The Actors and their Roles
Geraldine McEwan as Miss Jane Marple
Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry
Simon Callow as Colonel Melchett
Ian Richardson as Conway Jefferson
Tara Fitzgerald as Adelaide Jefferson
Jamie Theakston as Mark Gaskell
Jack Davenport as Superintendent Harper
Adam Garcia as Raymond Starr
David Walliams as George Bartlett
Ben Miller as Basil Blake
Geraldine McEwan on her role as Miss Jane Marple:
I love her. I love Miss Marple. And when I was asked to play her I just felt it was... well, it sounds a bit dramatic, but I thought it really was right that I was asked to play this part. I felt it was my destiny really, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. She is still evolving for me, and she's still becoming more things to me as I discover more about her.
She's a very independent, self-sufficient person, who lives very much for the moment. She has an avid curiosity about people, and is very interested in their lives. She's not really nosy, just curious. And she's very entertained by people. She has a razor sharp mind, a high intelligence, and is very witty.
Her capacity to advise the police as to how they should solve these crimes is incredible and she's always one step ahead of them. I think that shows that Agatha Christie herself was a very witty woman.
Miss Marple does sometimes pretend to be not as sharp as she really is. She is a very warm hearted and compassionate person, so people open up and talk to her in a way that they might not to other people and this reveals things which are always very useful to her. I don't think she's cynical in any way but she does use this to a certain extent.
She has a kind of natural eccentricity that isn't remotely cultivated by her. She's such an individual person in the way she conducts her life. She's totally herself and doesn't care about extraneous things such as how she looks or what people's opinion of her are... they just don't come into her consciousness. She enjoys every minute of her existence and is not worried about getting old -- she absolutely lives in the present, which is what we would all love to achieve. This is what makes her so fascinating and endearing.
I think it's terrific that we see Miss Marple as a younger woman. The fact that she isn't married isn't necessarily because she's never had the opportunity. She did have a lover when she was younger, but he was married. She's probably had a number of relationships in the past, but has chosen not to marry. She has a very romantic side to her.
She's open to everything, to all experiences. She's as happy going around the village with her tin, collecting for the vicar's fete, as she is speeding along in an MG with one of her younger chums or dealing with somebody she knows has committed the most horrific murder. Even for the murderer she has a certain understanding and compassion. It might make her sound a bit smug but it's not that at all. She's a remarkable woman. I envy her capacity to live her life to the fullest.
I hope I will be seen as being true to Miss Marple and Agatha Christie. I feel very responsible to Agatha Christie; I always do if a writer has written a very special role, and one that has such a widespread appeal. I hope that I have got the essential qualities of Miss Marple but it's true, obviously, that my interpretation will be different from Joan Hickson's or Margaret Rutherford's. But as an actor, that's what's so fascinating and, I think, interesting for audiences. Nobody wants a cardboard cut-out or a replica of how other people have been. Ultimately, I hope that the Agatha Christie devotees will see a different Miss Marple, but one that they think is appropriate.
Joanna Lumley on her role as Dolly Bantry:
I would say Dolly Bantry is a sandwich short of a picnic! She's very enthusiastic and lives for the moment, but she's a little frustrated with her life -- Arthur's a bit of a stick in the mud. So the chance to do something exciting like going to the seaside and getting involved in a murder case is thrilling to her.
One of the strengths of Dolly's relationship with Jane Marple is that they are chalk and cheese. In real life your friends are hardly ever exactly like you. I think Dolly is just what Miss Marple needs every now and then. She's a bit of a cocktail girl, and is the kind of live spark that Miss Marple revels in. Miss Marple, on the other hand, has exactly the brains, brilliance and quietness Dolly admires.
I like the fact that Dolly wears very red lipstick, and is the type of woman who wouldn't realize that she's getting older and should perhaps tone it down a bit. She wears big clattering pearls and when she dances she feels like Ginger Rogers. She loves everything; she thinks life is great, she thinks life is hers.
Dolly hasn't been bereaved or personally involved in the most appalling series of tragedies. Some of the other characters have been touched by death quite recently and Dolly finds that, in a strange way, rather thrilling. The fact that her faintly dull but rather gorgeous husband Arthur is a suspect is both shocking and slightly thrilling to her.
I think this is the first murder she's ever really been concerned with and it's terribly exciting; she'll bore the gardening club about this for years to come, she really loves it! She'll feel her status in society has gone up a bit higher. She's not snobbish, but she's quite pleased with where she is.
