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Bits and Bobs (Vol. 19): 'Prime Suspect' creator Lynda La Plante chats about guest stars.

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Lyndalaplante_lSuffering from Prime Suspect withdrawal? Can’t hold out until Masterpiece Contemporary starts re-airing the final installment next week? Me neither. So I’ve been watching two of creator Lynda la Plante’s other crime series, Trial & Retribution and The Commander (both are out on DVD). Think of Lynda as the British Dick Wolf: Each of her series is just samey enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy, has a bit of shock to keep you interested, and is full of great writing (and great acting) that will sizzle your brain cells. I started with The Commander, which stars Amanda Burton (the nasty nun from Marple: Nemesis) as New Scotland Yard’s highest-ranking lady officer and “Serious Crime Group” chief. She’s what the kiddies call fierce. And she’s got this sneaky, backstabbing male underling to always keep her on her toes.

Now I’m deep into Trial, which is some great shakes. It combines the Law & Order format (beginning at the investigation, ending at the trial), with 24’s penchant for split screens and multiple points of view. (And the squeamish may want to cover their eyes). Sure, they’re both sans Helen Mirren, but in the great British tradition of wonderful guest stars, they’re stacked with recognizable faces from Hugh Dancy and Hugh Bonneville to James Wilby and Rosamund Pike. Lynda (a newly anointed C.B.E.) did us the honor recently (and seriously, it’s a big honor) of talking about a few of them, after the jump.

Simon Callow, Trial & Retribution
LYNDA LA PLANTE: I worked with Simon when I was an actress in aplay by Snoo Wilson called The Soul of The White Ant. Simon continuedwith a lustrous career as an actor whilst I switched to writing. He isa consummate actor and a true professional. He is a joy to work withand write for. It was due to Simon’s experience as a stage actor that Iasked if he would consider playing a barrister in Trial &Retribution. One of the main reasons why I have always chosen verystrong theater actors is because there are always very lengthyspeeches, which require such confidence and ability to draw theaudience into the trials.

Rhys Ifans, Trial & Retribution
Many young and very inexperienced actors would have balked at playingsuch a deviant role. I chose Rhys knowing he was inexperienced (backthen) because I felt that when he auditioned he had a terrific grasp ofthe part. Sometimes it is wonderful to be able to take risks with freshtalent, and Rhys more than proved that I had the right actor for therole. He is superb, and I would so love to work with him again, but he’snow a movie star and well deserved success sometimes makes it difficultto acquire their presence, but one day!

Richard E Grant, Trial & Retribution 
I have known Richard for many years and truly felt that he would notrelish playing such a deviant. As a friend, I asked if he would considerportraying the role of the killer, whose madness was really terrifying as he crosses from sanctity to depravity. It was a reallystunning performance and one so unexpected that it added layer uponlayer to the role. I would so love to work with him again. He is yetanother actor who brings such professionalism to work and yet is suchan easy-going, lovely person.

James Wilby, Trial & Retribution
It’s hard to bring in an actor who has carved a career playing veryheroic, young romantic roles, and then ask him if he would considerplaying a transsexual! James was exceptional: He really relished thecomplicated role and, aided by a really talented costume designer,brought to his part an added dimension in the fact that he refused togo down the route of “the obvious”. Instead, James chose to attempt areally complex character that was not just exotic but appeared to be avery attractive woman. In fact, some of the crew could not believe thatit was James Wilby when he first appeared in full costume. That provedto me what a very talented actor he is.

Hugh Bonneville, The Commander
Casting the role of the ex-prisoner/killer and knowing we needed anactor who would not give away his dark lethal side was a difficult job.Hugh is such a brilliant actor he was totally believable, and at thesame time it became shocking to realize that he was a very dangerouscreature. Hugh is a lovely person to work with and a consummateprofessional, and I just can’t wait to find another role to work withhim again.

Saskia Reeves, The Commander
What a wonderful actress Saskia is. She is studious and diligent anduses every line of the script to enhance her character with light andshade. She is also a very beautiful lady and to work with someone soprofessional is a joy. I have wanted to work with Saskia many times, butshe is always very busy. But I sincerely hope that one day we will gettogether again as she is so special.

Nickolas Grace, The Commander
Ah well, Niko…I have known Mr. Grace for so many years, and I alwayspromised him that one day I would write a role specifically for him.You can imagine, when I called him to say that “I’d done it,” howthrilled he was, but then I had to tell him what “I’d done.” I wantedhim to play the part of a man who believed he was a fruit bat. I willnever forget the long pause as he eventually repeated “A FRUIT BAT?’:

The Bits and Bobs Calendar

Monday (Nov. 17): Nick Hornby talks to Craig Ferguson
Tuesday: Hugh Laurie sits down with Ellen; Adele visits Leno; Dr. Who: Season 4 drops on DVD, along with the Monty Python Holy Trinity movie set and the Complete Monty Python Flying Circus Collector’s Edition Megaset.
Wednesday: If you haven’t checked out Linus Roache as ADA Cutter on Law & Order, do so Wednesday at 10 p.m.
Thursday: Pick up P.D. James’ 14th Adam Dalgliesh mystery, The Private Patient.
Sunday: Robert Carlyle joins the 24 cast in the new TV movie Redemption, on Fox at 8 p.m.  PBS airs The Unseen Alistair Cooke, a collection of home videos and dedications to the late Masterpiece Theatre host at 9 p.m. Elvis Costello wishes Stephen happy holidays on Comedy Central’s A Colbert Christmas at 10 p.m.

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