For your spies only (May 2003)

For your spies only

by Steve Pratt (The Northern Echo, 29 May 2003)

For Matthew Macfadyen, the weirdest thing about the success of the first series of BBC1's Spooks was coming face-to-face with himself his flat every day. "They put huge billboards up to promote the series and the strange thing was, there was one right outside my flat," he explains.

"I would walk out of my front door and think to myself, 'Oh, there I am!', which was the weirdest thing. But then, after a while, it became strangely normal to see my face staring back at me every day."

The series follows the exploits of a national security MI5 team working to thwart the activities of terrorists operating in the UK. The new series picks up where the first one finished, with Tom's girlfriend and her young daughter trapped inside a securely sealed house in which a bomb is about to explode.

Spooks returns having won a Bafta award as best drama series and audiences averaging 7.6 million for the first series last May and June on BBC1.

The makers found that their fiction was reflected in the real news. "One episode, for example, was about race issues and, at the same time it was broadcast, the Ten O'Clock News followed with a story about race riots," says executive producer Jane Featherstone.

"There were a number of times when items in the news seemed frighteningly to mirror what had just happened on the screen."

Writer David Wolstencroft says that, in the current political climate, never have people been more aware of the risk of terrorist threats. "Sadly, it's at the back of all our minds that what happened in the United States on September 11, 2001, could be repeated in some way. For this reason, the role of MI5 is becoming increasingly significant."

Glasgow-born Macfadyen enjoys playing Tom Quinn, the senior case office at MI5 who finds himself at the heart of the action. "He's quite a serious character and concentrates on his job, sometimes at the expense of other areas of his life," he says. "He has difficulty when his work spills into his personal life, and he finds it hard to keep things secret."

What the actor and his co-star Keeley Hawes, who plays another MI5 case officer, couldn't keep secret was their romance, which blossomed while they were making Spooks.

For Macfadyen, acting was a childhood dream. He appeared in lots of plays at school and being on stage was where he felt happiest. "I found it incredibly exciting and so I auditioned for all the school plays," he recalls.

"I was certain that this was what I wanted to do and never really considered anything else. I was very fortunate to get into RADA and had a really good three years there. Acting still doesn't feel like a proper job sometimes. I get paid to do something I love, which makes me feel very lucky."

His first big TV role was in Peter Kosminsky's BBC1 drama Warriors, followed by roles in Stephen Poliakoff's Perfect Strangers, The Way We Live Now and The Project.

Hawes, 26, came to Spooks with a list of previous TV credits in series including Wives And Daughters, Our Mutual Friend, Tipping The Velvet and A Is For Acid. For her, the hardest part of playing feisty MI5 officer Zoe Reynolds is the language. The dialogue is a real challenge, she says.

"Some of the jargon that the characters use I don't even understand. A lot of it is like reading the news because it's all facts and figures and names. Some of the time you have no idea what you're actually talking about, it's just a matter of remembering it all and then getting it in the right order."

Then there's the challenge of keeping track of which alias she's supposed to be adopting. "In one episode, Zoe goes undercover as a teacher in a school. So, for her day job, she's Jane, a canoeing English teacher. Then in her private life at the same time, she's pretending to be Emma, a legal secretary to her new boyfriend, Carlo, and when she actually does go to work, she's Zoe Reynolds, MI5 Officer. It's all very confusing."

Spooks: Monday, BBC1, 9pm