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27 November 2014
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Film, TV and Animation

Liz on Mars

Filming is under way on the second series of Life on Mars - BBC's intriguing 70s time travel cop drama. As it's set and filmed here in Manchester, we caught up with Liz White, who plays WPC Annie Cartright:

Liz White and John Simm in Life on Mars
Liz White and John Simm in Life on Mars

Life on Mars is an intriguing twist on the British cop drama which has proved to be a huge hit - and a golden opportunity to bring flares, wing collars and Ford Cortinas back to our TV screens!

It tells the story of DI Sam Tyler (John Simm) who finds himself mysteriously transported from 2006 back to 1973 Manchester. He finds himself working with DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), living proof that modern policing has come a long way from Sweeney-style coppering of the day. Likewise, attitudes to women at work.

Sam finds himself drawn to WPC Annie Cartright (Liz White), the only woman in a sexist CID department of 40 blokes, who responds to his more sensitive ways. But will they get it together?

Between shoots in Studio 7 at BBC Manchester, we caught up with Liz to find out:

Did you know it was going to be such a hit?

Ford Cortina 2000E
Mars car: Cortina 2000E in the car park

"I didn’t know how successful but I thought we were onto a winner when I saw what Phil and John were doing. And then there's the sets as well, the quality: if you were to walk into one of the sets you do feel like you’ve gone back in time. So you’re surrounded by that level of quality from every department.

And also, in the first episode, they spent something like £27,000 on cars! It was like an enormous budget compared to what I was used to working with. And it was cameras on cranes all the time and: ‘Right, we’re going to CGI this bit’. That's when I knew it was full on big BBC production."

Yet you’ve worked on Teachers, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, Ultimate Force, A&E and of course A Thing Called Love:

"Yes, I did but never so near to the front. A Thing Called Love for example – brilliant show, I loved it but in terms of money it couldn’t have cost as much. Whereas on this one, the writing’s top as well, but to do a period drama, it automatically adds a few zeroes…"

What’s it like to take on a part like Annie Cartright?

"It’s really nice to depict a woman on the cusp of something. It feels like every line that she’s given is important: it indicating what they were on the brink of: a sexual revolution."

There was a lot of sexism in the police in the 70s. But Annie stands up for herself eventually…

WPC Annie Cartright
Uniform: WPC Annie Cartright

"That’s all encouraged by Sam, he’s the one that recognises that she’s got something to offer. And that’s what she finds attractive in him."

The men get to be a bit flamboyant with their outfits. But you’re always in uniform…

Yes but this series, there’s some going undercover – which is nice - so I get to wear a few outfits!

Do they make you wear or wig or do they flick your hair?

"No they flick my hair and it takes ages. This series I’ve got regular cuts so that helps. But yes I tong it all the way through the day. At first, it was like wearing a nest on my head! I couldn’t see so I’d turn my whole body to get my peripheral vision back. But it is fun because you do transform on the outside which is always nice when you’re playing someone as well that you get to look like them as well."

How did you start out in acting?

"I went to drama school but it started a long time before that because I started doing youth theatre which I would recommend to anyone who’s got kids. I’m not talking about your Syliva Young school, itwas literally just a community theatre which I just think is brilliant. Especially for kids who are having a hard time in school or at home, because it gives you a community spirit and escape. So I started that at 11 and then really wanted to do it – just loved it."

Did you know that you wanted to take it seriously?

Liz White in A Thing Called Love
Liz as Paula in 'A Thing Called Love'

"I sort of knew that if I was going to do it I had to be really sure because everybody’s constantly telling you how hard it will be. So I took quite a few years and then went to drama school. So I started relatively late professionally. Calling yourself an actor when you’re just starting out is a really hard: you feel a fraud saying ‘yes, I’m an actor.’ ‘Oh yeah, what have you done?’ (Pause)  And even when you have done a few jobs – I mean in A&E I was in half a scene; Ultimate Force, I was in three scenes. And you have to coin your career on those sort of jobs. But you’ve just got to keep on and hope...."

Can you tell us what to expect in series 2 of Life on Mars?

"Er… no! But the lovely Noreen Kershaw (plays desk sergeant Phyllis Dobbs) is still in it – and she’s in it a bit more which is great."

And does Annie get her man?

"I don’t know – to be honest. You’ll have to watch it to find out!"

last updated: 29/06/06
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