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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Personal Affairs, new drama for BBC Three: The Bosses – Archie Panjabi plays Jane Lesser

PA – Robbie (Jamie Davis)

Having just starred alongside Angelina Jolie in the big screen weepfest A Mighty Heart – the true story of the search for kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl – it's perhaps not surprising that, despite bagging the Breakout Performance Award at the Cannes Film Festival, for her next role Archie Punjabi was looking for something a bit less emotionally draining.

So when the script for Personal Affairs arrived she realised it was her perfect opportunity to have some fun.

"I was very keen after A Mighty Heart to do a little bit of comedy and let my hair down," admits Archie.

"I wanted to have a bit of fun because Mighty Heart was so depressing. It was a brilliant thing to do, but it was such an emotional thing as well so it's quite nice with this to wipe the slate clean again and have a laugh.

"That's not to say that Personal Affairs is just a comedy because it's not – as it goes on it becomes very dark and mysterious and, to be honest, I had never read anything like it."

In Personal Affairs Archie plays Jane Lesser, the youngest Hartmann Payne Vice President and that, coupled with the fact that she's a woman, makes her a serious high-flyer.

Not the most approachable or warm character, Jane acts with utter undisguised superiority towards the PAs. She knows exactly how to wind the girls up and knows far more about what's going on in their personal lives than she lets on.

Her relationship with Grace (Olivia Grant) begins with antagonism – Jane's feminist ideals means she's easily wound up by Grace's view on sexual politics in the office.

But a mutual respect develops when Grace is seconded to help Jane with an important client.

"I don't think Jane trusts a lot of people and I think in many ways she has lost sight of who she is," says Archie.

"I come from quite an academic background and a lot of my friends have gone on to work in investment banking so I know that world.

"The thing about these people is that they are really nice, loving and fun people when you get them out of their work. But it's the pressure of the job that makes them very focused, hardworking and maybe not a barrel of laughs in the office.

"For these people it's all or nothing and everyday their job is on the line and then five years or so down the line you see these people and you realise they have aged so much, purely from stress.

"So we really only see this very serious, business-like side to Jane to start with but, hopefully as the story unravels, we'll discover a more human side to her as well."

Whilst Archie may have achieved success in the competitive film world, the Edgware-born actress insists she wouldn't last five seconds in the back-stabbing world of the banking industry.

"Oh God it would be hell," she exclaims, grinning. "I think this industry is bad enough but that one is a hell of a lot tougher, particularly for women. To the point where to have a family and settle down is really hard because it's not nine to five.

"I've heard of people going in at six in the morning and getting home at one at night, then they have three or four hours sleep before it all starts over again. It's tough and I think that's why Jane looks at the PAs sometimes and thinks – 'you have no idea. You just come in, dress up, have a gossip and go back home'. In Jane's head they are so not like what women like her are trying to achieve."

Romance-wise, Jane looks like she's got the lot. She has a gorgeous boyfriend called Richard (Jeremy Sheffield) who is a handsome doctor working in war zones. All the girls in the office love him because he's really good looking and a genuinely nice bloke.

So why won't Jane marry him? He's asked her six times after all...

"Needless to say the PAs don't understand why these two are in a relationship, but she adores him and he'd do anything for her. I think the problem is that they don't spend a huge amount of time together, mainly because of their jobs."

With a CV that takes in everything from providing voices for Postman Pat to the title role in hard-hitting and controversial drama Yasmin, Archie is clearly not someone who wants to be pigeonholed.

She says: "One of the things my teachers always used to say to me was that I have a very short span of concentration. Even if I was doing the most amazing thing in the world I'd just switch off and become bored on sets when I wasn't really excited.

"So I made a policy that, where possible, I try and do things where my mind is constantly ticking away and I'm excited. Thankfully – touch wood – it seems to be working so far!"

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