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Saturday 02 Aug 2014

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On Expenses – BBC Four drama reveals hidden story behind MPs' expenses disclosure: Anna Maxwell Martin plays Heather Brooke

Anna Maxwell Martin in On Expenses

Did you know Heather Brooke or the part she played in the expenses story before taking on the role?

No, I didn't know anything about her at all.

What drew you to the role?

For me, it was Heather. I really wanted to play a strong, independent, spirited woman, which is who Heather is, and that's really what interested me.

Did you meet Heather?

After I accepted the role I met Heather – it was really just to gauge what she was like as a person. I wasn't trying to do an impression of her in the drama but I felt it was important to meet her and get an impression of who she was and what she was like. And it was very nice, it was really chatty, we got on very well – we had a really good chat.

Have you played a real character before?

I haven't played a real living person before, so that was a new experience for me. But it's different than a lot of other biopics in that Heather isn't hugely known. You could go on YouTube and find her but she's not famous – people don't instantly know who she is – so I didn't feel that pressure of having to do an impression of her. I thought it was more important to tell her story.

Did it make it easier to flesh out the character having met her, or did it make it more difficult in a way?

I always approach something through the writing, so it really is all written on the page and you have to make it what you make it with your fellow actors, and create something with filming on the day. So it was great to meet Heather and it did help me but, for me, it was about the writing and finding the truth within every scene that we played with my fellow actors.

Why do you think Heather pursued the story – was it to expose the injustice of what was happening, or to get the scoop?

I think you'd have to ask Heather that. I think it was a mixture. Heather is a journalist, she's ambitious, but she also fiercely believes in transparency in politics so I think it was a mixture of the two.

In the drama, the fact that Heather is American is referenced a few times – do you think this was a factor in why she was so determined?

Absolutely. I think the fact that Heather is American, and had spent time in America, is integral to why she did it. I think in the US they have more transparency and she came over here and was shocked really at how much we bury our heads in the sand about things – and I think it did drive her.

Do you think she realised the implications her investigations would have if she succeeded?

Presumably there was a growing realisation about the implications of her work. I don't know – I assume she didn't realise at the beginning because you don't know the kind of beast you're dealing with and then, when it finally did come out, I'm sure she felt very satisfied that it was a big scoop and these people had been outed. But I'm sure you can't really know what you're dealing with until it's out in the public domain.

Did you find Heather's story inspiring?

Yes, I absolutely found Heather's story inspiring. I find that sort of dogged determination really admirable. I would've at the first hurdle gone: "Ok, you don't want to give me any information"! I'm very accepting that way and I find that's one of the attractive things about Heather – she just kept going. It is inspiring, definitely.

What was your response when the story came out?

I think when the story came out everyone generally was shocked about what was going on. What's nice about what's covered in the drama, I think, is they felt they could dismiss her, and she wasn't going to be dismissed!

Heather dances in her spare time so you had to do some dancing in the drama – what was that like?

The disco-dancing was absolutely hideous and horrifying in every way! Because we didn't have much time before being given the green-light and shooting there wasn't much time for me to learn how to dance – and Heather has been dancing for years. So that was pretty terrifying! I mean, I'm used to singing and things but I'm not a dancer. I gave it my all but it was pretty nerve-racking. I told the director afterwards to never talk about it ever again, and he's been taunting me with it ever since!

What are you currently working on?

I'm rehearsing for Measure For Measure, at the Almeida, which is on from mid-February until April. Rehearsals are going well – scary but good!

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