MAIN CAST INTERVIEWS
© Bentley Productions/Mark Bourdillon
After five years filming Midsomer Murders Neil Dudgeon is still surprised by the strange worlds he delves into and the bizarre muders his character has to solve!
"The first time I read a script I always try to shut myself away for a couple of hours so I can read the episode right through as that's the first and only time I get to see it like an audience where you have no idea what's going to happen."
"I was reading an episode from this series and from the opening moments of the script there are lights over Midsomer and I started thinking..... well obviously it can't be UFOs and then it went on and seemed to lean more in that direction and I thought there has to be another explanation and the I thought we've done it, we've put a UFO in Midsomer Murders. Brilliant! It never fails to surprise me."
"We've ended up in that episode for rather longer than anyone would have liked in some ex-military, ex--military, nuclear bunker that was all very distressed and fallen apart. For two or three weeks we were shooting this place with the crew asking 'I hope you're alright with enclosed spaces..... Are you claustrophobic? Are you alright being locked in, underground in the dark...?"
opening episode had Neil guessing as well. "There is a
very mysterious beginning to episode one where it
appears that somebody has died but it seems, at first, that
they havent been murdered but have disappeared
post-mortem. That must be a first for Midsomer, not starting
with a murder! It's quite different when I was reading it I was
particularly intrigued by it. Barnaby and Nelson spend a lot of
the episode figuring out exactly what is it they're trying to
figure out. Which is a very interesting twist.
"It is a great challenge for the writers and producers of the show, to keep trying to find what you can do within the parameters of Midsomer. Finding new stories, new ways of telling stories, new angles on stories otherwise you are in danger of feeling too familiar. And they do manage every series to come up with exhilarating new worlds and bizarre ways of killing off the characters..." And sometimes those worlds prove quite difficult to film.
"We started filming a week after the clocks went forward to it was quite chilly; we started in thermals and we finished in thermals again at the end of October. There were two days at the end of March where there were howling gales all over the country and we were filming on the top of a cliff because that's where the denouement played out."
"We all gathered on top of this quarry and there were a lot of safety men in roper pot-holing gear with lamps on their heads and ropes and clip on things who were all tied to trees and posts in the ground. So then they had to put harnesses on us and tie us all to them and then to other trees so that whilst we were acting, having a very dramatic time we weren't blown off the edge of this cliff!"
"I got particularly nervous as I wasn't nearest to the cliff for most of it but was talking to the people nearest the cliff edge who had their back to the cliff edge, looking at me but behind them, filming me were the cameramen and the camera crew who were extremely close to the cliff edge and as I'm sort of moving towards them they would step backwards so I think there were a few times I would be midline and suddenly hear myself shouting shouting 'Oh my God! You're going over the cliff!' So that was all a bit nerve wracking. In the end there's a lot of hair standing up on end for more than one reason!"
Well used to being surprised on set by fans from all over the world, Neil has some new fans much closer to home.
"My kids, Joe 12 and Greta 10, have started pestering me, constantly asking if I have the new episodes. They love it, they're mad for it. They're that bit older now and Midsomer is pretty perfect family viewing, there's nothing too graphic.
"A couple of years ago they started coming home saying their friends at school had seen me on Midsomer Murders and everyone watched it so why couldn't they. So eventually I let them see one and that was it, the genie was out of the bottle then. They just want to watch them over and over, they've become obsessed by it. They find them funny and entertaining and intriguing. I think the fact that I am in them is not really relevant..."
Has the team dynamic changed with the introduction of new pathologist Dr. Kam Karimore, played by Manjinder Virk?.
"Both Kam and Nelson seem to be vying for Barnaby's attention this time around. Kam is portrayed as being very hardworking, meticulous and competitive. Whereas Barnaby is older and more distant he feels it's good to have someone on his team who is eager and talented and competes to come up with the answers as quickly and as best they can. So he can stand back from that a bit and admire the eagerness of youth whereas for Nelson I think he finds that more of a challenge that she treads on his toes. Their relationship is a bit more prickly but Barnaby sees this as quite funny."
GWILYM LEE - DS Charlie Nelson
Whilst filming an episode of the new series featuring the Tour de Midsomer cycle race, Gwilym Lee's family decided to take the opportunity to turn up on set and get involved in his work.
"My family are all into cycling, so they turned up in full lycra which was pretty embarrassing. I was already embarrassed about having to be in lycra myself and then my slightly portly father and brother come along and make it even worse!"
"My dad and brother took it all very seriously and they were telling me they had and they were telling me they had worked out their 'continuity' and knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing... very professional."
The funniest moment, however, came about when the producer decided Manjinder Virk's character Kam needed a more impressive bike for the scene.
"They nicked my dad's bike not knowing it actually belonged to my dad and gave him a rather rubbish old bike. So you'll be able to spot him in the background because he's the grown man on a woman's bike."
