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Danny Mays 'Mrs Biggs' interview: 'I do empathise with Ronnie Biggs'

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As we head into the autumn months ITV1 is pulling out its drama big guns, and its new series about Ronnie and Charmian Biggs is one of its most highly-anticipated shows of 2012.

Made by the team who produced BAFTA award-winning Appropriate Adult, Mrs Biggs is based on the true story of Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs and his lover Charmian. With a well crafted script and emotional and intelligent performances from the two leads - Sheridan Smith and Danny Mays - this hard-hitting series packs a punch.

Digital Spy caught up with Danny Mays to get his perspective on the show and the controversial subject matter.

Mrs Biggs: Sheridan Smith as Chairmain Biggs and Daniel Mays as Ronnie Biggs

© ITV

Mrs Biggs: Sheridan Smith as Chairmain Biggs and Daniel Mays as Ronnie Biggs

© ITV



There are a lot of false preconceptions about Ronnie Biggs aren't there...
"Oh, totally. I had to go to the doctors before I went to Australia for filming and I told him I was playing Ronnie Biggs and he said, 'Oh he killed someone, didn't he?' The number of people who have said that to me is unbelievable. And it's untrue.

"Lots of people have this perception of him as a cockney oik train robber... scum of the earth. My main memories of him were sticking fingers up to authority and the establishment in Rio. But it's when you do your research, watch documentaries, speak to Charmian, you just think, 'No'. There was so much more to him.

"There was an attractiveness, a charming sophistication, he was a lover of jazz, he wanted to better himself. He was so aspirational. I think we all try and strive for that, so there was something admirable in him in that respect."

How much did you know about him before the project?
"I knew of the Great Train Robbery and little bits. But the main thing I knew about him was when he came back in 2001 to serve his sentence when he had ill health. But in terms of his whole life and the monumental journey that he went on, I knew very little. It's an extraordinary life and it's the biggest role I've ever had. To play someone throughout their life was a massive undertaking - for me and Sheridan. The shoes were huge."

Is it the toughest role you've taken on?
"I do play quite troubled people [laughs]. I did Public Enemies with Anna Friel, and that character was very intense and troubled, but for some reason I found that much, much easier to come out of. Even though Ronnie has a carefree element and enigmatic character, despite that fun side to him, I struggled with the Rio stuff in this. To see him sink into oblivion like that, that downward spiral he went on, it was the most intense job ever."

Watch the Mrs Biggs trailer below:



My sympathies sway with him throughout the first episode. Do you think he was a bad guy?
"It's incredibly gratifying that you say that. We wanted to keep the audience on the edge of the seat with him. He was an easy guy to like, but the decisions that he made and some of the things he did were deplorable. The fact that he got involved in the robbery was an act of betrayal. But the million dollar question is why did he do it?

"They needed £500 for the deposit on a house, but he won £500 on the horses the weekend before the job. He could have pulled out, but he didn't. He would say he did it for his family, but Charmian says now that he did it for his ego.

"And there's a brilliant relationship between him and Bruce Reynolds, played beautifully by Jay Simpson. Ronnie was subservient to Bruce Reynolds and Bruce admits that Ronnie was basically the tea boy on the job. There were a fair few more experienced robbers involved who didn't want him there.

"So I do have a lot of sympathy with him and I do empathise with him. I think I do empathise with him because I played him. If you are constantly changing your opinion on him and can't make your mind up on him as a viewer that is great."

Did it add extra pressure with Charmian still around and involved in the show?
"It does add a lot of pressure, especially the days that she was on set. I've never felt pressure like this before. Not only are you playing someone that existed, you are playing someone who is ingrained in the public consciousness. Everyone has an expectation and opinion about him. I was quite fearful about the project.

"And with Charmian, it's her life up there on the screen. It's precious and we just want to do justice to it as much as we can. There are huge expectations on it."

Is it true you spooked her a few times on set?
"There were times when she would turn around on set and go, 'F**k, it's Ronnie'. And there was one time we went to watch an Aussie Rules match together. I was sat there, a young Ronnie Biggs, alongside her. That was quite weird."

Why do you think she stood by Ronnie for so long?
"I think if you love someone, and you build a life with someone and you start a family with someone... If your heart is gone, it's gone isn't it? You take the highs with the lows and whatever comes your way."

What was Sheridan Smith like to work alongside?
"She's bloody awful. Ha, no, she's brilliant. She's one of the most naturally brilliant actresses I've ever worked with. She's technically brilliant and she absolutely smashed it on this show. I thoroughly enjoyed working on it."

Are you concerned the show will annoy some people who believe that Ronnie got away with evading the law?
"I think it will be bound to get up people's noses. I don't think it glamorises crime or the robbery though. If anything, it depicts in an honest and truthful way the consequences of crime and the fallout that comes from it. I think it will test audiences about what they thought they knew."

Mrs Biggs: Sheridan Smith as Chairmain Biggs and Daniel Mays as Ronnie Biggs

© ITV

Dominic West as Fred West in Appropriate Adult

© ITV



The show is written by Jeff Pope who also penned Appropriate Adult. Do you think this is as strong a drama?
"We joined the Appropriate Adult guys at the BAFTAs and they won everything. So fantastic, no pressure! Ha. But Jeff is fantastic. He takes real life stories and brings his own take and story on it. I thought Appropriate was a wonderful piece of work and the way that Dominic West played the part lulled me into a false sense of sympathy for him... it was such a weird performance.

"Nothing in life is black and white and it's only through really examining things we can see what's going on. We only really know the tabloid Ronnie Biggs and it's projects like this that let us really find out who he is and dive into the unknown."

Mrs Biggs starts tonight (Wednesday, September 5) at 9pm on ITV1.

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