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Feature: Life on Mars

Who's the boss?

Philip Glenister will be stamping out crime as Gene Hunt when the series returns…

It’s Gene Hunt! As Philip Glenister marches into the room, taking a break between shooting scenes for Series Two of Life on Mars, it’s momentarily hard to differentiate between character and actor. Dressed in familiar camel coat, paisley tie, woollen trousers and tan shoes, he cuts a formidable figure; there’s even a copy of The Sporting Life from 1973 rolled up under his arm to complete the illusion.

This is the summer of 2006 and TV Zone is in Manchester, where work is well advanced on the second run of eight episodes, which begin airing on BBC1 this month. For fans, it’s a bittersweet time: on the plus side we’ve got a new series of the brightest, most inventive drama on TV, countered by the fact that by the season’s end the story will have all been told. By the closing credits of episode eight, we will know the truth behind cop Sam Tyler’s (John Simm) predicament, and why he has – apparently – been despatched to the racist, sexist police force of Gene Hunt way back in 1973…

“It’s great to know we have a hit show that people like, but we mustn’t be complacent,” says Glenister. “There’s now a bit more at stake because we have a benchmark now that we have to maintain or improve on. For the first half of it we’ve tended to stick with what’s gone before. It’s not so much ‘Life on Mars Series Two’ as ‘Life on Mars Episode Nine’. There are some groovy things lined up for the penultimate four episodes because we need to move it on a little bit now.”

During its first run the show was pulling in around eight million viewers, and the buzz surrounding the sophomore year is tangible. Even so, success hasn’t been allowed to affect the daily lives of those who star in it…

“It’s been a bit of a slog this series,” admits the straight-talking Glenister. “As usual, you give them a hit show and they say, ‘Thanks a lot’ and then cut the budget! You get penalized for being successful!

“I’ve noticed I’ve been doing a lot more driving this series. It’s nothing to do with my abilities, it’s just they can’t afford the f***ing stuntman.”

Life on Mars has a principal cast of five actors, with the ensemble completed by a vintage Ford Granada car. The vehicle has become something of an emblem for the show, part of its branding; like Brut aftershave or The Wombles, it’s a clear symbol of the era.

“I do enjoy driving it,” beams the actor. “I remember being a passenger in one when I was a kid, being taken to school. What you forget is the luxury we have now in power steering thing, especially when you’re having to drive it fast and turn it round in wheel spins – it’s quite a heavy old beast to get around a corner.

by David Richardson

Read the full interview in
TV Zone #212

Life on Mars © BBCtv
Feature © Visual Imagination 2007. Not for reproduction

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TV Zone #212, see below for ordering options
TV Zone #212
March 2007
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