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Yesterday, we reviewed Acorn TV‘s newest original series, Queens of Mystery. Today, we wanted to share an interview we did recently with one of its stars, Julie Graham.
Many of us are well familiar with Ms. Graham, as she's been in a number of popular series in the past – Shetland, Bletchley Ciircle, William and Mary, and Bonekickers, among others. In Queens of Mystery, you'll find she's virtually unrecognizable from her Bletchley role – the two characters couldn't be more different.
To read a little more about what Queens of Mystery is about, and what we thought of the first several episodes, check out our review here. For now, enjoy the interview. Special thanks to Acorn TV for arranging it!
Interview with Julie Graham of Queens of Mystery
Editor's Note: There were a few crackles and echoes here and there during the call, so there's a chance we may have missed a couple words in places. If something sounds a bit funny, blame that on us and/or technology, not Ms. Graham!
For those of our readers who aren’t familiar with Queens of Mystery, how would you describe the series?
Well, I think it’s a modern mystery with a kind of comic twist, I suppose you would describe it. It’s quintessentially British, I think. It couldn’t be set anywhere else. It kind of takes the genre and puts a little twist on it, if that makes sense, kind of pokes fun at it – but keeping the kind of, heart of the show and keeping the audience hooked with strong plots and an overall mystery that goes right through all the episodes.
So yeah, I mean, it’s of its genre, but it’s a little bit more theatrical and camp, I suppose you would describe it as.
That makes sense – and that leads into my next question. I was going to ask how you think Queens of Mystery met the challenge of creating something different, but I guess it goes back to that.
Yeah I mean I guess what you’ve got to do is, even though what you’re doing is quite heightened and to a certain extent stylized I suppose you would say, you’ve got to then ground it, and the performances have got to stay real. You’ve got to play it straight, bearing in mind that we’re all having tremendous fun with it as well. If you start to take the piss out of it, then it doesn’t really work, you know. You’ve got to play it absolutely for the truth of it, you know.
This isn’t your first amateur sleuth role. A lot of our readers will have seen you in Bletchley Circle, and I’m a big Shetland fan – but how would you say your role in Queens of Mystery is different from the other amateur sleuth roles.
Well, I mean, first of all, the character that I play is completely different to the character that I play in Bletchley. They couldn’t be further apart from each other. I mean Bletchley, obviously, is very much a period piece and Jean is a very buttoned-up, proper, you know, quite…I suppose terse, person. Whereas Cat, she’s a real kind of, open rebel, she’s outspoken, she doesn’t take any nonsense from anyone. She’s great fun to play. She’s tough, she’s intimidating, all that stuff. It’s all very, very – they’re different.
I think amateur sleuths are very often the best sleuths, because they can kind of slip under the radar in a way, especially with them being women as well. You know, with the Bletchley Circle, people wouldn’t take these women seriously so they were able to get into places and ask questions and they could take people off guard.
Whereas the Queens of Mystery, they have a passion for it – because they’re crime writers, so they’re very interested in the kind of, in murder mysteries and solving problems, but they’re very open about it. They’re very open about the fact that they poke their noses in where they’re welcome. >inaudible< And we all think they’re right. And they usually are.
It looks like you guys, I would imagine, have a lot of fun on the set. What’s it like working with such a talented cast.
I think it was very important that we all got on well and the chemistry was there because otherwise, those shows don’t really work if there’s no chemistry between the actors – because you know, you’ve got to work together for a long time and you’ve got to have a lot of love and respect for each other – which we did, we hit it off immediately. I think we had terrific fun, and I think that comes across in the show, that we had great fun playing those characters and that they have a great love and respect for each other as well.
They’re very loyal to each other, they have a very loyal family and they all stick together. And they’ve also got this secret that they’re harboring, the disappearance of their sister, Matilda’s mum – so they have, you know, they have a pact – so that makes them very close.
The show has a female-centric cast. What’s it like working on a show like that versus a show with more of a male cast? Is the vibe different on the set?
Yeah, it usually is – it’s much more fun, for a start. Actors can be terribly serious people. Actresses are much more fun. (laughing, not entirely serious) No, it’s just a different atmosphere, I guess. You know, I mean I work on Shetland which is quite a, I suppose a male’s the lead and it’s very much more of a split cast, I guess – but I love working on shows with lots of women in them because they’re just, I don’t know, we just, I think women get on very well.
There’s much more of a rivalry between actors than actresses, which is the exact opposite of what everybody wants to believe. People want to believe that women are bitches and that they don’t get on with each other – whereas actually the opposite is true.
We tend to be very supportive of each other – I mean you know, considering the generation gap between myself and the women who play the sisters and Olivia, we just, as far as we were concerned there was no generation gap at all, we just all adored each other and got on really well and were very supportive of each other. It was terrific fun. Yeah, there tends to be a much more, kind of light-hearted banter on the set when women are kind of driving it, as well.
That’s really interesting. I wouldn’t have known that. I’m glad you said that.
