MIDSOMER MURDERS

DEATH & THE DIVAS
CAST INTERVIEWS


© ITV/Mark Bourdillon

SINEAD CUSACK plays Stella Harris

Sinead Cusack drew on her own experience as one of four acting sisters to play Stella Harris in Death & the Divas.

 

“Stella’s relationship with her actress sister is one of competitive sibling rivalry which I understand as I have so many sisters of my own. All three of them are actresses so I know what it is like and I drew on our vocabulary.

 

“Luckily for me, my sisters are my closest friends. We were in Three Sisters together at the Royal Court and it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my personal and professional life. I found it fraught, but hugely rewarding.”

 

While Diana has become a Hollywood star, married to a rich American producer, Stella is still living in Midsomer, her career only a memory.

 

“When you first meet them, they haven’t seen each other for 40 years because of Diana’s ambition. Diana won the prizes and Stella lost the game,” explains Sinead. “Stella is a disappointed woman whose career was stopped in mid-flow so she is bitter and angry. Actors are like the rest of humanity – they have their flaws and strengths, the same as the rest of the world.

 

“She’s a human being and she reacts naturally and the relationship with her daughter is very strong. I liked her, and she also dresses a bit like I do – nicely but not a showy dresser like Diana, who dresses for effect.”

 

Sinead enjoyed working with Harriet Walter, who plays Diana.

 

“I hadn’t worked with Harriet before, although I’d known her, and it was heaven to play with her for the first time. She is such a great woman and a great actress.”

 

The Midsomer Murders role was a rare TV appearance for Sinead. “I have been in the theatre for the last six years, although I recently did Wrath of the Titans which was a huge movie with all the paraphernalia that goes with it in terms of budgets, crew and sets. But it wasn’t nearly as appealing as Midsomer Murders.

 

“My son Sam thought it was great that I was in Midsomer and he described it as retro chic so I think that’s a compliment! I had great scenes with Neil and Jason and found them both very funny, hospitable and fantastic ambassadors.”

 

Sinead is married to the actor Jeremy Irons and her credits include V for Vendetta, Stealing Beauty, Camelot, The Deep, North & South, I Capture The Castle, Have Your Cake and Eat It, Eastern Promises and Scoop. She picked up several awards for her performance of Our Lady of Sligo at the Royal National Theatre.

 

HARRIET WALTER plays Diana Davenport

Harriet Walter grew up with the Hammer House of Horror films which form the backdrop to her Midsomer Murders episode.

 

“My uncle is Christopher Lee and he would always entertain us when we were tucked up in bed by imitating the Dracula walk standing in the shadows. He was extremely tall and looked quite scary but we always knew it was our uncle and loved it.

 

“We went to Bray Studios and watched him filming and we were allowed to rush around Dracula’s castle. It was very exciting as a child. We also went on the set of The Pirates of Blood River and there was a mocked-up Cornish smugglers’ village and all the houses were just fronts. We realised quite early on that it was all make believe but it was still magical.

 

“When I was younger, my grandmother also took me to some of the Hammer films because, even though I was underage, she knew I wouldn’t be scared. I put high heels on and dressed up a bit. I’ve loved scary films ever since.”

 

Adds Harriet: “My uncle is still around and still working even though he’s 90 this year. Now we know lots of actors in common and it’s great to get together and have a gossip.”

 

Harriet plays Diana Davenport, an actress who made her name is the 1960s, but who left Midsomer for Hollywood 40 years ago.

 

“Diana has a dysfunctional relationship with her older sister Stella. She wants everything to be golden and lovely so she avoids all the dirty and unpleasant parts of family life by taking off to Hollywood. Stella resents her for not coming back, even for her own mother’s funeral.

 

“She seems like a flighty and spoilt woman but I found there was more to her than that. It was interesting to probe the family dynamic, which reveals things are much more complicated than first seems.

 

“I don’t know if I liked her at the beginning but by the end I did a bit more. It was shot back to front, so all the tricky bits were first, then all the glossy scenes. She is described as over-dressed and Hollywood, so we went for the Joan Collins look which was really fun, doing all the things I wouldn’t normally do.”

 

The role meant a return to Midsomer for Harriet, who played a professor of botany in the episode “Orchis Fatalis”.

 

“I was delighted to come back and I’ve now worked with both Barnabys. They have very different personalities but both know how to keep a set happy. It was great and I felt very much at home. It was also lovely to work with Sinead Cusack and have such strong female characters in a film.”

