Today’s MEN features an interview with Philip Glenister about the second series of Ashes To Ashes.
I’ve posted the original copy online here, complete with pic gallery.
Phil’s comments on Demons, for example, were squeezed out of the hard copy feature.
But have been restored for the online version.
We met up on the Ashes set last November.
And again in a Soho office in February.
I thought fans might also want to read some extracts from the interview which didn’t make the final cut.
So assuming you’ve already read the main feature, here are some of the extras, with thanks to readers who also submitted questions.
I tried my best to get answers for you but, as ever, time was tight.
The cast were told “the bigger picture” at the read through for episodes three and four of Ashes series two last year, including the reason why Alex Drake is “trapped” in the 1980s.
Phil has previously asked to be kept in the dark. “We pretty much were all told at the same time,” he said.
“I think we needed to know where the arc was going into the third series because there was talk about whether we should finish after…having done two Life On Mars, maybe we should do two Ashes and then call it a day. But it seemed the BBC and Matt and Ashley and Kudos felt that there was one more series left, that they could set it up.”
Did it change the way he approached or portrayed Gene? Or does Phil just have to play him in the moment? He agreed with the latter.
“Yeah, definitely. I think that thing about…there isn’t that much change in Gene. Why mess with the formula. That’s what he is and it’s what people want. That’s what makes him appealing. So we’ve pretty much kept him as is. We’ve got a bit darker with this series but still, you know, there’s moments of high campery, as we call it – comedy.”
Matthew has spoken before about the really big mystery about Gene that wasn’t relevant to Life On Mars? I said I presumed that was all just part of the “bigger picture” mix?
“Yes,” replied Phil.
But there is a mystery specific to Gene? “There is, yes.”
I said it all sounded fascinating. “I know,” he laughed. “That’s what I mean about ‘good luck.’
“We don’t even know if we’ve got a third series yet, for a start. It would be a huge disappointment if we don’t. We feel now that we’re almost geared towards thinking, well, we’ve got to see it through. And hopefully the BBC will allow us to see it through. As I say, the big advantage of that is all the storylines that they’ve got stored up in their heads and they can throw it all on to the screen for the final series.”
We discussed the second series being more assured and sure-footed, with cast and crew knowing now what worked – and what didn’t. As well as his comments in the main feature, Phil said:
“Also you can relax a bit more. We’ve got a lot of the same crew, which is great. It makes life a hell of a lot easier when you’ve got familiar faces doing their job and they know the show. So you can relax into it more, knowing where you’re going.”
I talked about Matthew and Ashley’s Writers’ Room talk, the darker tone and the serial corruption story, with the introduction of Supermac, played by Roger Allam.
Phil commented: “The idea is that there’s this character, Supt Mackintosh – he’s a Superintendent for goodness sake, so he’s right up there. He’s come through the whole process of being a bobby on the beat, training at Hendon and he has a very good reputation from his troops. And then all is not what it seems. That element of corruption that happens creates a friction between CID – not just Alex and Gene, but the troops as well. It’s a whole process based on trust and who’s honest and who’s dishonest. And Gene goes through a process of trying to infiltrate that, removing the dust. And what he finds through the series, towards the end, hopefully from an audience point of view will shock them, as well, as it shocks him. We’re all embroiled from the perspective of the show, from the audience’s point of view, that it could be any one of us.”
I raised the violent scene involving Gene when Shaz was stabbed in the last series. Plus photos have been leaked of Gene being beaten up in this second series. Is there more police brutality?
Phil: “There are a few fights. He throws a few animal rights activists around the locker room.”
The story of the week will also possibly be a bit darker. Episode four involves sex trafficking. “We have a story in episode four when we have young girls coming down from the north to London looking for work and things and then they get mixed up with the wrong people, pimps and various underworld nasty people.”
1982 was the year of the Falklands. “It’s sort of a Raymondo thing. It’s touched upon in the early eps and then there comes a point later on where Deano’s story takes a turn. The Falklands thing is more to remind you of the year we are in. The big event of the year was the Falklands War.”
Are there any mentions of Mrs Thatcher this time around? “Do I sleep with her? No,” laughed Phil. “Do we get Janet Brown in to play her? No. I don’t think so.
“We don’t really go into politics very much. We don’t really touch on Thatcher in this. We referred to her in the first series as “the mighty handbag herself”. But other than that, we don’t really get too embroiled with the politics of the time, this time round. There are hints – it’s more about the corruption side of the police and this big operation that’s going off and nobody knows what it means and where it’s going. And then as the series carries on, there are hints as to where it’s going and these sinister characters that appear quite early on and then you hear nothing about them. And then they suddenly come back to the fore later on.
“So, hopefully, when it’s all cut and put together, it’ll make some sort of sense.”
Time has moved on for Alex and she now knows that Gene was the man who took her hand as a little girl. Has their relationship changed in any subtle way?
“Well, I think the only thing I would say is that she becomes much more a part of the team in this series. She’s much more of a team player, which I think is a strength for this series. That we’re all in in together.”
Alex’s new mirrored bed with entertainent console: “Oh God, yeah. That’s something else, isn’t it?”
Episode four was partly filmed at Moor Park near Watford, just down the road from where Phil grew up.
“I’ve played golf there. It was just teasing me and Dean because we’re both very keen golfers. We hadn’t played golf in weeks because we’d been working so much and then they go and tease us with our unit based on a golf course. And a very nice golf course as well. So we nearly skiived off. We could maybe have got three of four holes in at lunchtime.”
Episode four is the one which features Jackie Queen, amid other storylines.
“There’s rather dodgy parties going on where young girls are sold as sex slaves and we infiltrate one of those, in a comedic sort of way, as you do.”