Yeah, the men on the set tend not to rock the boat too much because they know they’ll get >inaudible<. One of our assistant directors said he’d learnt more about the female anatomy in the last six weeks, and he’d been married to his wife for 20 years. You know, he learned about periods, and the menopause, you know. It’s like a whole different education.
Do you have a favorite scene or episode so far, without spoiling anything?
Well, I loved doing the sort of second film, the second two-part story because it, you kind of learn – it’s very much about Cat’s character, and her band, and what happened and her whole backstory. So to me, that was great because it was very, you really get to know who she is – and you see a very different side to her, and you see a kind of vulnerability and it was just terrific fun, because I suppose she drives the narrative to a certain extent. So for an actor, for me, that was very satisfying and I really enjoyed that.
But you know, I loved it when all the aunts and Libby were together – that was kind of, it was all terrific fun when we were all together.
Were there any scenes that were particularly hard to get through with a straight face?
Yeah, I mean I’m a terrible giggler, so…yeah, I tend to sort of >inaudible< quite a lot. Especially Olivia and I, actually Olivia and I are the worst, when we get together, yeah, everything just goes downhill quite quickly. We both set each other off.
I had to hide in a cupboard because I wasn’t meant, I was snooping around and Olivia’s character comes in, Matilda comes in to investigate and I’m not meant to be there so I hide in a cupboard and she has open the cupboard and discover me kind of hiding at the bottom of the cupboard and every time she’d open the door we’d both just burst out laughing because it was the most ridiculous situation. That was a LONG afternoon. That little scene that you see that takes about two seconds in the film took about three hours to shoot.
Do you have a favorite location that you guys filmed at?
Well we filmed it in Kent, which, I mean Kent’s known as the garden of England. It’s a beautiful county, and actually, we filmed in the summer and the weather – well actually in the autumn – and the weather, we were so lucky with the weather. It was just one of those beautiful English autumns that you get every now and then. It was always sunny for some reason, it was extraordinary.
My favorite set, I loved the bookshop and I also loved Cat’s flat – I had this amazing kind of warehouse flat that’s about a garage, a mechanic’s garage – and it was just such a great space to be in. The set designer made it out of a completely empty barn. The production designer, she’s terribly talented and she made this amazing space for Cat that was very cool. So that was my favorite set to hang out in, definitely.
We also got to film in these beautiful little villages, you know. I don’t think the beautiful little villages liked us very much by the end, because we were clogging up their streets and making a lot of noise.
I could understand that I guess, yeah.
Yeah, they were glad to see the back of us.
So when you are a viewer and you curl up with a good mystery, do you have a favorite snack or tea?
That covers it all, right?
Murder mystery and a bottle of red wine.
Can’t go wrong with that.
Yeah, you don’t need to be snacking – it’s too noisy.
Is there any actor or actress you’d like to see guest star on the show at some point?
Oh gosh, too many to mention. I mean, we were very lucky because we had the most amazing guest stars. Every single one of them was terrific, and they were great fun. And they were all actors that I’d either worked with before or I really had huge admiration for, so that was really terrific.
That was very exciting for us, because obviously we’re there every day for sort of, three months, so it’s nice to have different people coming in all the time. They bring in a different energy, they bring in a kind of fresh blood, so to speak. But yeah, we’ve been really lucky – but god, there’s just so many wonderful actors that we’d love to squeeze in. Hopefully, we’ll be doing it for a long time so we’ll get through the >inaudible<.
I know we’re just about out of time and I don’t want to keep you, but is there anything – without giving away any spoilers – that you think the viewers are really going to enjoy about the rest of the season?
Well I think, it’s just they’ve got terrific plots. At the heart of it, you’ve got this family and I think that’s what people care about. They care about the sisters and Matilda – so that’s the real heart of the show, and there’s some terrific fun episodes coming up with very, very – I mean the last one’s set in a theatre. It’s very theatrical and very funny. I think it has quite a big body count, so… Laughing.
Sounds like a lot of fun.
Yeah, it is. It gets more and more fun as it goes on because we all really enjoyed it.
We’re looking forward to watching it. Thanks for doing this, I had a lot of fun.
Thank you for your support. It is much appreciated.
When & Where to Watch Queens of Mystery
Queens of Mystery premieres on Acorn TV starting on April 8th. This is an Acorn TV Original that they commissioned, so you'll need an Acorn TV subscription to check it out – it's not one of those shows that will be distributed all over the place. You can watch the trailer below:
Premiering April 8th
Episodes 1 & 2, Murder in the Dark – The newly-promoted DS Matilda Stone finds herself investigating a murder at Hiddledean Hall, home to the 15th Wildermarsh Crime Writer's Festival.
Premiering April 15th
Episodes 3 & 4, Death by Vinyl –It will come as a surprise to no one to learn the wild Aunt Cat has an equally wild past. In this episode, past creeps into present, with a murder involving the 80s new wave girl band Cat once toured with.
Premiering April 22nd
Episodes 5 & 6, Smoke and Mirrors – When one of Aunt Jane's books is adapted for a local theatre, the production is interrupted when a cast member is crushed by a falling sandbag.