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Feature: Ashes to Ashes
Stuck With a Valuable Friend
DI Alex Drake is about to go where only one person has gone before: into the Past to meet Gene Hunt. Keeley Hawes tells us about her trip to 1981
Aiming to do for the 1980s what Life on Mars did for the Seventies, Ashes to Ashes continues in Mars’s retro footsteps as a new DCI slips into a coma and into the past to meet Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and his team. This time the year is 1981, and taking the place of John Simm’s Sam Tyler as the person out of Time and potentially out of her depth is Alex Drake, played by Keeley Hawes, whose credits include Our Mutual Friend, Tipping the Velvet and, perhaps most memorably to genre fans, Spooks, where she met her now-husband, Matthew MacFayden.
Asked if she’d encountered Life on Mars before landing the role, Hawes says, “I’d seen an episode and I remember saying to Matthew, ‘This is really good! This isn’t what I thought it was! It’s not about life on Mars!’ I really had no idea. I’m friends with [producer] Jane Featherstone because of Spooks, and I went off to dinner with her and she said, ‘We’re doing this thing and… what do you think?’ So I got the box set. I ended up watching the whole two series, which is easy to do, one after the other, which is a great way of doing it. John Simm’s so brilliant in it. So I watched the whole lot and that was it.
“She’s a 2008 woman,” explains Hawes of her character. “She’s independent, she’s got a daughter, she knows her own mind, she’s gutsy, she doesn’t take no for an answer. She’s quite strict with Gene! But ultimately she’s a mother and she loves her daughter and that’s her problem. Like Sam had his girlfriend, she wants to get back. Anybody with or without kids really could relate to that; she’s a mother who loves her daughter.”
Those who watched Life on Mars will know how it ended, so instead of playing on the mystery of who/what Gene and the others are, Alex will be coming into the adventure as informed as the audience. “The great thing about changing the series completely that they’ve been very clever about is making Alex aware when she arrives in ‘81. She’s aware of the characters before she meets them because she was Sam Tyler’s psychologist. So she is aware that in his mind these characters existed so she thinks she’s bringing them to life, she thinks it’s something that her brain is doing to bring her out [of a coma] or whatever; she’s not sure what’s happened to her body in 2008.
“But she thinks she’s recreated them for a reason, which is great fun to play. It’s like being the audience. Whereas Sam was in the world and he just wanted to get out, Alex actually has a bit of fun with it, I think. Sam, I don’t think he felt he could have fun with it; he rarely smiled. I think she can take chances, take risks, because ultimately it’s not really real. But it might be. You don’t want people to die. If she can stop people dying then she will because I think that’s just a part of human nature, just in case it’s real."
by Paul Spragg
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