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No Offence: Series 2 - Elaine Cassidy interview (exclusive)

Elaine Cassidy, No Offence

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ELAINE Cassidy talks about playing DC Dinah Kowalska in the second series of Channel 4’s hit female-led crime comedy-drama No Offence and what appealed to her about taking on the role in Paul Abbott’s show in the first place.

She also discusses her career to date, including working alongside the late Bob Hoskins, getting the acting bug as a child, being part of the very special Mum’s List movie last year and how she balances taking on jobs with motherhood.

Q. It must be nice getting to play DC Dinah Kowalska again in this second season of No Offence?
Elaine Cassidy: It’s always nice for things to go again because it’s a nice gesture. But for me, that’s also a bonus. I choose jobs quite selfishly. I do them for me and the exploration you get to go on with a character… seeing how they react in certain situations, how they develop. If audiences enjoy it, then that’s the cherry on top. You don’t expect it but it’s really nice when it happens. It adds to it and enhances the overall experience. And it’s nice to share something you’re really proud of and worked hard on. So, it’s been a really nice response to No Offence; although I can only take a little bit of the credit. It’s such a collaboration and it’s very much Paul Abbott’s world that he creates. It’s so amazing and so unique and it’s an honour to get to be a part of that world.

Q. So, what can we expect from Dinah this time? Has she changed much?
Elaine Cassidy: I think more of the same. She’s still gung-ho and jumps first and thinks later. You still get to see her flaws, which makes you love her even more. But she’s very lively this year because I was struggling with an injury from filming during the first year. It happened early in the shoot, which meant I then knew physically I was making choices that Dinah wouldn’t. So, this time around it’s been really nice and quite surprising to see how she holds herself physically because there were no limitations physically this time. I was able to feel her physically. But there are also some new characters for Dinah to interact with this time – and some old ones have gone. But it’s still very much the world of No Offence. If you enjoyed the first year, then you should really enjoy the second.

Q. Did you have to do any research for the role this time? Or any physical preparation?
Elaine Cassidy: No physical preparation. As for the research, most of that was done for year one, because it’s then that you’re entering into a new world, complete with new accent. I’d done research on what it entails to be a police officer many years ago, when I was doing a cop drama for Channel 4 called Ghost Squad. So, I had all that on hand to pull at. So, there was less research needed doing for year two because of the nature of the storyline. It’s Dinah being a cop. That being said, I still had to prepare for getting back into that accent because it had been 18 months since I last did it. So, you could say I had to bring my mouth to the gym [laughs].

Q. What was the appeal of playing someone like Dinah in the first place? What do you tend to look for in characters that you play?
Elaine Cassidy: Well, initially I had just finished The Paradise for the BBC, which was set in the 1870s and involved lots of beautiful period costumes, and then I went into Fathers and Sons at The Donmar [Warehouse, theatre in London], which was the same period. So, again that involved wearing a lot of beautiful clothes. But I remember thinking: “Bloody hell, I need to get out of these corsets because they’ll be the death of me!”. You don’t want to get pigeon-holed. So, I always get attracted to parts that are different from the previous ones I’ve played. I always want to learn and be challenged – and to get better as an actress. So, with No Offence the challenge was entering this very contemporary, different world that I’d never really been in before. And that came with a new accent and a character who is so different to who I am. With this new series, I get to explore that character even more. You always hope that in the writing she’ll be given new situations to see how she’ll react, which in turn gives you more scope to play with.

Q. You’ve enjoyed a really long and diverse career to date, during which time you’ve also gotten to work with some screen legends. Among those, was the late, great Bob Hoskins. What was the experience of working with him like?
Elaine Cassidy: I was lucky enough to work with him twice and I have really, really fond memories of him. In fact, most of them are becoming even more potent now, especially since I am a parent now. We were in New Zealand the second time we worked together, which is very far away. And I remember that he just wanted to be with his family. He didn’t phone it [his performance] in, but he was very homesick. I remember that most about him. And I understand that a lot more now. It’s not that I didn’t understand it back then, but I feel it myself even more now. I really miss my family and my kids when I’m away from home. I can’t not think of his family when I think about Bob, because he talked about them so much. He was such a good actor, so professional, but he also had his priorities so in order. It didn’t affect his work. And I feel very, very honoured, lucky and privileged to have worked with him because Bob was just a good, lovely man.

Q. So, how hard do you now have to think before taking a job about how long it will keep you from your family?
Elaine Cassidy: It’s a factor. It can be make or break as to why you do or don’t do a job. It’s really hard being away from them. When you’re younger, and you don’t have ties, that’s the exciting part of the job. You get to go here, there and everywhere if you want to. But then when you’re in my situation, it’s a huge price that you pay. It is a sacrifice. It’s how myself and my husband earn our living. I think we get the balance right, but we do have to think hard before choosing and it’s a collective thing. You also have to be realistic because it is about paying the bills too. And if a great opportunity arises, you can’t say no. But you do have to pick and choose a little more. Thankfully, the life of an actor can be quite balanced anyway. If you look over the course of a whole year, you do tend to have periods of down time. So, it’s about managing the balance. Right now, I can’t wait to be a mum for a bit. I’m always a mum, of course, but I want to be domesticated and be in my house and do the school runs and all that.

