Friday, 27 February 2009
Manchester Evening News Interview
DOCTOR Who star Freema Agyeman ended up in court when she researched her latest role.
But the actress managed to avoid a spell in the dock during a tour of the Old Bailey, which included sitting in on a trial.
“It’s like a theatre. They’re up there and performing,” she smiles. “Watching a real case with a real victim and a real perpertrator, it almost felt like I was watching it on television.”
Freema takes the law into her own hands as Crown prosecutor Alesha Phillips in new 13-part drama series Law & Order: UK (ITV1, tonight, 9pm).
She’s a “massive fan” of the original American show, now in its 18th series. “I remember seeing it for the first time in the early nineties and I just love it.”
The British version keeps the same format with a story of two halves told in each episode from police investigation through to court case. “It’s retained all the things that I think are really great about the show. It’s got a real pace to it,” adds Freema.
A police team played by Bradley Walsh, Jamie Bamber and Harriet Walter provide the law side of the equation, with Freema, Ben Daniels and Bill Paterson supplying the order.
Our legal system is, of course, different to America’s, so that has to be reflected in the UK drama. Even so, some may be surprised to see solicitor advocate Alesha out in the field alongside detectives during a police operation.
Those familiar with the way our courts work may also question the odd jarring script line. But then this is a drama, not a documentary and most viewers won’t notice.
“This is the most straight, oldest character I’ve played to date,” explains Freema, best known as Time Lord companion Martha Jones, who finishes filming her legal role next month.
How would she get on as a real life lawyer? “Maybe that kind of want for the spotlight in me could cope to some degree standing up there.
“But actually just doing it on the set is quite scary. You stand up there and you’ve got all of the people in the jury, all of the crew, all of the other actors, and you think, ‘It is really all eyes on me.’
“There’s a lot of theatre actors that are coming through, doing guest parts in the show and I guess it lends itself well because they are just stood, literally holding court.”
Freema’s sister Leila has a real life law degree. “I remember when we were younger and I said, ‘I want to be a doctor,’ and she wanted to be a lawyer. She proceeded further than I did with that childhood dream.
“For financial reasons, she couldn’t really go on. It was difficult. But she’s obviously retained all that knowledge and it’s useful. She’s great and really patient at explaining thing to laymen, because I was coming at it completely blind. She’s been a good source.”
Looking like a legal professional on screen was easier, thanks to the costume and design departments. “I never dress like that ordinarily, these city dresses. It’s all quite neat and grown up. I love wearing things that I wouldn’t. Also when you wear clothes like that you feel a little more grown up.
“I was once told I gravitate towards strong, independent characters and thinking about it there are a fair few similarities between Martha and Alesha. They are both confident, mature women who are really quite resilient.
“But Alesha is an even bigger step for me as I felt I had to be more contained and controlled. I probably identity more with Martha’s exciteability which gave the performance a different energy. I’ve been really lucky to have amazing opportunties come my way.”
With David Tennant now filming his final episodes, there’s speculation that Freema may make another return appearance. “I know there’s been talk of the Doctor Who stuff but nothing’s been confirmed on that front.
“My head and my heart is completely absorbed in Law & Order at the moment. I would love to do this as long as I can. I’ve had such an amazing time on the job and I’m really sad that it’s gone so quickly and is coming to an end.
“One of the unique things about this show that I like is that you never really get into the personal lives of the characters. You don’t go home with them. It’s all about the workplace. You only learn about them through their job. I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Read Ian Wylie's TV Blog The Life Of Wylie