I'm afraid wondering if her husband is the culprit does cross Dolly's mind -- partly wishful thinking, because the idea that Arthur would do something so exciting as to strangle a blonde and leave her on the library floor would be quite out of character for him and therefore rather sensational!
Dolly would never deceive Arthur, but dancing in Raymond's arms and flying around the floor, is a rather special moment for her. Raymond flatters her, and says she dances beautifully. I love ballroom dancing, but I was aware that as a woman from the Home Counties, Dolly would only be of a certain standard -- well, this was my excuse anyway! She's completely carried away by it. Adam Garcia is a fantastic dancer so it wasn't too difficult. Dolly's in seventh heaven -- it's a magical moment.
Dolly is a very loyal and a true friend to Jane. When I put on her clothes, I became Dolly, and I understood her. I think she's great fun and I'd love to have her as a friend of mine.
Simon Callow on his role as Colonel Melchett:
Colonel Melchett is the Chief Constable of the district -- a distinguished gentleman who takes his role very seriously. My guess is that he had a very good war as a soldier, and as a reward he was given this job. I don't think he's a career policeman by any means. He seems to belong to another era and place in time. But he's a decent man who has very straightforward ideas and motives for criminals. I know a few people like him, so I think that's how he was. But then a lot of actors could take him in a complete different way, because Christie doesn't really reveal much.
When he comes up against Miss Marple, who's completely intuitive and unconventional, and of course a woman, he's at first cross that she's on his patch. But quickly he understands that she's very smart, and then like everyone else lets her get on with things.
Superintendent Harper is clearly from a different school of policing, much more urban, sharper, and modern. Melchett absolutely resents having him around. They overcome their hostility and eventually they know that they both have to collaborate with Miss Marple because she is the one helping them solve the crime. Melchett constantly seems to be trying to recover lost ground, both with Harper and Miss Marple. He's baffled, he really doesn't know where to go with this case and he senses that she's asking all the right questions. Agatha Christie was highly successful in her own day, but I think her popularity is actually growing as there's another element to it now, that of nostalgia. I think people are rather charmed by the period in which she wrote. She doesn't have a black view of human nature. I'm sure there are others who would say she does, but I don't think she does. Her heroes and heroines are always the decent folk.
There's a lot of humor in the script -- I particularly love the ballroom scenes -- a little flash of foxtrot! In my youth I used to be a bit more exuberant in my dancing, but not anymore!
Ian Richardson on his role as Conway Jefferson:
Prior to the Second World War, Conway Jefferson is a wealthy man with a large, happy family. Unfortunately a rocket explodes close by when his son, a pilot, is home on leave. His wife, daughter, and son are all killed. He loses both legs and is in a wheelchair. This has made him a bitter and tragic figure. He isn't spiteful about it; he accepts with a certain amount of philosophy the tragedy that struck his family, but he's become a very lonely figure. His son-in-law, Mark, and daughter-in-law, Adelaide, survived the explosion, and have tried to make his life as easy as they he can, but he feels that he is impinging on their lives. So he decides that he had better pull away from them.
Jefferson doesn't fall in love exactly; he's too mature for that, but he becomes fascinated by a little dancing girl at the Majestic hotel where he takes a suite of rooms. She's a rather common little thing, but she lightens his life, and he decides to adopt her... Not only to adopt her but to also sign over money to be laid aside for her to the tune of £50,000. What Christie has done is set up a series of circumstances whereby murder is inevitable.
Jefferson is a victim of one of these circumstances and, for all his wealth, he's the most tragic figure in this story. However he is one of the nicer people that I've played. He's not an unpleasant person. It's such a change for me for to play someone nice... I'm more used to playing the ultimate slime!
Being in a wheelchair was deeply uncomfortable -- but one would do anything for art! Sitting in this specially constructed wheelchair is rather like the way you see a Hindu sitting on his haunches. My legs are tucked under me out of sight, with only the knees showing. I must say it really does look like I have actually had both my legs amputated -- it's very clever.
Although I was very young during the War, I remember my father in the Army and I can even remember the V2's flying over, which was frightening.
I didn't really need to find out any more background about Jefferson because it was all there in the text. I also plundered my own emotions as I have five wonderful grandchildren, which was perfect to use towards Jefferson's old man sentimentality towards Ruby. He knew that something serious had happened. Maybe he realized that by leaving his will to her, he could well have placed her in some sort of jeopardy. He's not a stupid man, so it may have always been lurking at the back of his mind.