Elaine Cassidy, Mum's List

Q. Talking of motherhood, you were also part of a very emotional film called Mum’s List last year. How was that?
Elaine Cassidy: That was really, really special. I’ve never read a script that’s made me cry from beginning to end. And that’s the same experience that my sister and my mum had when they went and watched it. My sister lasted five minutes, and my mum 10! My sister said that when she got home she kissed her kids a thousand times while they were asleep. And that’s exactly what the film makes you do. You don’t need reminding of it – but in a way you do, because life is so fast and it can change in an instant. Mum’s List has such a beautiful script, which was written by Niall Johnson, who also directed. But he was absolutely the best person to tell that story because he knows that family’s story first-hand. His kids go to their kids school. So, he was very respectful of the story. For years, he shone away from it – but then one day it came to him how he should do it – and the results are now there for everyone to see. It’s always lovely to be part of a project that, on a creative level, is done for all the right reasons. I got to meet the real Singe and his kids, which was incredibly emotional. It makes you realise that it’s not just a story; it’s his life that we’re recreating. But it was also lovely to work with Rafe [Spall] because it had been quite a while since we’d last worked together.

Q. So, what did you take away personally from an experience like making Mum’s List?
Elaine Cassidy: Well, what resonated with me was that it was more a celebration of their love for each other and, therefore, a celebration of life. It maybe didn’t have the outcome that Disney would give it, but that’s life. I really enjoy the now because that’s all we’re certain of. The only thing that is guaranteed in life is that we’re all gong to die at some point, so it’s important to make the most of now. And I think everyone can relate to that story.

Q. What have been your own career highlights to date?
Elaine Cassidy: Gosh, I’m very fortunate with all the jobs that I’ve done that I’ve wanted to do them. So, I feel very grateful for that. With each and every one, I could pick memorable moments. So, that’s a really tricky question. Like I said before, I’m really grateful for all the projects I’ve been involved in and the parts I’ve played. So, I just want to continue to be challenged and to keep getting better and better. I don’t ever want to lose that or become complacent or pulling tricks. I think every job that I’ve done to this point has had something new to challenge me, which is why maybe it’s hard to pick one. With each one, you’re kind of gathering even more tools, I hope. And as you get older, you like to think you get better because you’re learning more. In life, you’re supposed to get wiser, so as an actor, even just through your own life experiences, you’re already richer as a person and have more to pull on. And this job is great for the places it takes you to, the things it makes you interested in and the skills you get to learn. When you’re actually filming, for instance, there are times when you get access to places you’d never get to see. I was in The British History Museum in London after hours and it felt magical. We were also in The Tate after hours, shooting the trailer for Les Liaisons Dangerous for NT Live – so getting to see those amazing paintings without the public was something I’ll never forget. It’s moments like that when you have to pinch yourself.

Elaine Cassidy, No Offence

Q. So, how did you first get the acting bug?
Elaine Cassidy: Initially, it was just from what you do as a child – imaginative play. And then watching films as kids and going into a make believe world… escapism. We continue to do that in our lives through reading a book or watching TV, or going to see a film or a play – to take you out of you. But the fact there’s a job that does that is great! So, ever since I knew what the word meant I’ve wanted to act. I wasn’t trying to escape. I loved the escapism. And then when I started playing darker characters, I was a lot happier to escape back into my own life, to escape that character [laughs]. I don’t actually know what could be described as the actual trigger. I think when I was about two or three, I saw my uncle in an amateur production and I remember being down the back. So, I flicked a switch that was near me because I was bored and, all of a sudden, all of the main lights came on and there were all these heads switched around and looking at me. It was a little bit of devilment in me, I guess. But I remember thinking that once the lights went back off, I wanted to do it again! So, maybe that was the moment. But I don’t do it for attention now, because I don’t like attention as Elaine. But that was probably a very poignant moment for me. A huge seed got planted then.

And of course, there were school productions when I was 4 or 5, initially as an angel or a fairy. I was delighted with those because I got to have a little wand. But then I remember that because I had brown hair, I had to be Pinocchio in one production – and I wanted to be a fairy. It wasn’t until we started rehearsing that it dawned on me that I had all the lines. I then thought: “Jesus, I’ve got the main part!” And I really enjoyed it. So, that’s kind of how it happened. As with anything in life, when you have certain experiences at pivotal times, they shape you.

Q. What’s next?
Elaine Cassidy: I’ve just completed a six-part thriller set in the high stakes world of big pharmaceuticals. It’s a good one. The scripts are great. It’s called Acceptable Risk and it’s sort of The Bourne Identity meets The West Wing. It’s really smart – but accessible. And it’s very current – the themes in it are scarily relevant. It should be come completed in time to air in the autumn – although no date has been set yet.

Q. And can you say a little bit more about your role?
Elaine Cassidy: I play Sarah Manning, a lawyer, who isn’t currently working because three years ago, her first husband and father of her children died. So, within those three years she kind of takes time out from work. But she works for a big pharmaceutical company and is very high up. She’s also met somebody else in that time, who is a marketing executive in the company. So, they get married and then he dies. As you can tell, it’s a bundle of laughs [chuckles]! But then her story starts to unfold and things come out of the woodwork. She starts to question not just the death of her second husband, but the death of her first as well, and it’s possible that there’s a link between the two. So, she’s on a mission to get answers… And maybe I’ve said too much!

No Offence: Series 2 airs on Channel 4 on Wednesday nights, from January 4, 2017, at 9pm.