As ‘New Tricks’ comes to an end, we chat with UCOS boss, Tamzin Outhwaite
As I sit down to write this, the day has arrived that some in the BBC probably thought should have come about a decade ago. Tuesday, August 4, 2015 marked the beginning of final series of New Tricks which, depending on when and where you are reading this, premiered last night on BBC One. For a series that is entering into its 12th and final series, New Tricks was the mirror image of the members of the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS). And, that’s a good thing.
Never flashy, dodgy when appropriate and, usually, fairly safe, New Tricks catered to an ‘uncool for advertisers’ older demographic who enjoyed watching a bunch of out-of-retirement coppers find ways to solve unsolved crimes using old-school methods that would, most likely, send new-age police procedural writers into orbit. In a word, New Tricks has been a huge hit for the BBC for over a decade leaving commissioners and schedulers scratching their collective heads trying to figure out why. How about the acting and writing first off coupled with the idea that you don’t have to ‘blow something up real good’ every program segment just to combat the viewer’s short attention span. Good acting and writing trumps special effects every day of the week in my book.
As the members of UCOS will soon be retiring for the second time at the conclusion of series 12, we were able to sit down at the end of series 11 and talk with the two newest ‘old dogs’ Tamzin Outhwaite and Nicholas Lyndhurst to get their thoughts on being a part of one of the most popular police procedurals in recent memory. We start with Tamzin today and will feature our interview with Nicholas tomorrow.
Tellyspotting: – As we enter into the final series for those few remaining that may be new to New Tricks, who is Sasha Miller?
Tamzin Outhwaite: –Sasha Miller is the new boss of UCOS and she’s brought in a told that she’s being promoted. She comes from a much more high-energy, high-intensity team that is kind of S.A.S.-ish where she is used to crashing down doors and beating up Russians. She’s taken off that unit and put in this new unit. Her husband, at the time, which is now her ex-husband is also quite high up and he’s a DAC so he has something to do with putting her in charge of UCOS. We really don’t know how much clout he has but do know he had a say in it. Ultimately, come to find out, it’s not really a promotion but rather a chance to put her somewhere ‘away’ where he can keep an eye on her.
TS: – What attracted you to the role of Sasha Miller originally?
TO: – I loved the idea of being the boss of a team of men. While that sounds so egotistical, it’s not. My first series after Eastenders was a series called Red Cap where I was the lowest rank and the only woman in a team of men so it feels like I’ve come full circle. Now I play a police officer in charge of a team of men. It’s more about getting the balance right of being their friend and their boss at the same time. I’ve played a cop before but not for any length of time but thought this would be something I’d like to always to do because I’m actually quite nosy. As a detective, you have to be extremely intrigued and…nosy. I was told that by a policewoman that I shadowed. The main thing you have to be is incredibly nosy because you don’t let anything lie, you just keep delving. I suppose I have a lot of that in my character.
TS: – Did you do anything in particular to train for your role in New Tricks?
TO: – Definitely. For Red Cap, I trained with the army for a week, did a lot of weapon training. In The Fixer, I was playing a honey trap so, training wise, it was a bit tricky so I mainly used the training I had from Red Cap which was weapons training and stunt training. With New Tricks, I did a program called Paradox where I played a police officer in Manchester and they asked me to shadow a DCI, actually. She was fantastic in Manchester. I shadowed her for a bit and it was getting the right balance between the camaraderie and the banter that they had in the office with her and yet they still called her ‘Mum’ and they still had an awful lot of respect. The thing that amazed me about shadowing a police officer that was a woman, was how interested in fashion and things they were. I had always imagined that they would be pretty much no nonsense. No one cared about their hair, their nails, their shoes and the two women that I shadowed really cared about their clothing. It was like a form of power dressing which I didn’t know existed. That was most surprised. I had imagined it would just the easy shoes to run in, the easiest clothes to run around in and nothing that was aesthetically pleasing. It was just the opposite.
TS: – While New Tricks is different from other police procedurals in the UK, the one common element that you see in Endeavour, Lewis, Scott & Bailey and New Tricks is you have the hierarchy with the DCI, the DS, etc. but, in the end, the DCI always has everyone’s back regardless given they are part of the team.
TO: – Without a doubt. We’re a team. They can go at it tooth and nail but, in the end, Sasha will fight for her team. While there is sometimes friction between me and the boys, we’re still a team. It’s also the only show, really, that deals with the retired element, so even though they are a team, they have a lot in common.
TS: – What do you think it is about New Tricks that continues to survive an era of car explosions, bombs going off. It keeps chugging along…
TO: – I think it’s changed, maybe a wee bit, over the last couple of series not that it’s had too but I think it has somewhat enhanced it. It goes a bit quicker now. The new characters divert you from where we were. It’s always been very charming. It’s always had banter and humor in it and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I think if you are looking for a crime drama, you know where you are with New Tricks. You know that it’s always going to be brilliantly written and you know it’s always going to be a bit tricky to work out and it’s going to ‘take you around the house’ before you know who the actual murderer is. It the way it’s done, it’s very charming. I don’t like to use the word ‘safe’ because it’s not that anymore, but for over a decade, the viewers feel safe with it, they know what they are getting. I think it’s less ‘safe’ the last couple of seasons. There are more stunts and more action definitely in series 11, for instance.
TS: – Was it important for you last year when you approached the role of Sasha to get a broader understanding of her character that is not just what is on the written page?
