Ashely Jensen: "I think there are a lot of women that would be slightly jealous of my bedroom scenes with David Tennant"

David Tennant's The Escape Artists co star Ashley Jensen has been chatting about working on the BBC drama:

It’s a fantastic script - was that what drew you to the part?
I think every actor says it ultimately comes down to the script. In this case the script was such a brilliantly executed story, with very complex moral dilemmas, that I couldn’t say no. Quite often when you read a script you find that life gets in the way, you have to do something else and you get distracted, but this was a genuine page-turner, so I really, really liked it.
You take different jobs for different reasons and I think because David and I have a good rapport it will add to the impact of the story. I wanted to be part of that.
How do the producer and director manage to reflect the twists and turns of the script in the finished films?
The way it’s been shot very much sets the tone for the whole piece. It’s a collaboration of course, the casting, lighting, directing just as much as the writing of the script, but to have the wonderful base to work from is always a great place to start. When I first discussed it with our director Brian he told me that he wanted to shoot it like a Hitchcock thriller, so it would have subtle lighting and interesting shots, and indeed from what I’ve seen he’s achieved that.
David Wolstencroft describes The Escape Artist as a thriller set against a legal back-drop?
That’s what’s so interesting. You can almost set a thriller anywhere but I do think it is fascinating to watch the British legal system in action. The story has several different levels - David is going on this journey where he has to address things that he has believed in all his life. He’s questioning his whole way of thinking and his life has just been turned on its head so I think this is an intellectual show as much as it is a thriller. With any good thriller you should get to the point where you ask yourself, what would I do? The Escape Artist absolutely does that. If you’re asking yourself those questions then that’s good story telling.
Did it make accepting the job easier knowing David Tennant was going to be your on-screen husband?
David and I knew each other from 20 years ago. We did theatre together in Scotland and then worked in theatre together 10 years later. We’ve kept in touch throughout that time which helps when you’re playing a married couple that need to be so familiar with each other. I think there are a lot of women that would be slightly jealous of my bedroom scenes with David Tennant - but it’s all part of the job!
You’re known for both your dramatic and comedic roles – do you approach them differently?
I wouldn’t say I approach drama in a particularly different way to comedy. If anything I approach American and British comedy a little differently. All of the American comedy I’ve done is quite often about the lines, whereas the British comedy is about the space between the lines and the things that are not said.
What was the shoot like for you as a whole?
I seemed to be literally on my back the whole time. I was in a bath on my back, I was in a bed on my back. So I would get up and walk into work then lie down. The glamour of it all!
What was it like working with Monica Dolan?
Monica is a friend of mine. It’s funny actually - I was just saying earlier that when women get to the age of 40 they’re split into two categories - you’re either playing the Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction or the Anne Archer in Fatal Attraction. My good friend Monica is definitely Glenn Close and I’m definitely Anne Archer!
What is the dynamic like between your character and Maggie?
I think women can be their own worst enemies sometimes. Maggie is so deeply patronising to Kate but it’s Maggie’s insecurity and her need to constantly prove things to herself. Kate is the bigger woman I think because she is very secure in her relationship. Maggie wants affirmation whereas Kate is very secure in who she is and what she has, so it doesn’t really affect her.
What were the producers Hilary Bevan Jones and Paul Frift like to work with?
They have a body of work that is BAFTA winning, with wonderful, eclectic, interesting scripts, so knowing the calibre of work they have behind them you always felt in safe hands. They were always around and they really were brilliant producers!
The story is heavily set in British law, could that be an issue for international viewers?
I think really this is a morality tale of good and evil, and those themes are universal – so in terms of a drama and a thriller it works for everyone. I also think it is quite interesting for an international audience to see how British law works because it is so steeped in history. It’s not like Judge Judy - we still wear wigs and there are rules you have to adhere to and speeches that people have to make. It was fascinating for me as I didn’t really know much about it before.
How was it working within such an ensemble cast?
I think we got a certain calibre of actors wanting to be a part of The Escape Artist because they believed in the script and in Brian and David’s vision for the films. It’s a very creative piece of filmmaking and as an actor that’s always exciting to be part of. Gus, who played my on screen son Jamie, was absolutely brilliant, I think child actors these days seem to be getting better and better. He was so free and very receptive. Before a scene we would have a bit of banter and he didn’t get shy or embarrassed or coy or feel silly about it and he was very much there and very open.
Did you feel at all protective towards Gus given some of the darker subject matter?
Well Gus wasn’t allowed on set for the more disturbing scenes. Production went to great lengths to do that which was the right thing to do. He was completely unperturbed by it. Gus, I believe, is 12 but looks a lot younger.
You must have felt at home with all the Scottish accents?
It’s always nice to hear the dulcet tones of a Scottish accent. I spent six yours in America being the only Scottish person. I used to make jokes about being the token jock and of course out there a jock is a totally different thing and they all said, ‘what you play football?’ and I found myself having to explain my sense of humour.
Why should people tune in for the show?
I want people to watch it because good drama makes you question things and question yourself, like a good book can and going to the theatre makes you have a discussion afterwards. This is the sort of piece that will have the audience asking themselves what would they do in that situation, and what would provoke them to make them go that far?