It's not easy following in the footsteps of an actor who left an indelible impression with a particular character. Often critics and fans maintain a close eye on an actor taking over the reins from someone who has a huge following.
We have seen this with the 24 franchise when Corey Hawkins filled Jack Bauers void in the reboot, 24: Legacy. The same situation prevailed with Lucas Till (replacing Richard Dean Anderson) in the remake of the ’80s hit, MacGyver.
This brings us to Stefanie Martini, who is cast a young Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect: Tennison. The original crime drama, based on the book by Lynda La Plante, has been a hit with audiences – more so with Dame Helen Mirren as the anchor.
Thankfully, Martini is not replacing Mirren in any way. This should remove the pressure of being compared to the legendary actress. We will get to see this iconic character in a different light – one that’s more naïve but tenacious nonetheless.
With only a few projects under her belt, the 26-year-old actress, who also appeared in Endeavour, says: “It focuses on a young Jane Tennison starting out as a Woman Police Constable (WPC) in a police station in Hackney. The series starts with the team discovering the body of a young girl in a car park and follows her getting involved in the case, as well as her relationships with her colleagues.”
Peeling back the layers of her character, Martini adds: “She’s very young, naïve, doesn’t have a lot of experience, doesn’t know how everything works yet. She has the spark, determination and drive to become a really good police officer and detective. She puts herself forward to contribute and be involved in the case, but doesn’t really know the procedures behind everything and the right and wrong ways to do things. She’s clumsy and messy and much softer than the previous version of the character.”
Asked how she experienced immersing herself in this character, she admits:
“I think she’s quite close to myself in some ways in that she likes to get involved in things. But she’s also much straighter than me and has one direct focus and that’s her whole life. I relate to her quite strongly and I understood the things she was going through.”
We see her for the first time with her family and the contrast between her and her sister.
She adds: “I think her sister is very supportive of her in what she does, but they’re like chalk and cheese. Her sister wants the more conventional female things for herself in her life. She wants to get married, and have children, whereas Jane couldn’t have less of an interest in boys, getting married, dresses or hairstyles. It’s really great to play that sort of character.”
On how her character finds her feet in the first episode, she says: “I think she does really well. She has a few wobbles and makes a few mistakes. But I think in terms of not getting emotional she’s very good at compartmentalising what’s happening, at being practical and being able to think on her feet and respond in an appropriate way. She’s good at it but doesn’t yet have all the experience to back that up.”
She continues: “It’s very much part of her to put up a front and not do what people expect her to do. She’s also interested in pathology and interested in the case. And that’s her main drive and focus. Everything else is almost an afterthought. Also, because she is a woman having to prove herself in that way, she has to have her guard up even more.”
Given that the story is set in era when the workplace was a very male-dominated environment, she notes: “ I think they don’t take her very seriously. They make her type up their reports for them and get them cups of tea and mop up vomit and that sort of thing. What’s good about it is that throughout the series she gets listened to more and more because of how proficient she is. It’s also because she puts her opinions forward when she’s not really supposed to and makes herself needed in the investigation when actually she should just be making tea!”
Although she is a fan of the original series, she approached the role differently.
She says, “I totally respect and admire her (Mirren). I think she’s amazing and it’s great to have the opportunity to look back at the character. It’s interesting, you don’t get to do that very often. Helen’s performances are amazing and I found it really challenging and exciting to be stepping into her shoes.”
Shot all around London, she adds: “ We were by all these roads in Waterloo that look like they’ve been untouched since the 1930s. There’s no sign of modern life there – that’s amazing. That’s when we do all of the running, car chases and stuff like that. We got to go to some really amazing sets.”
With prequels and remakes in vogue in the TV landscape, she surmises: “I think the psychology behind it is fascinating. We’re expanding on a world that is already familiar and viewers find interesting. Also, with different time periods and issues – there’s a lot to be explored in that.”
Prime Suspect: Tennison airs on ITV Choice (DStv Channel 123) on Thursday, April 6, at 8pm.