Survivors: Julie Graham

The cast of Survivors 2010

FOR the few survivors, every day is a fight for life.

So begins the second series of BBC1’s hit drama tonight.

Along with a glimpse of Chucklevision, Greg (Paterson Joseph) on the brink of death and a collapsing hospital.

I interviewed the cast, writer and production team of Survivors again in October.

My first feature on the second series appeared in yesterday’s MEN – I’ve posted the online version here.

But that’s just a snapshot of what the TV team had to say.

So with more to come on a later date, here are some initial extras.

Noting that viewers will have to wait a fortnight to see the second episode of what is an opening two-part story.

That’s thanks to a postponed League Cup semi-final first leg football match between Manchester City and Manchester United.

Which will now be screened live next Tuesday (Jan 19), instead of Survivors.

Not the best way to treat this carefully crafted drama.

Anyway, let’s start with Julie Graham, who plays the kidnapped Abby Grant, now in the hands of The Lab.

She spoke again about the decision to axe archaeological drama Bonekickers.

But we began with series two of Survivors and Abby’s ordeal at the hands of those scientists:

“We were filming in an underground car park which was four floors down. It was actually a disused printer’s workshop. So we were literally underground and deprived of sunglight. The production designer was a genius. In this huge space he built this very tiny, small cell.

Abby (Julie Graham) in The Lab

“There was no acting involved. It was very claustrophobic and you felt very vulnerable in there. And there were very over-enthusiastic extras who didn’t really understand the difference between holding somebody down and pretending to hold them down. I was covered in fingerprints. It took some time explaining to my husband, I have to say.

“One of the big problems with filming Survivors is noise from everywhere, from cars, buses. So because we were underground it was a joy for the sound man because he could control the noise.

“She’s been taken to the Lab because she’s the only person, as far as they know, who has contracted the virus and survived. Therefore she’s a special case and they want her blood – literally. And so they have to do all kinds of horrific experiments on her to try and find this holy grail, this vaccine that’s going to save the world.

“The most gruesome was when a tube is inserted into my lungs in order to take a look and they have to pour water. They had to put this thing into my mouth and down my throat to a certain extent. It did make me gag and cough. That was horrible, really horrible. You’re being held down by all these bloody extras. She’s literally a lab rat.

“And she’s talked about in very inhuman terms because they’re scientists and they talk about her in very clinical terms. There’s no compassion. It was very upsetting, really. She’s at the mercy of people who don’t really care about the person. They just care about the cure.

“From the experience in the Lab, her optimism is challenged and destroyed and she becomes changed through the experience. She becomes very pessimistic and suspicious of people and she comes to the conclusion that her son Peter’s not alive. The experience almost destroys her.

“Her moral outlook is challenged in a very particular way and she had to get into bed with the devil and defend the indefensible. But the Peter story does eventually come back into the play and develops in some way.

“There’s lots of things that she has to face that completely challenge everything that she thinks and has thought. She changes so much. She almost becomes warrior-like and at one point has to defend the indefensible, which again challenges everything she thinks.

“And then towards the end of the series she gets into a situation where she has to hold a gun to somebody’s head and is going to shoot them and that’s a complete transition from what she was.”

How would Julie cope?

“I just don’t know. I’d like to think that I would rise to the occasion. But there’s another part of me that thinks I would just lock the door and eat baked beans and never venture out into the world. It would be a very scary place, to be honest. A very, very scary place. You’ve just got to look if there’s a power cut, everybody goes mad. So I think I’d try and find a nice country cottage somewhere and hide.”

Filming the collapsing hospital

If there is a third series, will she be interested in continuing the role of Abby?

“To be honest, I didn’t think that I would. But the scripts for this series are so strong. Last series they did very episodic stories and this year, they’re double episodic stories, which I think it’s stronger for that. So you get more time to explore the stories and the characters in these double episodes, although it is a series, there is a serial element to it.

“And then when we got to the end of episode six, I thought, ‘Yeah, this could carry on, definitely.’ Because something happens at the end of six which is definitely a storyline that could continue very easily.

“I think that’s the strength of it now, that people like the group. When everybody got the script, you would literally go to the end of the script to see if you were still alive. Because anybody can get it in Survivors. We’d be at the read through, going. ‘We’re still alive. Yes, brilliant!’ So it keeps us all under manners. None of us are too demanding because they could just kill us off with the virus.”

Julie has consistently defended Bonekickers, the axed BBC1 drama series written by Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah:

“Everybody hated it. I loved it. It was very disappointing, the whole Bonekickers thing. Because when you’re given something to do as an actor that is completely different, that’s a different idea and it’s refreshing and people try to do something different…I mean, in America I think people embrace that kind of idea much more.

“And, yes, there was a lot about Bonekickers that was deeply flawed. But I think there was also a lot about it that was really good fun. It was kind of CSI for dinosaurs. I don’t know…I know that it didn’t work and the critics hated it. But I meet a lot of people who really loved it. And I think that maybe it was given the wrong slot. It was nine ‘o clock and I think if maybe it had been given a Merlin slot on a Saturday night, it could have had legs.

“As an actor you do a job and if people don’t get it then it’s fine, you just go on and do your other thing. But I felt more sorry for Matthew Graham, the writer, because I think he really believed in it. He was quite shocked at the reaction against it. But I stand by it. I’m very proud of it and it was such good fun to make. Working every day with Hugh Bonneville and Adrian Lester was an absolute joy and I was gutted that it didn’t go again, actually.

“The audience figures did go down. I think we went from six to four. But four million is still considered a hit. I don’t know.

“The thing is, everybody’s a critic these days because of the internet. Look – you could go mad, if you read things that people write about you.

“I read the most horrific, horrible things written about me on the internet, to the point where I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’ I’ve had bloggers going, ‘Does anybody else irrationally hate this woman?’ Because everybody can have an opinion. So I made the decision. And it upset me. I’ll put my hands up and say that it did upset me. It’s someone’s opinion. Not everybody can get you or like you and, of course, that’s ridiculous. But to read those things, they were personal things, they weren’t anything about my acting. I thought, ‘I’m just not going to read anything anymore’, because it’s someone’s opinion and you can’t believe one person’s opinion against another person’s opinion. You’ve just got to do your job to your best ability and if people like it then fine, and it they don’t, then…whatever.

“But it’s nasty. It’s not what journalism or proper criticism is about. It’s not constructive and it’s certainly not informed in any way. It’s just somebody’s opinion.

“I do feel that there was a groundswell against Bonekickers which started on the BBC blog, where people were just going to go – this is the worst programme that’s every been made. It’s like sitting in someone’s living room and listening to people arguing. That way madness lies, I think.

“When something is properly reviewed, it’s a joy to read because it’s coming from an intelligent, informed point of view. You’ve just got to look at theatre critics. They know about the theatre, they go to the theatre. they can compare it to lots of things.

“But then I’ve found that especially previewers in newspapers were becoming quite nasty. They’d have a kind of, ‘Watch this,’ and then slag it off before it was even on. It just became personal and nasty. And I think, ‘If you’re not going to review or preview television, you obviously don’t like television, so why are you doing this job? Go and do something else.’”

*Survivors returns to BBC1 at 9pm tonight (Tue).

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