 

Adds Harriet: “Another reason I love being on Midsomer is getting to see such beautiful parts of England. I don’t think it stopped raining the whole time but it was delightful to see round the villages. By the time it is edited, it will doubtless look sunny and perfect!”

 

Harriet was made a Dame last year and her other credits include Law & Order: UK, The Men’s Room, Little Dorrit, Five Days, Babel, My Uncle Silas, Unfinished Business, Hard Times, Sense and Sensibility, Atonement and new films The Wedding Video and The Domino Effect.

 

CAROLINE MUNRO plays Evil Priestess

Caroline Munro enjoyed reliving her time as a star of the Hammer House of Horror films in Death & the Divas.

 

“I have watched the show for years and years and I love Neil Dudgeon as the new Barnaby so to be asked to do a little bit was a great honour. I flew in from the States the day before we started.

 

“I play an evil priestess complete with false eyelashes which I hadn’t worn since the 60s and I felt particularly evil in my scene, which is a flashback sequence of a typical Hammer Horror film.”

 

The role of the Evil Priestess in MIDSOMER MURDERS reunited her with fellow Hammer Studios star John Carson.

 

“I had worked with John in 1972 on Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. He is a great man and it was lovely to see him again as the Dracula figure in our flashback sequences. I’ve also been in films with Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and feel really blessed to have worked with such icons in the horror genre.

 

“I started as an extra on the original Casino Royale and would love watching all the actors and the crew. One of my first jobs was A Talent for Loving with Richard Widmark playing my father and Cesar Romero and Topol were in the film too. I was very young but I have some amazing memories.”

 

Caroline still gets recognised. “It’s either for the Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me or The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. It was such a privilege to do a small bit on the Bond films, as it’s such a legacy and Cubby Broccoli had built a real family feel within the crew – a bit like Midsomer Murders.

 

“I also get recognised for the Lamb’s Navy Rum adverts which ran for 12 years and I went all over the world to wonderful locations with fantastic photographers. I still travel a lot to big conventions, which I love doing and I think it’s a way of giving something back.”

 

Caroline’s other credits include At the Earth’s Core, The New Avengers, Starcrash, Slaughter High, Maniac and the forthcoming Crying Wolf.

 

 
JOHN CARSON plays Older Gentleman (Dracula)

John Carson was delighted to have a role celebrating his involvement in the Hammer House of Horror films.

 

“It was great fun and a wonderful way to revisit my past. It was a small role but wonderful to be part of Midsomer Murders. It’s extraordinary how the prosthetics have advanced since my early days in horror films – vampires are technically quite different now, but I still had a big black coat and fangs!”

 

In his early career, John appeared in many of the cult films of the 1960s and 70s including Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, Taste the Blood of Dracula and The Plague of the Zombies.

 

“I have been working in South Africa for a long time, and it was nice coming back and finding people are still enjoying all the old horror movies. The director Nick Laughland gave the young actress Georgina Beedle a copy of Captain Kronos to help her understand the period feeling of Hammer. She loved it and couldn’t believe that it was me in the role – it was 40 years ago and I think we have all changed a bit!

 

“It was very exciting when Hammer was at the height of its fame. The word celebrity wasn’t invented but we had lots of work and much more fun. We had to hide the films when the children were small but they managed to get hold of Captain Kronos and saw me as a vampire getting hung and a stake driven through my heart. It became a cult scene but the kids wouldn’t speak to me for about a week!”

 

Adds John: “I’ve got all the films on box sets and occasionally we’ll watch them and get reminded of those days. Christopher Lee and I were very good friends and I bought a car from him, an Armstrong Siddeley which had a red cushion with Dracula embroidered on it that he had left in there. It always reminded me of him.”

 

John also has a souvenir of his time on Midsomer Murders.

 

“I had some prosthetic fangs especially made for me and I kept them as a memory. They are amazing and a great souvenir from my lovely time on the show.”

 

He adds: “I still love working and I always say ‘lead me to it’, although there are naturally not that many parts for 85-year-olds. To my family, I’m always a dad, not an actor and that keeps me busy as I’ve got 13 grandchildren at the last count.”

 

John’s career spans more than 50 years and his other credits include The Night Caller, The Baron, Dombey and Son, The Troubleshooters, Emma, The Children of the New Forest, Oppenheimer, Doctor Who, Rhodes, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, The Deal and, most recently, Silent Witness.

 

 

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