Olivia Williams (‘Case Sensitive’: Series 2) interview

Olivia Williams (Hanna, Dollhouse) returns as DS Charlie Zailer this month for a new two-part story of Case Sensitive, based on the novel The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah.

When Ruth Blacksmith leaves her husband for troubled musician Aidan Harper, the love triangle results in a brutal murder. DS Charlie Zailer and her prickly junior, DC Simon Waterhouse, uncover a twisted saga of thwarted ambition and murderous jealousy – whilst wrestling with their own fraught relationship.

The Other Half Lives begins at 9pm on Thursday 12th July on ITV1.

> Buy the complete Case Sensitive boxset on Amazon.

Tell us about the new story…

“It’s called The Other Half Lives which is a clever play on words because husbands and wives often refer to each other as the ‘other half’ and in this case one half of a married couple lives and the other half doesn’t!

“We have taken some liberties with the relationship between Zailer and Waterhouse. Even though we diverged from the novel quite organically, the themes in the story are reflected in the relationship between Charlie and Simon. I felt very strongly that it would be interesting in this second story to have Charlie’s relationship with Simon – whatever that might be – threatened by someone new coming into the team.”

You’re referring to Amber (played by Christina Chong)? Was that your suggestion?

“Not at all, but I think it’s fair to say that I could identify with Charlie’s emotions as a woman in her early forties – and from what I have observed of other women – whether it’s all in her head or really happening. When an attractive young woman joins an office environment the kind of attention she gets can make some women of my age behave irrationally.

So when Amber comes along she makes Charlie act a little bit crazy to say the least…

“She ends up scrutinising everything Simon does with an unfair gaze and treating Amber very unfairly. What’s so brilliant about Darren Boyd is so brilliant at playing it. He’s not making it obvious that he’s flirting. He’s not leaning in to her or staring at her overtly but they do always seem to be together – by the coffee machine, or the printer – not ‘together’ but together!

“The murder plot is about a passionate love affair between Ruth (Eva Birthistle) and Aidan (Theo James). It poses the questions ‘How can you ever really know a person? And if you can’t believe what people tell you about themselves what else do you really have?’

“Throughout this the audience will see similar themes being mirrored by Charlie and Simon – it’s about reasonable reaction. Charlie thinks she is behaving rationally and Simon has no idea what he’s doing wrong and Charlie’s behaviour makes complete sense to her but from the exterior it looks like she’s lost it.

“She responds like many women do by getting drunk at a party and doing stuff that she shouldn’t which is part of Charlie’s pathology. In her personal life she breaks things in order to try and fix them.”

The joy of watching Zailer and Waterhouse together is the fact that they are complete contrasts to each other. Was it fun to indulge in Zailer’s more unhinged side?

“Well no one wants to play someone who is always good and always right, as no one is always good and always right. There was a discussion when we were talking about the plot that we didn’t want Charlie to come across as horrible and I said ‘you’ve got to leave that with me because I do think that the women in the audience won’t hate her for it’.

“Hopefully they will understand why she’s behaving the way she does and maybe some men might learn something (or at least find it entertaining!) and the young women might understand why they get this negative reaction from older women who are going through their own problems.

“I just wanted to explore that as an actor. I’m not saying these dreadful things have happened to me, and I haven’t got an axe to grind. I’m an actor and I want to depict what I see and I have really seen these scenarios in my day-to-day life. When researching the role of Zailer I shadowed a policewomen for a period and the sexual politics were absolutely palpable all the time and I thought ‘what is it like to try and function in this place?’”

Have Darren and yourself had any input regarding your character’s development?

“There’s so much to be explored and every time Darren and I have an idea about stuff, Hattrick have been so astonishingly open about sharing the process and honestly that very rarely happens.

“We’ve gone to so much trouble to make the characters believable and create individuals and very often you get a script from a writing team which sees the characters do something that is not consistent with what you’ve built up. Case Sensitive really felt like a truly collaborative experience as everybody’s ideas were considered.”

There are a couple of unexpected moments in the new series. Do the scripts you read still surprise you?

“We all know what happens in the cast and crew. We know that the blood is tomato ketchup, we know that the actor is really a nice person in real life but there was a moment in this series during our first screening when everybody screamed like little girls!

“John Strickland is a really stylish director – he’s used techniques in this that are usually reserved for the big screen – it’s a really exciting to be part of Case Sensitive. To have a moment that terrifies a group of seasoned old luvvies like us was really enjoyable.”

> Buy the complete Case Sensitive boxset on Amazon.

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