TO: – Absolutely. With Sasha, what I loved was the emotional stuff. I liked the backstory. I like her ‘story’ with her husband. I liked the complexity of her being in a marriage for so long and then how you would deal with the professional stuff when your personal life is crashing down around you. For me, that was a very meaty thing for me to play. Without having any backstory from a professional standpoint, it gets a bit one-dimensional. You’re just playing a police woman. I like the complexity of her. I think she’s a very complicated character. And, I think, so am I so it’s nice to be able to tap in to that.
TS: – Now that you have a full season under your belt, do you find you have more interaction with the writers? Do they start writing to your strengths now that they have a feel for what you can bring to the table?
TO: – Definitely. Sometimes, when I’m reading a script, it’s like the writers have been watching us on set. Nicholas and I, being the newest members of the cast, have become very friendly or with Denis Lawson and you’ll see a scene that’s been written and Nick might be giving me advice about something and suddenly, it seems to be in the episode. They, obviously, haven’t been watching us but they definitely do begin to play to your strengths. Once they start to get to know what you do and what you like doing, it’s a lovely place to work. It’s like a tennis match just hitting the ball back and forth from writer to actor.
TS: – Speaking of Denis, since both he and Nicholas were almost seasoned veterans at UCOS when you joined the team, was their anything that they shared with you about joining a show with an established set of characters?
TO: – Absolutely. I think of poor Dennis Waterman looking around probably wondering who all these newbies are. I think we’ve all had a really lovely chemistry. It still works, it just changes things a bit. I love the fact that I wasn’t the first new person in at the start. Denis gave me a lot of advice but Nicholas was only about two episodes ahead of me so he was still learning the way things work. It now feels like after a little over one complete season together, we don’t feel new anymore. It’s like it’s all of our show.
TS: – Has your theatre background helped you in your various roles on the small screen?
TO: – Most definitely. I just finished a play and then will be doing a play simultaneously with the series 12 filming of New Tricks. I have to do theatre to remind me why I started acting. If I’m not standing on stage feeling all of those nerves, that fear of being terrified and, at the same time, being so exhausted and delighted by it all then I don’t get the same buzz. I get the same buzz from certain scenes when I’m doing New Tricks and you think “…that was a bit of magic there” but it doesn’t happen all day, every day.
TS: – Having done both, is comedy scarier than drama in acting?
TO: – I like both. I like having both in one. I think that’s why New Tricks works. It’s like you’re in a dark place and it’s been a bad ending and it’s like when doctors and surgeons have to make each other laugh.
TS: – Looking at the roles you’ve had with Red Cap, Paradox and now, New Tricks, do you look at yourself as a role model for girls?
TO: – That may be a bit bold but I like the fact that I’ve played a lot of strong female characters. I’ve definitely been very lucky with the roles I’ve had. I do feel like there probably aren’t enough of them to go around.
TS: – Can you look back on any of your roles and think you might like to try that in real life?
TO: – Oh, yeah. For a day, maybe, but not for an actual whole career. Like the idea of being a honey trap like in The Fixer that was really quite exciting but, actually, doing it in real life would be quite scary. Maybe for a day or two it would be quite fun. Being a policeman, would I like doing that every day? I don’t know. I guess if you could have as much fun as we have on set every day but I don’t think it would be like that in real life.
TS: – Did you ever think of yourself at this point in time of your career as being a ‘leader of a bunch of old dogs’?
TO: – No, I definitely didn’t. When I first watched it after being offered it, I watched a few episodes, I did start to wonder if this was the end, was this the end of my acting career because everyone was a bit older. I suppose it’s the first time in awhile that I’m the youngest one on set. It’s quite nice being the youngest.
TS: – What’s the one thing that no one knows about Nicholas Lyndhurst that you can share?
TO: – There are so many things that no one knows about Nicholas since he’s such a private person. He’s an amazing actor. He can do comedy, he can do tragedy. I really adore working with him. You never know what you’re going to get but you know it’s going to be truthful.
TS: – Does New Tricks allow you to have more fun and do different things?
TO: – Definitely. Mainly because it’s lighter and not so tense as were the other roles I’ve had which were very dark. We don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. Most of the time if you are ad-libbing or messing about, the natural element of that, they seem to like so they’ll use it, which is lovely. If that’s where I am now as compared to most of my career, it’s quite a relief. No more sliding down walls, crying…
With New Tricks entering it’s final series, there has been sweeping changes in recent years with a virtual cast overhaul that will be complete when audiences will say goodbye to the last original ‘old dog’, Gerry (Dennis Waterman), with a 2-part send off that began last night. The plot revolves around the bad old days of the 1980s policing when Gerry’s colleagues were on the take from gangsters. The body of his then-DCI is found in a basement with its skull caved in and Gerry is looking shifty about the whole thing.
“The lines were blurred back then,” says Gerry. “It was hard to tell who was properly dodgy and who just had a few tasty mates.”
Like it or not, a series like New Tricks that relies heavily on good writing and acting seems to be a dying breed. Minimal to no special effects, it’s all about the story. Like As Time Goes By or a number of other comedies from several decades ago, there’s something about it that makes it one of those series that when you run across it when you are channel surfing, you stop and watch no matter how many times you’ve seen that particular episode.
The final series of New Tricks airs Tuesdays, 9pm on BBC1 and is headed to public television in America in early 2016