“I don’t need your help,” insists DI Alex Drake.
“Everyone does,” replies her sozzled boss in sharp 1981 suit and tie.
The return of Gene Hunt is a cause for celebration across the land.
Or as The Guv puts it: “The A-Team are back in business.”
With a chess board ceiling in the new CID office, there’s a new puzzle to solve in Life On Mars’ sequel Ashes To Ashes.
Keeley Hawes plays Alex, the 2008 police psychologist who finds herself back in time with Gene, Ray, Chris and Duran Duran.
Shot in the head, the modern day detective concludes she’s trapped in her mind, one second from life…or death.
Alex believes that Gene (Philip Glenister) and his 1981 world are fantasies she’s assimilated from studying Sam Tyler’s (John Simm) memories of his trip to 1973 while he was in his “prolonged deep coma”.
Realising this must be a “subconscious construct induced by severe cranial trauma”, she stumbles: “No, no, no. This happened to him, it can’t happen to me.”
Producer Beth Willis explains: “There are lots of things that happened to Sam that she expects to happen to her.
“She thinks, ‘OK, I know what’s going on here.’ And very quickly the rug is taken from beneath her and she finds she doesn’t really know how this world works at all, because it isn’t the same as Sam’s.”
The first Ashes To Ashes feature in on Pg 9 of today’s MEN – click on Life On Mars Goes South for the online version, with a linked video clip here from the first episode.
Regular readers will know that I spent a day on set last year, watching filming and interviewing the cast and production team.
That included Dean Andrews (DS Ray Carling), Marshall Lancaster (DC Chris Skelton) and Montserrat Lombard (WPC Shaz Granger).
Then there was a small round table interview with Phil and Keeley in Soho earlier this month.
And I talked to both them and other cast members again after the first screening of episode one in London’s West End the week after.
I’ve since watched those first 58 minutes and 57 seconds a further four times, and am more impressed with each repeat viewing.
It’s inevitable that some Life On Mars fans may fall by the wayside when the new series arrives on BBC1 at 9pm on Thursday Feb 7 – with Gene now transferred from Manchester to London.
But if the quality of writing, acting, directing and production is sustained through all eight episodes, Ashes To Ashes could well be one of the big TV hits of 2008.
And, of course, it may attract new viewers who missed out on the Life On Mars experience.
There’ll be further feature interviews in the MEN in the coming weeks, plus more special blogs between now and Feb 7.
I know many fans like to read everything they can about Ashes To Ashes.
So let’s start with just some of the material from Philip Glenister that, for reasons of space, could not be included in today’s MEN feature.
In addition, you can scroll to the bottom of this page to access six short audio files – five featuring Phil and one from Keeley, who was sat beside her co-star.
So with apologies for the longer than usual blog entry, here’s some more from the man who plays The Guv:
Gene and Alex:
“Gene is a bit of an enigma and it’s important to keep that with him, otherwise you blow it, really. No, it’s not romantic. There’s moments when Alex…we see him getting a little bit huffy about it. And you think, well this is because he’s jealous, because her mind’s not on the job. There’s a bit of ambiguity.”
Gene’s return in Ashes To Ashes:
“When it was very first mooted, I can remember we had a long conversation about it. John, understandably, said, ‘I can’t really do any more with Sam.’ And John is just the sort of actor who needs to move on and do other things, quite rightly. And then they said, ‘We want to keep this and we’ve got an idea.’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s finish filming and let’s talk about it when we’re done and dusted and see where it goes. Because we were also worried about the ending of Life On Mars, how people were going to take it. We didn’t know whether we were going to have a third series, and there were lots of ums and ahs about whether we’d do a Christmas special or a two-parter – whatever.
“So I didn’t really get involved in it until Life On Mars had finished and had come out, the second series. And then we sat down and talked about Ashes. And, you know, the thing about Kudos is they’re so persuasive, wonderfully persuasive, and Matt and Ashley got everybody on board and said, ‘We’ve had this brainstorming session, everybody wants to do it, the BBC are behind it.’ And then we had a lunch and Jane Featherstone (executive producer) said, ‘We want Keeley Hawes for this character of Alex Drake. If I can get Keeley Hawes…’ And I said, ‘If you can get Keeley Hawes…And if you can’t get Keeley Hawes, I’ve got a list!’”
Gene In 1981:
“He’s become more institutionalised, I suppose – I just thought it would be quite interesting to see a man trying to keep a grip on his style of policing, which is being moved on, and he’s being left behind a little bit. There’s a much more melancholic feel about him, I think, in this show. There are little hints…Keeley’s character Alex drags little nuggets out of him, so we learn a little about his state of mind and where he’s at. And just sort of witnessing a man who, in moments, tries to conform, tries to do the right thing, tries to go with the flow.”
Gene and 1980s’ fashion:
“There was a long discussion about whether we should bring the camel coat back. And I remember Matthew Graham and Rosie, our costume designer, the three of us were sat down and we were having about an hour’s conversation about this camel coat, and whether we should bring it back or not. And we decided in the end that we should actually get right away from that and get Gene up to the times. But without making him look too cool, because there’s that lack of self-awareness.”
Did John Simm visit the Ashes’ set?
“No. But I spoke to him during filming and we keep in touch. He can’t wait to see it.”
Was Phil asked to star in the American re-make of Life On Mars?
“No, not sort of, ‘Phone call, hello Philip, it’s America. Get Gene Hunt here.’ It wasn’t quite as simple as that. No, what happened was, they were having a real problem casting both parts, for whatever reason. They saw a lot of people and they couldn’t find what they were looking for. So my agent got an email from David E. Kelley’s office, saying, ‘Would Philip be interested, providing accents work and everything, in, perhaps, playing Gene in the American version?’ But by this time I’d signed for Ashes. And remember, this is going to be a pilot for Life On Mars in America, just a one-off, which might not get picked up. And it would have been madness.
“So we turned round and said, ‘Well, we could possibly be interested if you could fit in with these dates.’ And, of course, they couldn’t. because of their pilot season. So we just said, ‘Well, you know, we can’t do it.’ So they sent this rather stiff email back, saying, ‘Are you telling me Mr Phil Glenister is not interested in appearing on American television?’ Which my agent, thought, ‘Well, yes, at the moment.’
“No, it would have been career suicide, because had I just suddenly turned round to Kudos and the BBC and said, ‘Sorry guys, I’m going to mess you all up and go to America for this,’ and then suddenly it doesn’t go and you come back unemployable and with your tail between your legs. It would have been crazy to entertain it, really. And also, imagine playing Gene Hunt for six months in America and then Gene Hunt six months here. I’d be in The Priory walking around. Crazy.”
The end of this first series and the prospect for a second?
“It’s a very good ending. And it’s self-contained in many respects. No, I think it definitely needs another series.”
Philip Glenister: Ashes To Ashes – The Series
Philip Glenister: Gene Hunt in 1981 London
Philip Glenister: Why He Brought Gene Back
Philip Glenister: Gene’s Divorce From Mrs Hunt
Philip Glenister: Where I Was In 1981
Keeley Hawes: Women And Gene Hunt
Life On Mars Goes South
Ashes To Ashes First Episode Video Clip
More Ashes To Ashes Blogs
Life On Mars Blogs
The Railway Arms