He's noticed that some of the people Ruby mixes with are, in his opinion, young and wild; not necessarily a desirable crowd. After he decides to adopt her, he sees a photo fall out of her powder compact and feels betrayed -- but could that be enough for a motive?
Tara Fitzgerald on her role as Adelaide Jefferson:
Fortitude grows between Adelaide and Mark Gaskell because of their shared loss. Like a lot of women of that time, she's very strong and she's had to reinvent herself. I think there was an air of excitement, as well as universal grief and an anticipation of hope after all the devastation. The idea of a career for most women prior to the war hadn't been possible -- I think it's a fascinating period.
Agatha Christie describes Adelaide as someone who doesn't have much to say, but what she does say is very calming. I think she's accepting of her lot. She's simply a good daughter-in-law and a good mother. She's very aware Peter doesn't have a father figure so is particularly conscious of the effect the loss of his father might have on him.
Adelaide is totally financially dependent on her father-in-law. It's terribly important to her that her son is provided for. When she married into the Jefferson family she was already a widow and had her son from her first marriage, so her second husband took on quite a lot. She's anxious to keep her stability and so it could be inferred that she will stop at nothing to keep it.
The make-up and costuming for the period is quite a strict and disciplined look, although also very pretty. The make-up is immaculate with extremely red lips and nails. I think it's a beautiful style. It's very stylized, and angular. I had a marvelous make-up artist -- she's managed to give me a period look, but with a contemporary edge. I really like dressing up. I find it very exciting and part of the journey of creating a character if I have a wardrobe from a different era. It's very peculiar if you arrive on set for a contemporary piece and end up wearing clothes you'd probably wear yourself. I find it strangely dissatisfying.
When I read the book I could see that Agatha Christie had a mischievous streak to her. She defines her characters so beautifully. They are quirky and full of Englishness. She juggles and plays with you and makes you think you know what's going on, when in fact the murders turn out to be someone completely different!
Jamie Theakston on his role as Mark Gaskell:
I was in the National Youth Theatre when I was younger and acting was always very much what I wanted to do, but I enjoy the opportunity to do both acting and hosting. I have such a chaotic approach to my career path that I'm just really enjoying what I'm doing -- I feel really lucky.
I've done many huge live events, but I have to say that working alongside the likes of Joanna Lumley, Tara Fitzgerald, Simon Callow and of course Geraldine McEwan, was terrifying! Even though you know your lines back to front, there's no guarantee they'll come out! Everyone was really encouraging and I soon felt really comfortable, which quelled the nerves.
Mark Gaskell, Jamie's character in The Body in the Library, whilst seen as a hero, is slightly brooding and has a melancholic edge to him:
My character, Mark, quite rightly says, 'Alibis aren't for innocent people,' which is perhaps unwise for a suspect to say, but he doesn't care anymore. He's got to the point where he doesn't know what life has to offer him anymore. He's resigned to his fate. He has a motive, because he's absolutely broke. He's gambled it all away, and again he makes no effort to cover that up. He even has a frank discussion with Miss Marple about it. She comments that he's a disillusioned soul, which I think aptly sums him up. Mark's motto in life is to risk everything. He's given up the last few years of his life to look after Conway, but he's not sure that Conway is that grateful. He wonders if Conway wishes he hadn't survived -- but that's part of his morose outlook.
Jack Davenport on his role as Superintendent Harper:
There's a certain atmosphere between Harper and Colonel Melchett. The problem is they don't really know what's going on, but won't admit it; both are determined to outwit the other. Harper has a chip on his shoulder about being working class, and he doesn't appreciate Melchett's rather grand gestures. With their investigation constantly coming up against a brick wall, it is of course Miss Marple who makes the first breakthrough in the investigation... which frankly puts both officers very much in their place. Having said that, it's fun to play a character that doesn't seem to have a clue!
Harper is surrounded by people who are either upper- or middle-class, who treat him like an idiot. There's also the fact that he doesn't relish his authority being undermined by an old lady.
Harper really enjoys winding Melchett up, but who wouldn't? Any man who turns up in full regimental dress deserves to have his leg pulled. I think that's part of the dynamic of these two characters. There is a class-consciousness niggling between them, and Simon (Callow) and I really tried to follow that through.
