
Well, we all love a hero, and she is the epitome of heroism. But there must always come a time when it looks as though our heroes may ultimately fail. This show provides moments when you are shouting at the TV willing her on, but it is the prospect that she may not go on, that she might not prevail that is exciting.
Traynor's definitely a support to Tennison. Our characters have built a strong and solid relationship over the years. As a result, no matter how she tries hides it, he can still see that she's coming apart. It's because of that friendship, that relationship, and that history, that he is able to steady the ship as it's starting to falter so to speak. He is quite a straight character, and it's that reliability that helps.
In Prime Suspect 7 Brendan Coyle has been promoted. In playing DCS Mitchell, the actor is not only playing the highest ranking cop of his acting career, but perhaps the most straight laced. Of his role Brendan says:
We had a nickname for him on set which was 'New Labor Cop.' It's a reflection of his corporate mentality, as opposed to that of a cop who has come from the streets.
He's a particular breed of policeman who is more media savvy, more public image savvy than streetwise like Tennison or even Simms. He's that kind of corporate cop who has been fast-tracked into a position of responsibility quicker than most and is still relatively young. However, he does have an authority about him and is more than able to handle the troops. Mitchell is highly capable of throwing it about a bit if needs be!
Prime Suspect is iconic. The scripts are always really hard hitting, and this one is no different. There are so many strands running through this story; the crime at the center of it certainly, the process of solving that crime, which is fascinating and which keeps you guessing. And then of course, you have this great personal crisis and professional crisis running in tandem.
Taking on this storyline was very brave of Helen Mirren and the writer, Frank Deasy, and utterly uncompromising. What happens to this character from the outset is just extraordinary and completely shocking.
Helen is a real team player, a company member, and so brave about what it is she wanted from our scenes. She is extraordinarily easy to work with and very popular on set.
As you know, I get to be Jane Tennison's boss, and on my very first day I had to come in, assume status and give her an absolute bollocking. But it was also her job to give me that status, which she did, and those scenes worked. I had to come in and be quite horrible to this woman, and rightly so because she is messing up, and I'm quite good at bollocking!
Speaking to Gary Lewis about his role as Tony Sturdy, it is clear the actor has been moved by his storyline:
To me this is more than just a simple whodunit; it's also a look at people's lives. In some families there is an enormous gulf between the generations, and that's very much reflected in Tony's situation. It's fair to say that his life is pretty crap and he's finding it difficult to come to terms with his situation.
His daughter Sallie's life is in some ways a continuation of his false hopes and dreams. The emotional fallout from her death reflects his inability and guilt about losing touch with his daughter on a much deeper level. I see it as quite a political piece to be honest, in the sense that it is about the state of how things are for so many families today. This makes the film so much richer than a simple murder story. Frank Deasy's script and the film are so insightful and up to date.
I don't really talk about my work much when I'm working on it. But after I finished I talked about it and as soon as I said 'Prime Suspect' then everyone I know said, 'My God! Helen Mirren -- she's just fantastic!' And she is. She is just such a supportive and very generous actor. She's so intelligent, and was everything I could have hoped for and more.
Phillip Martin, the director, was also very open to suggestion, even though he was carrying all these different strands in his head. There always seemed to be a desire with Helen and Phillip to see what else they could get out of it -- which then gives you the freedom to explore and sometimes improvise a little.