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TV Interview

'Public Enemies' Anna Friel, Daniel Mays Q&A: 'The stakes are so high'

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'Public Enemies': Anna Friel and Danny Mays

© BBC / Tiger Aspect

We've watched our fair share of cop shows in our time, but you know what we don't often get to see on television? What happens after a prisoner has been released...

Well, that's about to change with BBC One's three-part drama Public Enemies, which begins tonight. It stars Ashes To Ashes' Daniel Mays as a prisoner coming out of jail, and the lovely Anna Friel as his probation worker (who's trying to recover from something of a career nightmare after one of her charges reoffended). It's a tense, edgy show, and rather gripping, with twists ahead.

We caught up with Anna, Daniel and the show's writer Tony Marchant for a bit of a natter about what you can expect from Public Enemies...

Where did the idea for Public Enemies come from?
Tony: "I just always knew I wanted to write about somebody who was coming back from disgrace. Originally that just applied to an offender coming out of prison and then trying to start a life again, but I thought that [was] too linear.

"So it was much more interesting to write about two people running parallel who had both found themselves subjects of opprobrium and disgrace and shame and had their reputation ruined for stuff that they'd done.

"There's a sort of cliché of the prisoner getting out of prison and then they live a life, and you never anywhere see the reality of an offender's life when they come out of prison. The first person they go and see, the most important person in that prisoner's life, is the probation worker, which you never see."

Tell us a bit about the relationship between Paula and Eddie.
Tony: "Eddie's coming out at the time when Paula needs to prove herself again and restore her reputation. Her management of him or support of him was going to be how she did that. Equally, his immediate future depends on her, so they're massively invested in each other.

"And then you realise that they're also massively invested in each other in the sense that they've got something in common which no-one really gets, which is that they both know what it's like to live with shame and a desire to redefine yourself."

'Public Enemies': Anna Friel and Danny Mays

© BBC / Tiger Aspect



How does Eddie react when he leaves prison?
Tony: "We've been talking about arrested development. The fact that he went in when he was 19 means he's still 19 when he comes out. I've been told that a lot, that you don't come out older, you come out as you went in.

"So you're dealing with somebody that has slightly unrealistic expectations of what his life would be like when he came out and trying to revisit relationships with his friends and how that's never going to be the same, and how people are always going to judge him as a murderer - and the burden of that beginning to become heavier and heavier in a way he didn't really expect.

"I think when he got out, it's just a question of trying to get a job, trying to get somewhere to live, but the thing of what he is and what he's said to have done becomes sort of an albatross around his neck."

So how does Anna's past affect things with Eddie?
Tony: "I think the tension is how she relates to Eddie as a potential crime statistic, a potential reoffender, or as a human being that she wants to invest in, not just professionally but emotionally as well. To a certain extent he's supposed to be her redemption, but he could also turn out to be her ruin again if she's not careful.

"The same applies to Eddie - if he incurs her displeasure or she decides that he's breached some condition of his licence, he goes back to prison and does the rest of his sentence, which is 15 years. So there's a massive amount loaded into this relationship, and then you throw more complications at it at the end of episode one."

The show made me think about things I hadn't considered, for example the experience of prisoners being released. Did anything surprise you?
Anna: "The hostel thing. I knew nothing about hostels. It was almost like another prison when you get released. You think someone walks out of the gates, skips around - it's totally not that. I was so naïve about missing out that whole process and what they have to go through and how to be accepted into society. And I knew what a probation officer was, obviously, but I didn't realise what an important part of a criminal's life it is. Their life is in their hands - if they do something wrong they go, 'OK, go back to prison'. What a massive responsibility. You'd think that would be down to a court, but it does kind of come down to a probation officer."
Danny: "Eddie's just ill-equipped to deal with it when he comes out. He's ill-equipped to understand how people are going to react to him."
Anna: "He's like a child, she's like a mother."
Tony: "[Because of something that happens in episode one], he's considered to be more high risk to the public. Anna's character has to kind of really clamp down on him to minimise his risk. The only way to minimise somebody's risk is to make sure they have no freedom at all. That's punishment to such an extent that it actually ends up making him more dangerous."
Anna: "It makes him more angry."
Tony: "His life becomes so proscribed that it's a kind of life that he doesn't see having much future. Therefore you start to give up - when you start to give up, that's when you're at your most dangerous. She's painfully aware of this and it just makes her conflict even sharper, which is, 'I'm getting pats on the back for the way I'm dealing with him now but I'm also destroying him as a human being at the same time'."
Anna: "She can't take a risk again to a certain extent. She feels responsible for somebody's death. So the stakes for the both of them are very, very high from the beginning of the first episode to the end of the third."

