How you describe the tone of Sirens?
"It's a strange tone, but in a good way. You don't quite know where you are with it to start with - it's a medical drama, then it's funny. But through spending time with these [real paramedics], that's exactly what their life is like. There's some kind of horrific accident and you're dealing with it, and then they do just have a laugh. In television, you're sort of told, 'You can't put a joke in here when it's something so serious' but that is exactly how their life is. It's quite a brave thing to do, I think."
How did the show originate?
"Channel 4 were really behind it, because it was originally based on a blog, which became a book, then a radio series. The production company who made it are very well established - they recently made The Promise and The Government Inspector [both for Channel 4]. The writer Brian Fillis did The Curse of Steptoe, which was really good, and Fear of Fanny and An Englishman in New York, the sequel to The Naked Civil Servant, so it had a good track record of people behind it."
How close is the series to the original book, Blood, Sweat and Tea?
"They've taken the themes and certain elements. The 'Up, Horny, Down' storyline [from episode one] with the biological reaction you have to those circumstances is all real. Each episode is based around an emotion related to the job, whether it's stress, grief or whatever. So they've taken elements from it, but created new characters."
There's hints of a romance in the first episode between Stuart and Maxine (Amy Beth Hayes) - will that continue?
"You don't know [straight away], it carries on! You'll have to watch! She becomes more prominent later on."
What originally attracted you to Sirens?
"What I liked about this was that I wasn't writing - it was an acting job. All the things I've ever done, I've written myself a part. I've only auditioned about three times - I did a [2009 film] called Beyond the Pole and I did an episode of Casualty once, which I cannot watch! And then Sirens. I don't tend to audition for those sorts of things, because no-one ever gives me the parts! There is a little bit of snobbery with casting, and unless you're a really successful comedian like Ruth Jones, you don't get to be in the drama side of things. They still go for the 'serious' actors. I haven't been to drama school, or any of those things. So in terms of motivation to do this, it was just purely to prove that I could."
"Yeah, and I like that, because you get a chance to show off slightly! I don't know if I pulled it off or not, but you hope that it's convincing and people are slightly moved by it. But I always found the dramatic side of things easier than the comedy, because there's so many ways to do comedy and it's also subjective. Someone might not laugh at what you do, whereas if you're going to do a dramatic scene, there's usually only one way you can do it."
How was it performing the more emotional scenes?
"People who win awards for drama and for crying their eyes out for two hours…it's easy! The only time I lost my temper is in the very last episode - my character's all about holding in the emotions, but in the last episode, he breaks down. I was genuinely crying, because I'd been away from home for three months and I missed my children. I was imagining my mum, my dad, everyone dying, just to get these tears, and I genuinely cried my eyes out! But I was staring into the sun, and they couldn't see my tears! They offered me the tear stick, but I didn't want to use a tear stick, it's like what they do in EastEnders! But you couldn't see the tears, so in the end, they had to pour pipettes of water onto my face!"
What are your thoughts on the show's portrayal of paramedics?
"Channel 4 were quite keen to get the tone right. They have, and I think only somebody like Channel 4 could put something like this on. The BBC did a paramedics thing last year called D.O.A. with Kris Marshall, and it was terrible! It's very easy to go, 'What shall we write a sitcom about today? Paramedics, no-one's ever done that before!' but the point about Sirens is that it's not a sitcom, and we're not taking the p*ss out of paramedics. It's not like Green Wing with paramedics, and it is more of a drama than people probably think."
Do you think real paramedics will enjoy Sirens?
"I don't think we'll get complaints, because we haven't taken the p*ss. I did a pilot for a show about community support officers, and all the community support officers were pleased that we didn't portray them as idiots. And in this, we're not taking the mickey out of paramedics or treating them like a laughing stock. I think we're actually showing how hard they work and what they have to deal with."
Are you hoping that Sirens will continue?
"Hopefully yeah. I've done so many things where I've been told, 'The next series will be big, it's going to be the big thing' and it hasn't happened. So I just enjoy doing it at the time, and then when it's over, it's over. If it's successful, fine. But this is probably the best thing I've done. I've never been the lead in something before. I really enjoyed it, but you still think to yourself, 'What if it doesn't come back? What if it's another one series wonder?' You just have to enjoy what you do in the moment, and do the best you can."
What do you think the chances are of a second series?
"Channel 4 are really behind it, and to be part of something where they really do like the programme, and they're really proud of it, is brilliant. I think they really are hoping this could be the next big thing. There's all these storylines for a second series, because we've got this blog that this paramedic wrote, and there's so many other stories that are so interesting."
Sirens begins on Monday at 10pm on Channel 4.