However, Gwilym's dad is not his only embarassing parent...
"My family and I were in Wallingford and mum saw a flyer on the bar for Midsomer Murders tours. I'd started filming by that point but it still had Jason Hughes, who played Barnaby's former sergeant on the flyer. She went up to the barman and said 'Umm... excuse me, my son's in this now, please can you update this!' That's mums for you I suppose."
Clearly an active person, in the midst of filming Gwilym ran the London Marathon for a second time to raise money for the charity Bloodwise.
"I was doing 20 mile runs twice a week while we were halfway into filming and then trying to do little runs during the week. If I had a few scenes off I would take my kit with me and run around the Midsomer countryside which is a lovely place to do your training!"
And Gwilym admits he has tried to suggest other storylines for future episodes that might utilise his talents.
I've made a list of all hobbies and asked whether we could incorporate them but no matter what I come up with up invariably they've already been ticked off the list sadly."
Working on Midsomer allows Gwilym to work with a raft of talented guest stars. He reveals a few of his particular favourites.
"Steve Evets, I am a massive fan of his, I watched Rev and he's great in that and I remember seeing 'Looking for Eric' ad he's just a very down to earth guy. Hes got so many stories to tell, hes good fun and he's very funny."
"We worked with Phil Cornwell in my first year of doing it, it was him and Rebecca Front and they are my heroes, they were in all of the shows I watched growing up like Alan Partridge and The Day Today.
"We work with a whole range of wonderful and brilliant people and that's one of the best parts of the job really in many ways. You're just learning from this wealth of experience. Youre onto a winner when you're working with people of that pedigree."
Another actor Gwilym has enjoyed working with is Manjinder Wirk who has joined the series as pathologist Dr. Kam Karimore.
"Kam poses a challenge to the relationship he has established with Barnaby and certainly when Kam first appears she is trying hard to impress Barnaby. So, there was a little bit of a standoff. 'But as time goes on they start to have an admiration for each other's abilities and intellect. Theres a bit of a cheeky glint in the eyes and theyre both as competitive as each other.
"Manjinder's got so many strings to her bow; she's a writer and director, she's produced things. I always find it really inspiring working with Renaissance people like that; they've got so much going on."
Talking about returning to his role for a third season Gwilym said:
"It definitely felt a bit more like it was my territory and coming back to my role. I think it was the first time that Neil and I have worked together longer than he'd worked with Jason so our chemistry had really become its own by that point." point.
And when he isn't filming Midsomer Murders Gwilym is keeping his options open for new projects but is keen to try something entirely different.
"This is a great job but it's quite a cerebral job, it's about intellect, the words, facts and figures and exposition so what was brilliant about 'Song for Jenny' was that it was the complete opposite of that. It was all just raw emotion."
so much I want to do, I haven't narrowed my
ambitions in that sense. As long as I get the chance to do
something completely contrasted then Im happy."
MANJINDER VIRK - Dr. Kam Karimore
When Manjinder Virk landed the role of the new pathologist in Midsomer she immersed herself in the world of forensic pathology.
started filming I went to an amazing exhibition all about forensics
and met a forensic pathologist, Dr Peter Dean, who was
amazing; really funny and good-natured yet what he has seen is incredible.
"I found myself starting to see things differently for the first few months. I started following the Oscar Pistorius trial; the minute details were suddenly interesting to me. Whereas before I was almost a little bored by stuff like that now I am totally fascinated. I listen to the news in a different way."
So how did Manjinder feel joining such a well loved team?
"It was really exciting and then slightly nerve-wracking because you realise how loved the show is and how much part of the establishment it is. I haven't really done anything like this before. Everyone I have spoken to has a soft spot for Midsomer, it's one of those shows.
"I think Midsomer is reinventing itself subtly without losing what it is. It's not trying to be anything other than what the show is and that's what viewers love. The plots are really complex and it is keeping the stories and the deaths imaginative."
Talking about her character, pathologist Dr. Kam Karimore, Manjinder says:
"She's very competitive and works very hard. She's passionate about what she does but I think she had to really had to work to get where she is. Her competitiveness as a woman can get confused with the fact she is actually just quite confident and a bit geek about her work and gets carried away.
"Kam likes to be the best at stuff and at first I think she really respects Barnaby and thinks he's earned it whereas with Nelson she doesn't patronise him but she knows she is his equal. This competitive nature is quite fun it's almost like siblings. But then there is also an affection as well. I think she has a soft spot for him."
Along with her role comes an onslaught of scientific terminology. How is Manjinder handling that?
"The more you read the more you gain an understanding of the language and it's not so intimidating any more. When you read chunks of dialogue it is like another language but if you have studied medicine it's second nature, so it's about thinking that none of this dialogue is daunting for Kam as she studied for a long time.
