Tamsin Greig – The Guilty Q&A

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The Guilty is set across two timelines – 2008 and present day – and tells the story of DC Maggie Brand (Tamsin Greig – Episodes, Friday Night Dinner), who investigates the disappearance of little Callum Reid whilst coping with her own young son’s diagnosis with autism.

Principally known for her roles in two Channel 4 television comedies: Fran Katzenjammer in Black Books and Dr. Caroline Todd in Green Wing. Greig currently stars as Beverly Lincoln in transatlantic sitcom Episodes, and as Jackie in the Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner and takes the lead in ITV‘s The Guilty

Who is DCI Maggie Brand?

Maggie’s very good at her job: she’s very contained, has a great eye for detail and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I’ve met a couple of DCIs as research and the thing they are very interested in now is ‘emotional intelligence’. Maggie has that but she also has a very interesting emotional detachment, so she has emotional intelligence which is buried.

She’s not interested in making people feel at ease – she’s just interested in what the truth is and I think that’s very unsettling for the people she works with. She’s not instantly likeable but she’s respected and knows how to do her job well, regardless of what’s expected of her.

How does Maggie – the mother of a four year old boy – detach herself from the case emotionally?

I think Maggie is the sort of person who is emotionally guarded in any situation. The director asked me at the readthrough ‘do you think she behaves differently at work and home?’ and I think the levels of change are minute. You know you meet those people…you like them, but they don’t give anything away. Wherever they are, at work or at home, you’re always looking to see what their vulnerability is. But they don’t ever give it away.

Interestingly, Debbie [O’Malley] has written in the character of Maggie’s mother, who is very emotional, very flamboyant, who impedes on other people’s emotional garden – she gets over the wall when she’s not invited!

How does the Reid case and the relationships at the heart of The Guilty unravel?

One of the DCIs I spoke to said ‘go by the ABC rule – A. accept nothing. B believe nobody. C. check everything. So you look at everybody and say ‘really?’ I think Maggie is taking her time to look at everyone from all angles – as a parent, a partner, a suspect – and see what happens. She doesn’t show her working. She wouldn’t get a GSCE in maths!

What’s really beautiful about this story is that it allows the space for truth to be revealed, rather than hunting it out. With Daniel and Claire, the truth is allowed to rise just very slowly to the surface. And that’s what’s happening with Maggie and her husband Jeb too. They just allow the truth of what’s before their eyes to take its natural shape.

Do you think you’d make a good detective?

My brother in law is a policemen and I’ve always been very interested in how he does his job. He talks in a very interesting way about how you interview someone. And it’s a bit like being an actor because you have to get into their shoes. There is a necessity for shelving judgement and shutting down your own emotional horror to be able to say to a suspect ‘I get you. I see how that was possible.’ You sympathise with their stories in order to get the last question in which might lead to a confession. To get them to that place where you say ‘I don’t judge you – I’m just trying to see how you got here’. I think that’s really intriguing. Your best work is when you have no angle or agenda.

What have you enjoyed most about playing Maggie and do you ever take the dark subject matter home?

I remember a director at the RSC once said to me ‘An actor has to decide whether they are trying to express emotion or deal with emotion’. And I think that’s what’s really exciting about playing this part. She feels all of this but its how she deals with it. That makes for really interesting telly because you’re not shown everything. Its like watching someone fill out a sudoku and thinking ‘how on earth do you know that number goes there!?”

I have to remember this is a character – it’s not me. When I get in the car to work I’m getting into Maggie and when I get out it’s not me anymore. I asked the DCIs I met ‘how do you cut off? How do you leave work at work?’ and they both said ‘you don’t.’ It’s in the room but you can choose not to engage with it. Then it doesn’t impact on the real relationships you’re having. Having said that, I’m very grateful that when I go home and look at my children, I can say ‘you’re here’.

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