Episode two sees Gene joining the Masons. “He joins the Masonic Lodge but not necessarily for the reasons you think.”
Do we see the ceremony? “Yes.” With the trouser leg? “Yeah. We filmed it at a Masonic Lodge near Clerkenwell. It’s quite a funny sequence. We had a guy there who was a Mason, who talked us through the whole ceremony and it’s kind of bizarre. The funniest thing about that was this poor guy who was the supporting artist has to put this blindfold on me. And I said to him, ‘Feel free to get it on and get it tight.’ And he has to do it from behind and he’s wearing white gloves, so he can hardly grip anything. So the poor sod took about 25 takes to do this scene, and every time it kept slipping.”
The Quattro this series? “I do drive. I have to do all the interiors, which is a bit of a pain, because it means that they attach all of the cameras on to the car, so I’ve got one camera on the bonnet and then one camera on the side. So you’ve got to remember that the car is no longer finishing at the door. It’s about three foot wider. So not to get too close to the pavement or you take out £150,000-worth of camera equipment on a lamp post.
“And then you get the others in the car – Dean, Marsh and Keeley – and with the weight of the cameras and all of us in it, we’re scraping along the ground a lot of the time. Whereas the stunt guys have the freedom to just drive it as fast as they like because they’ve got just them in it.”
I’d already heard on set in November about the “brilliant” ending to series two. Matthew Graham has since been teasing fans about what it may, or may not, entail.
“We only finished shooting that last week, so we haven’t seen it cut together yet. It’ll be interesting to see,” said Phil.
Everything is geared towards filming a third and final series this autumn. The BBC, as ever, will not make a decision until they have studied ratings for series two. But there would have to be a huge collapse in the viewing figures to deny fans the full Ashes and Mars story.
“The bottom line is, it’s a damn good show. It’s different. It’s hopefully a good hour’s worth of drama but it’s still popular and it’s got everything in it,” said Phil.
And great escapism to lose yourself in the current economic climate. “Absolutely.”
We discussed the international reaction to Mars and Ashes – in February Phil was getting a lot of mail from Germany – and the possibility of a Spanish version. “Gene Hunt in Madrid. Bullfighter,” laughed Phil.
I remarked that you simply couldn’t beat the original version of Life On Mars, so why bother re-making it…as in America? Phil replied: “We had a lovely quote from Stephen King, the horror writer, and he’d written a piece in one of the trades in America saying that he’s seen the original series of Life On Mars and why can’t ABC or NBC or CBS, one of the big networks, pick up the original and show them the original show? He said – this is one of the best TV series I have ever seen. And that’s from Stephen King. You think – wow.”
I mentioned going back to watch Life On Mars on DVD after not having seen it for some time, being reminded again of just how good it was.
“It’s true. I watched a bit of series one, the pub where we go undercover. Very kindly the production had given us as a sort of thank you present at the end, portable DVD machines. And I was just testing mine out, charging it up. I was in the study and I’ve got a few Life On Mars box sets in there. So I just went out to have a look at the quality of the thing. And instead of just watching two minutes of it, I watched half the ep. It was a great show.”
Several readers asked the same question. Phil is married to actress Beth Goddard. Although too young to see Gene in action, are their two daughters – Millie, seven, and Charlotte, four – aware of Gene Hunt? That this character exists in their dad’s world?
“My eldest does, yeah, Millie definitely does. There was quite a funny story about two years ago when she was about five, and she was walking past a policewoman – we’d just started the first series of Ashes – with Beth. And she saw the woman in uniform, tugged on her and said, ‘My daddy’s a TV policeman.’ And this woman went, ‘Oh really, what’s his name?’ And she went, ‘Gene Hunt.’ And this policewoman said, ‘Oh, I just bought my husband the book.’ It was the Guide to Policing. Beth was like, ‘Right, yes, come on, move away…’”
Phil confirmed he had quit Demons, even if ITV green lit a second series. “Yes. With what’s happening with ITV at the moment, I don’t think they’re commissioning anything. It’s not good. I’d be surprised if Demons came back. I never signed up for more than one series, really, just because it would have rendered my agent useless for me, because I’ve signed for three of Ashes and then if I sign for three of Demons and they’d taken up the option, effectively it means I can’t do anything else for the next two years.
“I loved it when it was called The Last Van Helsing, that’s what attracts you to the job, is the title. And then they had to change it for contractural reasons. I felt, actually, that as the series went on it sort of got better, in a funny sort of way. I thought the last three were actually not too bad. Again, Millie watched it and she enjoyed it.”
Aside from what Phil says in today’s feature, he also said in response to those tabloid critics: “You think, ‘Actually, I know if I can do an American accent.’ I did take it straight after Ashes and I should have given myself…but I didn’t realise that Galvin was going to be in it as much, either.
“And so I was pretty tired to begin with and I settled into it towards the end. That’s when I thought the series began to work as well and we got more confident again with it.”
If all goes to plan, work on Ashes will begin in the autumn. So aside from the treadmill of promotion for this second series, did he have anything else lined up at the time of this interview in February?
“No I haven’t. I sort of learned from that crossover from Ashes to do Demons, if I was to do anything it would just be a nice little one off or a two-parter or a short run at the theatre. But I’m quite happy to see this through, give them my time to do the PR and get the ADR out of the way, so it’s all in the can. And then I’ll worry about work then.”
Audio Links (MP3 files):
Phil on Ashes to Ashes series two…and one
Phil on the arrival of Supermac
Phil on Gene and Alex
Did the revelation of the bigger picture come as a surprise?
Ashes To Ashes 2: The First Review
Ashes To Ashes 2: Philip Glenister
Ashes To Ashes: The Writers Talk
Ashes To Ashes Blogs
Life On Mars Blogs
The Railway Arms Ashes and Mars Fansite
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