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Friday 5 January 2024

Q&A with Emilia Fox - Silent Witness

In Silent Witness Series 27, Dr. Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox), a pathologist, teams up with forensic expert Jack Hodgson (David Caves) and their dedicated squad to assist the police in solving some of their most unsettling cases. The discoveries include a body in an abandoned church, raising concerns of a resurfaced serial killer two decades later, a wave of terror striking a university campus, an overlooked mummified corpse, multiple bodies entombed beneath a train station in a makeshift mass grave, and the infiltration of the Lyell by a malevolent force.

As the team employs their expertise to unravel the truth, they find themselves pushed to their limits. Gabriel seeks unconventional advice from Jack, leading to a vulnerable moment at work with devastating consequences. Velvy endeavors to do right by his family, but at a significant personal cost. Cara navigates the complexities of London student life, forming both friendships and enmities. Her stint at the Lyell during work experience impresses Jack, but she is compelled to intervene upon making a shocking discovery about Velvy. Nikki and Jack face one of the most challenging cases of their careers, strengthening their relationship in the process.

Catch up on previous episodes of Silent Witness at https://amzn.to/4aEH0zL

How is Nikki's relationship with Jack developing?

In the past, because they had worked alongside each other for so long and had got closer and closer, it begged the question, "If they like each other so much, and they get on so well, why have they not got together?" So now, they have come together and now need to navigate having a working relationship and a "relationship" relationship.

Can you amplify that?

So much of the show, quite rightly, is about being respectful towards the subject matter, but with each other Jack and Nikki can have a bit more of a jest and a joke and play that out within their relationship. It's not always about high drama within relationships; it's often about just being together. So they have got some really lovely moments. And because of the darkness of the subject matter, they become more and more close. They've been so work focused. But as you get older, do you place a different emphasis on what's important in life? They're both discovering that in this series.

What do you enjoy about working with David?

We've worked together for over a decade now. It's amazing – time flies when you're having fun! We come at the work with the same professional attitude, both wanting it to be the best it can be and caring about it. And David is a really brilliant actor. He can turn any scene into something fantastic. And he's got great humour, great emotion and a great ability to make things sing off the page. Even when we're doing information scenes, he can create character in that and I really enjoy doing that with him.

What can you tell us about the first episode of the new series?

Straight away, we're into a case where a body is found in a church. The detective who comes onto the case recognises the MO as being possibly linked to a serial killing case that she worked on two decades ago. She becomes quite tunnel visioned about it. In this episode, Nikki doesn't want to be consumed by who the killer might have been and what their character was like. She wants to stick with the facts and not get led by the detective. In some stories, we do want to know who the criminal is and want to know more about them. But for the purposes of this story, Nikki wants to make sure that no errors are made because of the biased view that the detective has.

What happens next?

Nikki gets taken to meet Charles Beck, played by the wonderful John Hannah, who worked on the original case. Through having a feeling and an affiliation with him because of the job and also through understanding that he is a man who is losing his memory, she becomes more involved with him than she thought she would. And she likes him, which makes it complicated when she discovers something about him. It was very easy to play because John is such a lovely man and such a brilliant actor. And so I really felt the complications, but also the great humanity John brings to a complex character like that.

Talk us through your role as executive producer on Silent Witness.

There are lots of execs who do the proper, behind the scenes putting together of Silent Witness. I think my exec role is more as a caretaker. Because new producers come on for different series, I can say to them, "This happened in this series" or, "Hang on, have we looked at that, and should we remember this?" The thing I really love doing is creating a good atmosphere on a show. If you're in the very privileged position of being a leader in a drama, then part of being given that role is to go, "How can we make this the best atmosphere for an actor to come on to, to be able to produce their best work?" I know what it's like as an actor coming onto a show. It can be really nerve-wracking. You can come on for a day and have to give everything all on that one day. You do all your scenes in one day, and sometimes they are shot in reverse order. That's hard. So I really feel it, and I want it to be the nicest atmosphere possible. That creates the best bed for nurturing a performance. That way, people go away thinking, "I had a really good time, and I'd love to come back."

As always, you have a host of superb guest actors in this series. Why does Silent Witness keep attracting such great names?

The two-hour format really helps. Two hours is enough time to really get into the guest characters and the guest stories. We also have very good, strong writers who write terrific guest characters. And that is I hope what appeals to the likes of John Hannah, Hermione Norris, Neil Pearson, Julie Graham, Kevin McNally and John Thomson. Everyone wants to come on to the show because they get such good parts to play. But also, Silent Witness is a lovely show to work on, with really, really nice people across the board. That is one of the many reasons why I love it, and I hope that is what draws the guest actors to come and work for us as well. What a joy that we get to work with these very talented, very experienced people, but also that we get to work with people who are just starting out in their careers.

Do you meet lots of people who have been driven to study pathology after watching Silent Witness?

Yes. I have met lots of people who say that. I'm absolutely thrilled if watching a television programme can inspire someone to go, "Oh, I'm interested in that." I'm very aware we're in the world of fiction. But if in real life, it inspires someone to go, "Oh, I'd like to find out more about, and oh, my goodness, I could actually do it," that's brilliant. it makes me feel very proud.

You've now played Nikki for 20 years. What do you still love about playing her?

There are so many things I love about playing her. She has been an ally through my life in all sorts of different times – through my 20s, 30s, 40s, relationships, children, many varied jobs. I feel like Nikki and I have been in these different periods of our lives together. It's been wonderful.

What else have you relished about working on Silent Witness?

I love the premise of it. I love the character that I've had 20 years to find. She feels very familiar, but she's continually put into completely different situations. So you're constantly challenged and stimulated by it. I feel massively proud of the show, of the fact that it's still here and that the audience still want it and still want Nikki. Miracle! But I find the subject matter always draws me in. In every single episode, I'm intrigued by where we're going to go. I like the fact that we do go into the darker worlds. But you can also hold on to the fact that you've got a regular cast ensemble team who want good to come out of tragic circumstances. They are able to do something which is right, so I feel there's hope and light in it as well. Every single time the series starts again, I think, "I'm so happy to be on it." I just love it!

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