Emila Fox talks about playing Vanessa Hamilton on the new series of The Tunnel - Sabotage. The series can be seen on Sky Atlantic from Tuesday April 5th at 9pm.
You play Vanessa Hamilton in the series. What is she like?
She’s a pretty enigmatic character, a lone wolf who does terrible things. I’d expect her to be someone who could turn up at a different time in a different guise as a different person and no one would recognise her. You get small glimpses of her past but she gives you very little. It’s like she’s got a mask on all the time. With the back story that I gave Vanessa, I took it that she just closed off from absolutely everyone and she got on with the job that she was meant to get on with. Because she’s doing pretty appalling things – or certainly orchestrating some pretty appalling things – that was her way of protecting herself against any emotion. I imagined that she had a damaged past herself and that this was her way of dealing with it. To completely cut herself off. Otherwise I don’t know how you could do such awful things. She has a very distinctive look... We had really good fun creating a strong look for her. ‘Stripy hair,’ is how I described it. Straight stripy hair and lots of dark eye makeup and then very strong clothes with a signature black coat so that she could morph in to being quite smart if she needed to be in a smart situation. Again, I think it’s like a costume for her. You feel like you could be doing business with her and she could be in the sort of slightly grimier places that you see her in as well. She can switch between different situations all the time.
Is she supposed to be a slightly heightened villain or genuinely scary?
Sadly I don’t think she is a heightened character because I think some people do really do these outrageous, horrible things. The true horror of her is that there probably are lots of people doing what she is doing. I wouldn’t ever choose to play her as a ‘panto baddie’ within the context of The Tunnel itself because it feels so real. And in fact the episodes that I’ve been watching are startlingly realistic.
Is it nice to flex a different muscle compared to Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness, who’s an out-and-out goodie?
It’s amazing to be asked to play someone completely different to Nikki Alexander, at completely the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s in that sort of crime world that I feel like I know well from Silent Witness but, here, I’m on the other side of it. Vanessa would definitely be up there in the top baddies I’ve ever played. It’s great being asked to play someone different – I think I’m mostly known for playing the good Nikki, who’s on a permanent quest for truth and justice and this challenges the preconceptions that people have.
And the role has added meaning for you, does it not?
Coincidentally I’d just been asked to be a patron of the charity Unseen, which aims to create awareness and offer help to the victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. Vanessa is a perpetrator in this story but I hope that by playing her I might be able to direct some attention to Unseen and the fantastic work that they do.
How topical is this story?
I find it a bit scary to think of flying after you’ve seen the first episode! I mean it’s a sign that it’s been done really, really brilliantly but it’s a contemporary story with contemporary, horrifying things that are believable. You wouldn’t be surprised if you saw some of the things we deal with here in the news. It’s also a tribute to Ben, the writer, who’s done his research and knows how to tell the story.
Why did you want this role?
Firstly, I’m a massive fan of The Bridge, so I was just delighted to be in anything that’s in any way connected to that show. I’m a big fan of crime drama full stop and I have a vested interest always in seeing how people tell stories in different ways. I was also just really excited to work with Stephen [Dillane] who I have long admired as an actor. He was in a play, The Real Thing, when I was in my twenties and I just thought he was so brilliant that I kept going back to see how he did it differently each time. And so I was really thrilled to be working with him. I find his process of working really exciting. Particularly with crime drama: he makes it so un-procedural. We really sort of broke down scenes and put them all back together again so everyone knew where they were. It was lovely to see Clémence [Poésy] again too, who I worked with on Gunpowder, Treason and Plot a long time ago. Finally I’d been doing a film in Kent called The Carer just before they asked me to do The Tunnel. And I didn’t know Kent very well so I was glad to spend some more time there.
Did you film in the tunnel itself?
Yes! That was a pretty extraordinary experience. It’s bizarre. It’s like being in a James Bond film. By the time you’ve been driven up and down and you’ve filmed in various different directions it makes you completely disorientated – you have no idea which way you’re facing. I did my last day of filming in the tunnel and we all got on this sort of tram-like thing to go back out. After a long journey it turned out we were going the wrong direction. We were going to France. It would be the stuff of nightmares if you got stuck in there forever. But it was rather amazing – we all took photos down there. That’s the joy of acting – you get to go to places that you wouldn’t otherwise get to go to.