Harper's not outwardly hostile to Miss Marple... in fact, as far as he's concerned, anything that takes a certain amount of power away from Melchett is fine by him! So I don't think he's particularly threatened in any way. He's just a bit baffled when she has a lead on the investigation so quickly and he feels the case has been taken out of his hands (by Melchett) despite it being his patch.
Putting on the suit immediately helped me adjust to the period -- and what a cool suit I had! There's something very innocent about it too. I think it's reminiscent of the time when we were a lot gentler to each other. The costume is helpful and makes you hold yourself in a way you wouldn't normally.
As to the appeal of Agatha Christie, I think it's probably to do with familiarity. There's something quite comforting about the people and places and about where and how the stories are set. She's an institution, and everyone loves an institution -- long live Agatha Christie!'
Adam Garcia on his role as Raymond Starr:
Raymond Starr is the tennis coach and dance instructor at the Majestic Hotel. One of his requirements is to dance with the guests and do exhibition dancing -- I've danced for about 14 years. But I haven't done so professionally for about three or four years, so it was really good to get back into it again. Thankfully, I had four exquisite dance partners so that can't be bad! I got to dance with all the girls expect for Miss Marple, which was a real shame!
Joanna Lumley and I had to dance the rumba. She's always in character, which is great as you stay focused. I really admire her ability to switch so effortlessly between herself and Dolly. She was just a delight to work with.
I'm Australian, but the opportunity to work in England again was a huge pull because I've been away for a little bit, living in Los Angeles. I also wanted to come back to somewhere that I have called home for the last ten years. Plus the director and cast are amazing, and to be part of a Miss Marple classic is great.
The costumes help very much in making the characters. With this set in the early 1950s, there's freshness about everything and a sort of sparkle. It's lovely to step back in time. I've never experienced this sort of facial hair before, however, and generally wouldn't in real life! The more you gaze at yourself in the mirror the more you start to hold yourself in a different way. It's about putting on a mask and then playing make-believe!
You're never quite sure what Raymond's up to. I like my character a lot -- he's slightly suspicious and a little untrustworthy, and fingers are pointed at him. He's a real ladies' man and makes the most of his glamorous role. There's lots of sneaking around -- but he has no bias as to who he sneaks around with! He is very much an outsider. He resents how people react to him but at the same time he tries to use it to his advantage. He's a bit of a hustler; he works for himself and gets what he wants.'
David Walliams on his role as George Bartlett:
I love to act in anything that changes people's perception of me. The casting here is very interesting -- it's an open list of different types of actors. Christie writes such good characters and there was certainly a lot of comedy to play in Bartlett. He's the world's worst where women are concerned. He's a posh bloke with a stutter who is on the lookout for a wife -- but his lack of social skills doesn't help his cause. He becomes a suspect because he was the last person to see Ruby alive. The police don't actually know whether he's just incredibly stupid or incredibly clever.
I love playing characters who are misfits and awkward and this was clearly demonstrated by my lack of skill on the dance floor. Much to my horror, I had to have dance lessons for this role. It was like, 'Ok, you need to dance badly, so let's see you.' So I danced and they said, 'Perfect, you're fine!' I had been really dreading it, as I thought I'd have to learn a routine, but clearly I couldn't make it any worse! I've obviously found my niche!
Ben Miller on his role as Basil Blake:
Basil Blake is an artistic type involved in the film business. Very much misunderstood by his neighbors -- especially Arthur Bantry -- he's regarded with some suspicion from the other villagers for his parties and his obsession with bottle blondes! Basil's rather keen to maintain his bad-boy image. He wants everyone to think that he's unconventional. He likes the attention. With his roots as an upper-class boy he plays on the shock factor and therefore presents this arrogant attitude that rather upsets his fellow villagers.
Reading the script and digesting how all the characters fitted together were the first steps I used when creating the character. But in fact I judged my character wrongly. I decided he should have big false teeth, which helped get the voice right. However, everyone else was playing his or her characters rather straight, so I had to rethink my approach! It's important not to make choices in how to play the character too early. I also looked at lots of pictures of men in the 1950s to get an idea of the clothing, as well as chatted to the art directors on set.
When I first got the call, my reaction was, 'Oh, I don't think that's me --' but as soon as I read this, I loved it. It's just very rare that something this good comes along. It was really well-written and my character looked great fun to play. I read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was younger, and one of the things that always struck me was that it was very sharp, very funny writing. There are lots of images you wouldn't necessarily expect when you're reading; it is one of the things that fascinates me.
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