Olivia Williams (‘Case Sensitive’) interview

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Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense, Dollhouse) stars as DS Charlie Zailer in ITV1’s new two-part drama, Case Sensitive, based on the psychological suspense novel Point Of Rescue by Sophie Hannah.

When Geraldine Bretherick and her 5-year-old daughter Lucy are found dead in the bath of their luxury home, the case divides new DS Charlie Zailer and her DC Simon Waterhouse. Is it murder, suicide or something even more sinister, and how watertight is the alibi of the husband Mark?

CultBox caught up with Olivia to find out more…

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What attracted you to the script for Case Sensitive?

“The enormous central role! I immediately felt I could play her. I loved the way she was written, that she was professionally very astute and very on it, but in private had all the doubts and shortcomings that make her very human. I was attracted by the idea of doing research and actually meeting some female detective sergeants who’ve experienced what it’s like to work in what’s still a very male-dominated world – living this life of trying to understand the criminal mind while remaining female and human. It’s a brilliant study of the female professional and what it’s like to be that right now in this country.”

What research did you do for the role?

“I spent a day just talking to police women of different levels of seniority in Lewisham, then spent a couple of days doing house-to-house with the very welcoming police force in Lambeth. They very sweetly invited me to their Christmas party and I felt it was just as important to see them at play as well as at work. That was a very illuminating experience! They know how to let their hair down.

“It’s interesting how accurate our script was actually, the kind of banter and the way that you deal with the horrific things you’re seeing every day in the police force is with a kind of dark humour. It’s a very well-observed script.”

Were you familiar with Sophie Hannah’s novel, Point Of Rescue?

“No, I wasn’t at all familiar before I got the script. I read it and got a lot of layers of her character from it. She’s not completely lifted from the novel, but we’ve got a long way to go with her if we do more of these, more layers will emerge. The main thrust of this one is introducing her to her new job. She’s moved from the Met into the country.

“She makes a huge mistake of snogging a Detective Constable at her welcoming party, who ends up being her partner on this case. So she’s dealing with all sorts of social embarrassment from the get-go.”

Darren Boyd is playing quite a different character to his usual roles. What was Darren like to work with?

“He’s great. I was cast early on so was involved in reading with the actors who were auditioning and he just came in and nailed the character. We needed someone who was very bright, but actually quite socially incapable, almost autistic in his incapability to communicate with people. I wasn’t familiar with his comedy work, but there was an underlying humour to the darkness which was just right. He’s a phenomenal actor, he’s got a tremendous range. He was as irritating as he needed to be, with this bubbling underlying attraction.”

Did you discuss the characters’ off-screen history together prior to the filming?

“We were very lucky that our director Charles Martin wanted to explore what had happened at this drunken evening at the pub. We never see the scene, just flashbacks and references made, so it was fun to work out “did they or didn’t they?”.”

There’s some beautiful architecture in the show – Mark’s house in particular..

“Yeah, it is all an actual house, one you might recognise from a Fiat advert too! The man who designed it had worked for the famous architects Foster + Partners and he rents it out a lot as a film set. Another brilliant change that the director made was to show this new type of rich middle class who live these perfect clutter-free lives, but underneath all that perfect sleek surface, there’s misery under it all. Middle class angst!”

@markhughes1 asks: Would you like to film the other books in the series?

“I think Sophie Hannah will write as many as need to be written if we do get picked up! Someone was actually explaining the ratings system to me the other day, it’s so arbitrary. Who can say, I might just start looking into a crystal ball as a more accurate way of working out what my career holds next!”

Did you enjoy filming something back in the UK?

“Very much. I mean, I love working in America, I can’t slag it off, because they’re been responsible for some of the most interesting casting choices of my career. In America, they don’t typecast me by my education or my accent, which is a huge relief. But I love being at home, people are much more sociable in Britain or maybe I just feel more relaxed – you know, the make-up bus, the camera guys… The Americans are all quite serious when they’re at work.”

Were you disappointed that Dollhouse didn’t return for a third season?

“Well, it’s very hard to say. I loved Dollhouse and there was such an amazing plot to come, from that crazy head of Joss Whedon, so from the point of view of Dollhouse fans I was disappointed for them. For me professionally, I had a fantastic time and I got a great journey as Adelle DeWitt – from the beginning to the last episode, it was a beautiful arc, so I didn’t feel like my character was cut off mid-breath. But if Fox, in their wisdom, had wanted to continue with the show then it would’ve been fun to play some more chapters with that character.”

What do you miss most about working on the show?

“Reading the next script! You just never knew what Joss was going to come up with next. I made some very good friends – Dichen Lachman, Fran Kranz, Enver Gjokaj – they were just a great crowd. And Joss became a friend, our kids hung out and we went on holiday together. I just miss the crowd.

“In the midst of the terrifying behemoth that is American TV, Joss manages to create an extraordinary family on every show he does. He does these outdoor Shakespeare readings on Saturday afternoons, for anybody who wants to come up read A Midsummer Night’s Dream in his garden. He’s a really extraordinary man.”

Would you like to work with Joss Whedon again if a part came up?

“Yes! How did you guess? Yes, I’d love to.”

Joe Wright’s Hanna is out in cinemas soon and looks awesome; can you tell us a bit about your role in that?

Hanna is a bit like a duck-billed platypus, it’s an animal with lots of different features. It’s a thriller, it’s a coming of age story, for a small section it’s a road movie while Hanna’s on the run from her pursuers. I play the mother of a family who she meets on the road, this crazy British hippy family and she’s never experienced family before, so she’s witnessing the joys of a British family on a camping holiday in Spain.”

There’s been talk of a sequel, is that something you’d like to be involved in?

“Yeah! I don’t quite know how the crazy British hippy family would appear, but if they asked me to then I’d do it like a shot, yeah. I thought it was a really brilliant concept.”

Watch the Hanna trailer…

What else have you got coming up?

“I’m in a play at the Vaudeville Theatre [Neil LaBute’s A Forest Dark And Deep] until June 4th and I’m doing eight shows a week so I can’t really think beyond that – my brain is fried from being beaten up on stage by Matthew Fox every night.”

How’s the play going?

“It’s great, we’re getting fantastic responses. The Dollhouse fans and the Lost fans are fighting it out at the door every night!”

What’s Matthew Fox like to work with?

“He’s fantastic. It’s slightly irritating, I was hoping he’d be an American TV actor who’d never done a stage play and he’d be rubbish and make me look really good. Then he turned up and he’s a complete natural on the stage. He’s got a phenomenal different voice, completely different from Dr Jack Shepherd on Lost, physically strong. He plays it really tough, he’s like A Streetcar Named Desire, he reminds me of early Brando.”

Had you been a Lost fan when it was on?

“You’re probably better at watching these very mysterious shows than me, but I’m afraid I lost the plot with Lost. I did audition for it actually, I was nearly in it! Matthew alleges that he knows who I would’ve played, but my husband said he doesn’t like golf or swimming so he’s glad he didn’t have to live in Hawaii for six years.”

@csi_spy asks: What kind of projects do you want to do next?

“I’d love to do some comedy. There’s such good comedy being written at the moment. I’d love to do a show like Outnumbered or Green Wing. I think I’ve been taken far too seriously in my career so far, I need to lighten it up! I loved Episodes, I’d love to do that. Maybe I can get a small part in that!”