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Interview: Romola Garai

14th November 2013

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Romola Garai is starring in one off BBC2 drama Legacy, set in the shady world of MI6 spies during the Cold War. Here she talks about her role, as spy and mother Anna.

What initially attracted you to the role of Anna?

I really wanted to work with Pete Travis (director) because I’d seen Omagh and Endgame and I thought he was a really amazing director. I also felt it was interesting to see a woman situated in a 1970s Cold War espionage piece which doesn’t often happen - especially a woman who is a mother and a wife.

How would you describe Anna?

I think she is somebody who is very emotionally in check, she probably does everything very competently in her life. She’s very good at her job, an organised mother and well put together. I think she is compartmentalised which is why it’s attractive to her to meet someone with youthful hope and who has a rich emotional life.

The fact Charles has been quietly devastated by what has happened to his father and the affect that has had on his relationship with him is attractive to her – because it shows he is alive inside and still has feelings. Yet when it comes to having a relationship with him the possibility that their life could involve mess and risk and change are not things she is really comfortable with - which is sad.

Is being a spy an important part of her identity?

Yes, I think one of the most significant lines I have is within a speech where my character says: “I am strap hanging on the tube and I know I’ve got a secret.” It is important for spies that they have status - they know things other people don’t know.

That’s something that actors always want to have, they never want to be the person who doesn’t have the information - we hate playing stupid and you always want to resist it. You are always saying to the director, “maybe I do know on a deeper level,” to which they usually respond, “no you don’t.”

So yes it is very important to her because it gives her an elevated status and a sense of control which I think it important to her.

How would you define her marriage?

I think she did love him, I think she did find him attractive because there is a real sense of regret that the marriage isn’t successful any more. Anna talks about when they met and how he had such certainty and that was important to her - that he had certainty. I think she’s attracted to alpha males and unfortunately - for her - she has discovered that they tend not to be very faithful. I don’t think she is completely comfortable with that (that he is unfaithful) otherwise she wouldn’t be so sad and she is quite a sad character.

I think she was very much in love and it was a happy marriage but it isn’t any more.

Did you do much research into espionage?

We had a research day with a spy which was brilliant because he wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting a John Le Carré type character - a grey suited man who would blend into the background that you’d never notice.

This guy was extremely good looking, quite flamboyant, he was wearing quite a lot of colour and he was quite open and quite gossipy - I’d thought we’d have to tease information out of him.

He had been in the Army and he was head-hunted into MI5 - he was a thrill seeker. For him it wasn’t a natural state to follow people and not be noticed and all the rest of it. I think he found that quite hard. I guess in a way he was quite like an actor – quite a loud person, a bit of a show off and I found that very interesting and he was really funny and charming as well.

One thing he said which stood out was that quite often spies are described in films as being people who aren’t very good at personal relationships. They’re not very good at managing their relationships at home, often quite shy and a bit socially awkward. He said the one thing they look for when recruiting spies are people who are brilliant socially because you have to be able to lie, you have to be able to pretend to be someone you’re not, you have to be very confident and you have to convince people you’re someone that you’re not or give someone information without making others aware that’s what you’re doing. To do that you have to be very good with people and he said that’s why women often make very good spies because they are often better at that sort of thing.

Why do you think viewers love espionage thrillers?

I think there are two reasons. The suspense is really important for any story. No matter what the genre, suspense is an integral part of it. The whole nature of it is that you want to find out what happens in the end. This is a genre for which suspense is everything; the story is driven around what happens next and who is going to find out.

Also, I think spies are people who are living a double life and everyone feels they are living a double life and so you relate very intensely to people going through that. You relate to people going through every situation with another set of motivations and a true personality that they are hiding.

Legacy is on BBC2 on Thursday 28th November at 9pm.

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