It’s Ashes To Ashes week here on SFX and today we’re talking to Keeley Hawes, alias time-lost DI Alex Drake, battling to keep her sanity in the age of Thatcher, the Falklands and Fame…
Last year we saw Alex pursued by that sinister clown. Is there a similar motif this year?
No, I don’t think so. There are odd dreams and memories and things, but there’s nothing like the clown, relentlessly pursuing her in every episode. There’s a different storyline about police corruption. And we’ve also moved on a year, to 1982, so she’s been there a little longer and the line has started to blur between whether this is something that exists in her mind, or whether it’s something that actually happened. She’s been there a year, she’s settled in… she’s been shopping, thank God! She’s seeing them as real people rather than constructs, something she’s imagining or picked up from someone else’s imagination. So the whole thing really has changed for her. She’s having to think about everything in a completely different way.
Matthew Graham has said that the scripts are more textured this year. Can you see a difference?
He should know, shouldn’t he! I can see a huge difference. It is darker – I know everyone keeps saying “Oh, it’s going to be darker,” but it is. They’ve achieved that. We arrived in the ‘80s last time and the ‘80s can be very funny aesthetically, but we’ve done that, and so now we’re getting down to telling the stories and getting on with it. I’m pleased that it’s moved forward, it’s much better for all of us.
Is Alex less confident this series? She seemed to have so many certainties last year.
Yes, she’s less confident. She arrived as this know-it-all and had the rug pulled out from under her What she believed the whole way through wasn’t the truth. It wasn’t the truth that she thought it was going to be. So she’s had to take stock and have a good look at things and think “Right, it’s not that, maybe it’s something else…” But while that’s been happening, she’s been with the other characters, and she’s come to like them.
Has her attitude to Gene changed?
No! (laughs) Well, it sort of has. They finish each other’s sentences, but then they spend all day and all night together, all the time, so it’s a natural progression for that to happen.
How are you coping with fashion, 1982 style?
Well, it’s much better this time. I’ve got a new hairdo, which is so much easier I can’t tell you… It’s not all mine, either, so it’s quite nice to be able to take it off at the end of the night and go back to being normal. Much easier to deal with! One of the major criticisms of last series, which everyone did take onboard, and quite rightly, was that Alex tended to wear the same sort of thing. But that’s because she was given a box of dead woman’s clothes and she put them on, thinking “Well, I’m going to be gone any minute, I’m not about to go shopping!” So we’ve had that year inbetween where she has gone shopping! And we can enjoy that a bit more. It’s better for our designer.
Do you get to have a say in Alex’s look?
I do. It’s such a huge part of it. It’s very easy to look at it and think “Oh they’ve just been down to Berman & Nathan and said we’ll have that, that and that” but actually it goes up through lots of different levels of people, photographs get taken, they try out different looks… and then out of all those decisions you have to try and make something that is a valid wardrobe for this character, in this circumstance. It’s a going back in time drama about a policewoman who doesn’t think she’s there, and has the style of somebody in a different century… you can send yourself mad with it! And you can’t please everybody, ultimately. We sat down and said right, we do need more changes, but we mustn’t set out just to please everybody, because it would be ridiculous to have me in stuff that wasn’t right for the character. In the ‘80s it was really difficult to look good! I think they’ve pushed the boat out. In one episode I’ve got nine changes. If they don’t like that then they can fuck off! Honestly, I’m exhausted with all the getting dressed!
Was it a relief to get the first series out, given all the expectation?
It was, really. At one point there were reviews about the reviews, and I’ve never seen that happen – and hopefully I’ll never see it again. It was just bizarre, really. The whole reaction was just extraordinary. Now I just think if you don’t like, don’t watch it. Life’s too short. There’s plenty of other shit on The Living Channel!
The scrutiny must have been overwhelming
Just unbelievable. Unbelievable. I’ve never had that… this was about my work. Somebody wrote “It’s clear that the actors don’t like this woman” – and I think they were all coming over to my house that afternoon, to come and have a Sunday roast or whatever it was. And I’m like “Do you like me? You’re all in my kitchen!” It’d be so easy to start believing it, to buy into it.
Where do you think that comes from? Is it a pack mentality when they sense a victim?
I’ve got no idea. It comes from having nothing better to do, I imagine! I really don’t know. I had such a nice reaction from people, lots and lots of letters.
Much feedback from policewomen?
Policemen! Phil gets the knickers! Yeah, they really like it… I was stopped in a garden centre - such is the excitement of my life! – by this guy who said “You’re welcome down Twickenham police station any time, luv!” I said “Thank you very much!” They like it… we often have them around when we’re doing location stuff, for security and for shutting down roads, and they’re always very pleased to be there. Pictures by the Audi!
Mrs McLuskey from Grange Hill is in the first episode. What other ‘80s icons will we see this series?
Mrs McLuskey… Morph… Roland Rat! See, it’s much easier with puppets because they don’t age! So it’s not like you’re getting these little, hobbling old presenters…
Last year you were particularly excited about meeting Nookie Bear.Was there someone you were excited about meeting this time around? Did Roland Rat float your boat?
Oh, he didn’t! He was revolting! He’s really big! I thought he’d be like a little rat! He’s like… human size! Freaky Roland! I didn’t like that… I didn’t get to meet Morph, but I’m really impressed with what they’ve done. They’ve had to recreate Morph rather than it being old footage. I love that side of it.
Any pop stars?
I heard Bucks Fizz were coming, but that was a lie…
Hark, is that the sound of an Audi Quattro scorching the tarmac? Could that be the manly whiff of Brut? Are we in fear for our teeth? Be here Friday when we talk to the Guv himself, Philip Glenister!