When they were 12 years old, friends Mark, Pru, Danny and Slade were out together in the woods. Mark’s five-year-old brother Jesse was bothering them. They were mean to him. They told him to get lost. Jesse ran away. He was never seen again. Twenty years later, Danny, now a detective, learns some shocking news: Jesse’s DNA has been found at a murder scene. Could he really still be alive? If so, why has he come back? And how is he linked to this murder? Only one thing is certain: the lives of these four friends are about to be turned upside down as they desperately search for the truth. And redemption. Honeysuckle Weeks talks about playing Laura on the series. The Five can be seen on Friday evenings at 9pm on Sky 1.
What was your first reaction when you read the script?
Firstly, I knew it was going to be an exciting project because of Harlan’s name on the title page. This was no Blytonesque escapade. Also, five happens to be my favourite number. It’s a crucial number in our body’s biology. We have five fingers and five toes, plus two arms, two legs and a head like a starfish. We are all made up of fives.
What else attracted you to this project?
It was the fact that it was being made by RED Production Company, whose dramas are always stylishly shot with original screenplays that are intensely watchable. Plus, I was going to be playing a mother of a child with learning difficulties. The scenes I was allowed to see revealed a character with complicated motives who had a great deal of emotional maturity. It was the first time I’d really played a character who was a proper ‘grown-up’.
Were you a fan of Harlan’s work prior to working on the series?
I had seen the French film adaptation of Tell No One, starring Guillaume Canet and Kristin Scott Thomas, but I hadn’t read any of his books until I started work on The Five. The Stranger was the first one I picked up and I was instantly struck by how well he delineates the somewhat damning thoughts of the opposite sex towards their male counterparts!
Can you describe your character?
Laura is a strong, independent and successful career woman who has started a relationship with the central character Mark that has become quite intense quite quickly. They have very similar sensibilities and a shared sense of humour. However, Laura realises a little late in the day that this new romance is compromising the equilibrium of her teenage son. Because her son suffers from Asperger syndrome and because of his other parent not being emotionally present in his life, she decides to put her child’s needs above her own. And I don’t think she would have had the affair with Mark at all if her husband hadn’t been quite so flagrant in his philandering. There’s a slight sense of tit for tat. So there are two forces at work in Laura. On the one hand she is drawn to the story’s central character because of their mutual need to be loved and understood, but on the other she can see how much support Mark needs and backs away from it so that she can concentrate on keeping her own family together.
How do you think the disappearance affected how your character’s life turned out?
As Laura has her own reasons for initiating an affair, I think Mark is drawn to Laura because he too is seeking a refuge. He needed a place to go which was just about him. A place that was free from all the associations of Jesse’s ordeal. I don’t know that they would ever have been together in the first place if Jesse hadn’t disappeared. Conversely, the fact that there is a suggestion that he might still be alive I think naturally draws them apart as Mark searches for links to his past.
When filming, how much of the plot did you know beforehand and did you know how the story would end from the start?
I can’t speak for the other members of the cast but I certainly had no idea what would be happening to my character from one day to the next or whether I’d even be alive still. So no, a concerted effort was made on the part of our director Mark to make sure we were all kept in the dark on our character’s futures in case our knowing anything changed their behaviour or reactions to certain situations, or indeed to other actors. It was like Chinese whispers on set with people trying to guess what happened to whom and by whom and when.
It’s quite an intense drama. But when filming stopped, was it fun on set?
The more intensely emotional a piece of drama is, the more hysteria there often tends to be on set as all the ‘Tom (Cullen) foolery’ is a way of diffusing the aura of trauma! Tom was often having wrestling matches with members of the cast as though he were some newly appointed chief buck keeping the young pretenders in check. There was a lot of playlist swapping and I usually spent the hiatuses sitting around doing pencil sketches of various members of the cast and crew in disgruntled repose!
How did you enjoy working with the ensemble cast? Had you worked with any of the cast before?
I had never worked with Sarah Solemani before but when we met it felt as though I had known her for as long as Pru had known Mark. Fingers crossed that it’s the start of a lifelong friendship. Tom Cullen is probably the easiest actor in the world to get along with as he is very relaxed and generous. I had also worked with Geraldine James on drama-led charitable events in our native West Sussex and to that effect we spent a great deal of time travelling up and down to our respective hamlets together. I had also worked with several of the crew members before on the last series of Foyle’s War, which was also shot in Liverpool.
Why should viewers tune in to the show?
RED Production Company made Happy Valley, among other things, so you know that the writing, acting and production standards are going to be sky high. It has a wide breadth of different characters from all walks of life, all of whom may or may not be implemented in the show’s central mystery, which is “Whatever happened to Jesse?” Even though they are separated by at least a quarter century, The Five immediately strikes me as having a distinctly ‘Twin Peaks’ feel, with the central tagline of that show being “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” The Five has all the right ingredients to achieve cult status as a television hit. It is filled with fascinatingly dark characters and a storyline that’ll hook you in and keep you guessing till the very end. And I’m expecting nothing less than a killer soundtrack to underscore the drama as our director Mark Tonderai’s first career was in the music industry. Personally I cannot wait for the first episode.
Will you watch it when it’s on Sky 1? Do you like watching the final cut of your work?
I will most certainly watch it. I wouldn’t normally watch myself in a murder mystery show as nine times out of 10 I’ll know who the murderer is and so it defeats the point of watching the drama. But on this occasion I’ll have as little of a clue as to what is going on as the rest of the audience and for me not knowing that makes it unusually compelling viewing.
If you could give a young actor one piece of advice what would it be?
Always take your work seriously, but never yourself. Do everything in your power to give yourself the best chance of getting an audition. In other words, know your lines back to front, present yourself immaculately and be yourself. I spent years being secretly made fun of by casting directors by turning up in character, dressed to the nines in empire lines and ringlets. You’re an actor. Let them see you act.