"Luckily I've actually played a brain surgeon before now and there is a lot of terminology in that and we would actually 'do' operations in real time. We had a brain surgeon with us on set all of the time and I actually learned how to do the procedure."
"So at first it can be a bit intimidating and I was constantly googling and looking at pronounciations, looking at what it meant but as soon as you understand what it means you get a context of how in works within the situation. I actually quite like the wordy scenes weirdly even though I did find them tough sometimes."
With the varied range of activities that crop up in a Midsomer episode Manjinder was keen to try her hand at some new skills. She claims: "I'll do anything, you've just got to give me some notice!"
Which was not the case in one episode called for Manjinder and Gwilym Lee to play a game of tennis....
"I'd never played tennis before but it said in the script 'Kam serves beautifully' so I had a 45 minute lesson and all I did was practice a serve and so we did the scene, I served and basically the director said 'Right.... Gwilym's going to serve, yours isn't good enough.
"It was quite funny actually because I hit the ball every time but I would hit it over the fence into the crew and at one point I saw Neil's face thinking is she going to hit us and I'm pretty sure even Sykes grimaced."
Tennis aside, Manjinder has been learning non-stop on the set of Midsomer. As well as acting she also writes and directs including an award winning short 'Out of the Darkness' starring Tom Hiddleson.
So what has she learned from working on the show?
"I do try, in my down time while on set, to learn a bit about what everyone is doing and try to keep myself informed. When I've got my time in the trailer I'll write or talk to the camera crew, and I've inevitably learnt more.
It will all make sense when I next direct or write. Definitely with the writing because these are such complex scripts to write. I have such an appreciation for the writers now. Trying to make a two hour whodunit with so many characters who are potentially the murderers and keeping the audience hooked, it's a big ask. I couldn't do it."
FIONA DOLMAN - Sarah Barnaby
The role of Sarah Barnaby is a complete joy for actress Fiona Dolman.
"The most fun is working with Neil. I've always enjoyed it and I feel that we've gone from strength to strength every series. The more you know each other the more you can play, and the braver you are the more risks you can take with trying something a bit different. We really have a lot of fun and there is genuine affection there. So, that makes it all very easy."
She specifically enjoys the scenes where Sarah comes up with the catalyst that propels Neil's character towards the clues he needs to solve the case.
"We're only really seeing the domestic side of Sarah so it's nice that they've carried on with this relationship where he talks to her about work or something that is in his head. Sometimes, as it is with all of us, you can talk to a friend who has nothing to do with your job or knows any particular detail but they come out with a line that makes you go - 'oh God, of course that makes sense.' I think that's quite real.
"She does come out with things that would make him think in a different way. But I think it is almost accidental sometimes, it's through a conversation rather than her being the mastermind at home who solves the crime, although I would quite like her to be like that but they haven't written that episode yet!"
Not just the secret mastermind Sarah also helps John look after the emotional well being of his partner DS Charlie Nelson too.
"She's grown really fond of Charlie so she does want him to be happy. I think she definitely does step in there because she thinks John, in terms of his personal relationships, is fairly useless and needs a nudge because whilst he is a really good detective, he doesn't notice the emotional side of things. So she keeps his eyes and heart open which is good."
Despite the old adage of never working with children and animals, pretty much all of Fiona's scenes involve both.
"There are times when I finish a scene and think, I can't remember if I have said any of the dialogue I was meant to have said because I was juggling a baby on one arm and juggling a sausage in the other pocket so Sykes knows where he is going. I think that is probably quite realistic as to how mums feel."
However, Fiona believes that being a mum herself has definitely kept her one step ahead when having to shoot scenes with the twins playing Betty.
"I think it gives me a massive advantage. Being a mum makes you much more confident about your ability to distract or make them laugh. What's been gorgeous with the twins is that we've had the same girls now for a couple of series so I know them.
"To be honest the girls, Abbie and Georgia, are really, really good. I mean God forbid it was my daughter Maddie, she wouldn't have put up with half the stuff they do. There's no way she would eat to order or smile or any of those things at all so they are very co-operative."
Another newcomer to the show is Dr. Kam Karimore played by Manjinder Virk and Fiona is pleased with this new dynamic.
"Oh, Manjinder is lovely! She has just brought a different energy and it's nice when people bring a youthfulness and enthusiasm. When you are playing the same role series after series you start to fall into habits so it's good when something new happens, when someone different comes in and they shake up your game a bit."
So what does Fiona think is the secret to Midsomer's enduring popularity?
"I've always said I think it's the humour. I think that with Midsomer the difference from the detective genre in general is that it doesn't take itself too seriously all of the time. And because of that it makes a very family show, something that people of all ages can sit down and watch.
"You know that the bad guy is going to get it in the end. It reminds me a bit of Cluedo, you're trying to work out if it was Miss Scarlet in the library with a candlestick..... it's got that enduring family appeal to it."
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