Paula does lie for Eddie in episode one, though...
Anna: "That's the changing point for her. She's been doing everything by the book and she lies, but then she has to suffer the consequences. Did that lie make him find my address, turn up in the middle of the night? Is he a threat? Could he do the same to me? What have I done? And now he's going to have to hate me even more - because she does basically become his jailer."

You look very different in the show, Danny...
Anna: "You shaved everything off!"
Danny: "I was doing a play just before and I had a huge beard and long hair. Having watched episodes one and two, there is a thing about it. He has got what Tony was saying - he's like, 19 still - so I think in terms of the physicality that maybe is where it's coming from. I think he comes across quite young in it. If in doubt, shave your head!"
Anna: "You do a really good thing though - your character is always touching his head."
Danny: "I haven't consciously done that. Some of the scenes are so intense and you're just in it and a lot of the time you're warming up to try to get to that emotional state. It's weird finally watching those. It's weird watching yourself back in that sort of emotional state because I can't fake that - you've got to go there. There is a certain amount of pressure with that as well - it's like taking a photograph. It's a moment in time and if you don't hit it you're onto the next scene. There's a weight of expectation that you've got to take on board."

'Public Enemies': Anna Friel and Danny Mays

© BBC / Tiger Aspect



Did you find it emotionally draining to film, then?
Danny: "Yeah, I did, yeah."
Anna: "It was more about the hours and the time that we had to shoot it. Particularly shooting most of our big scenes were all in that one tiny little room, so it could be quite claustrophobic, and to keep that dynamic and the drama high each and every scene is difficult. It took a massive amount of concentration.

"We shot in all the real places so we're dealing with all the noise of the hostel - there was a woman being dragged out as we were filming upstairs and he was having to do this huge breakdown scene, and very, very, very fast. You had to know your lines back to front because there's not time to go again and again."

The camera following Eddie is really predatory - he even bumps into it at one point.
Danny: "That actually happened! I have a Public Enemies war wound on my nose. No, it was great. I really walloped the camera and smashed the lens."

You said you don't really want the show to be a message piece, but did it change your perceptions of people in that kind of job?
Anna: "I just learnt more about it. I knew very little about social services and I'd never really given it much thought because I'd not had to deal with it directly. But to understand the pressure that they're under and their very, very low pay and the way that the job has changed so dramatically - to stick with that must be incredibly frustrating. But I don't think we're going, 'This is a message we're trying to get across'. It's a piece of drama, but it's politically influenced."
Tony: "It has got messages in it obviously, but for me it's only ever been effective when it's been character-led. This is actually about their relationship. But I'd be disingenuous if I wasn't saying, 'I think I have these things to say'.

"One of them is about the ease with which people in the public sector can be vilified and blamed and scapegoated in a way that doesn't happen in the private sector, and certainly doesn't happen in the banking sector, who have got away with all their excesses with complete impunity.

"It is ideological. It's about saying, 'We're better off in this instance if the probation service was privatised - that's the way to deal with it, that's the way to solve all these problems'. So you make a massive meal of all the things that go wrong without ever giving proper credit to all the things that go right. 99% of the time, despite their workload, they're still doing a fantastic job.

"That's something that's apparent from the first five minutes, really. This is a drama about how easy it is to suddenly find yourself being exposed for reasons which aren't... The punishment isn't quite proportional to the mistake."

How would you sell the show? Why should people tune in to watch?
Tony: "'A show about the probation office' - that's not a sell! It's like what Danny was saying before - they're ordinary people in an extraordinary situation who are trying to deal with life after shame and disgrace, and whether they achieve happiness or not. We want to see if people can get through the s**t of their lives for something better."

Public Enemies begins tonight (January 3) at 9pm on BBC One.

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