A Conversation with Anthony Howell and Honeysuckle Weeks - Foyle's War series 2 dvd; 5 November 2003 -

Interviewer: Honeysuckle, what first attracted you to the Foyle's War scripts?

Honeysuckle Weeks: Um, I think it was obviously the character of Sam at first, because that was the part I was going to be playing, and she appeared to me to be quite charming in her own way. Full of faults and too curious, and far too outspoken … but had a kind of appeal to her because she was young, and she was a young professional and making her way in the world. And beyond the character of Sam I felt that the show had a real richness to it, and a kind of layers to what it was talking about, it wasn't just a murder mystery.

Interviewer: And for you, Anthony, what was it about the scripts that attracted you in the first place?

Anthony Howell: Again, I think the character, first and foremost, Milner, and his journey. He's a corporal who comes back from the beginning of World War II severely injured, very badly injured, and the potential of the journey that he will go through, you know, the rehabilitation process, the relationship he has with his wife, how that develops -- or falls apart, and, you know, the relationship that he builds with Foyle and with Sam. So, you know, that was sort of the kernel that interested me. And then, of course, doing something set in a period that you know about in a broader sense, but on a very sort of specific angle of the Home Front interested me as well, because I didn't know anything really about what went on in these sort of various nodal points, or invasion points. So, the story, the potential of the story.

Interviewer: Now, you've done an awful lot of work for one so young, Honeysuckle. How did your career begin?

Honeysuckle Weeks: Um, as a kid, really, I used to go up to the Youth Workshops in my local town which was Chichester, and they used to need kind of little cute kids to run around at the Christmas shows, and so I was one of them for about three years, and used to do these shows, A Christmas Carol, Wind in the Willows, Calamity Jane, Annie Get Your Gun type of thing. (laughs) And then we went up to London, a group of us, to audition for Les Miserables when it was set in Silver? Young's agency, and they said 'We quite like you, we'll have you on our books'. And it was just really from being a crowd-pleasing little tyke to trying my hand at adverts and things like that. My first job, I think, was for a party political broadcast for the Green Party, and I had to sort of get covered in muck and say what an awful thing it was to have to drink a glass of tap water because of all the crud that industries had been putting in the water, and it went from there. That was directed by David Bailey. Anyway, that was my first job, which was fun.

Interviewer: And were you a child actor as well, Anthony?

Anthony Howell: (laughs) No, no. I'm very dull. I went to university and did a bit of acting at university …

Honeysuckle Weeks: (gesturing at him with her thumb) He's got an architecture degree.

Anthony Howell: Yeah, I studied architecture .. and then, um, and then went to drama school. Ummm … that's it. (laughs)

Interviewer: Now in many dramas concerning World War II, Honeysuckle, the parts played by women are very much on the margins, where they portray the wife or the sweetheart. This is not the case with your character Samantha, she is very much central to the action. Was it important for you that she showed the immense contribution women made to the war effort?

Honeysuckle Weeks: Yes … obviously, yeah, because I have a lot of great-aunts and used to have two thriving grannies - I've now got one - and they were very kind of keen to tell me what they did in the war and what their efforts were. I think it's something that they do feel very proud about, especially that generation.

Interviewer: Now, Anthony, Sherlock Homes has his Watson, Morse has his Lewis, and Foyle has Milner. But there's much more to Milner than just being Foyle's deputy. His experiences in the war have made him a very complex man. How do you think they have moulded him?

Anthony Howell: Umm… he's come back from the war, the very beginning of the war, you know, the invasions in Trondheim. And he's come back with a disability, you know, he's lost part of his leg, so he has a physical and constant reminder of the horror of war and of what this war is doing to people and is continuing to do to people. And I think he's - because he's got this first-hand experience, and that he's had to overcome a fair amount of inner turmoil, I think it's strengthened his resolve and strengthened his, I think, commitment to dealing with, albeit perhaps one the one hand petty crimes, on the other hand it could be murders. I think he's resolved himself to dealing with it as best he can. His ambition was to go to war as a corporal to defend his country in that way, but I think he sees now that his position is to defend his country in the way that he can which is helping Foyle, being part of the team. Because, you know, there's a fair amount of evil stuff happening in Hastings that they have to deal with.

Interviewer: So what was it like for both of you to work with the great Michael Kitchen?

Anthony Howell: Great!

Honeysuckle Weeks: Breathtaking, really, 'cause he kind of does it with such ease - it looks so easy, doesn't it, when he does it? (looks over at AH, who nods in agreement) And he's always ready with the performance, you know, and it kind of just comes and you watch him at the time and you think, 'gosh, that was very laid-back' and then you see it on the screen and it's sort of perfect performance. And it's sort of, quite, I mean it's fascinating, really. I've decided I'm going to watch him, watch his every move so I can pick up to hints and tips on how to be real, you know, and at the same time to give it gravitas, what you're saying.

Anthony Howell: He has a - sort of a grace and a charm and an integrity which, you know, obviously comes from him but then he transfers to Foyle, and it's very interesting to see, obviously, when we're working with him on set, to see how that transfers onto the screen.

Honeysuckle Weeks: It is amazing.

Anthony Howell: Yeah. It's sort of a privilege to -

Interviewer: Talking of amazing, the scripts are pretty amazing as well. They're very historically accurate but they deal with many issues that are totally contemporary, like anti-Semitism, problems with refugees … do you think this has added to the success of the series?

Honeysuckle Weeks: Yeah, definitely, because I think it's got a piece in it for - it's sort of a cross-section of, um, of life at that time. You thought only about people living in some - although you might think it is - in some sort of posh manor in some well-to-do-area of a beautiful part of the country. You also get, you know, people -- the working classes and how their lives are affected by it. People in all kinds of walks of life - you know, young children, you know, evacuees in the last series. It makes it a very rich kind of tapestry of how it actually was - what it was like to live in those times, and the kind of feel and the flavour of it.

Anthony Howell: And the sort of universal issues - racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, or exploitation --

Honeysuckle Weeks: -- and the idea of community and stuff, you know, and how you get the feeling that people were willing to talk to people like police detectives because they … people had a kind of greater sense of responsibility or something.

Interviewer: So what do you feel is the most important aspect of Foyle's War? That is has a nostalgic period setting in which to deal with crimes and murders, or that is in intelligent police series that just happens to be set in World War II?

Anthony Howell: Well, it's a very specific period. It's a period drama, but the it's not just a period - you know, the nostalgia, and the strength of the nostalgia comes from the fact that it's the world war, the Second World War … so that is absolutely intrinsic, you know, and inherent to the series.

Honeysuckle Weeks: I think another important thing to say is that because the Second World War was going on and there were people being killed all the time, this is something that is repeated and re-iterated in the series, why should it be important that Foyle does his job to solve murders when there are people dying everywhere? I mean, that's an important ethical issue that is raised by the series, and I think that if it wasn't set in the Second World War, that wouldn't have quite such punch. So yes, I think it is important that it's in that time.

Interviewer: As the series has progressed, both of your characters have matured and developed. Is the fact that your characters have room to grow important to you as actors?

Honeysuckle Weeks: Yes, if you've got to do it for more than a couple of years - (laughs)

Anthony Howell: Yeah, because you - as you learn things, as you sort of read around, perhaps, an episode that involves your character and a particular aspect of the Second World War, you know, you grow as an individual, or you sort of develop, and then as the character experiences things in that aspect, he or she grows and develops … so I think in a long-running series there is need for the characters to adjust and adapt and change and take on board what's happened -

Honeysuckle Weeks: Because they might have had their houses bombed, their wives have left them, you know, I mean - of course they're going to change.

Anthony Howell: As you do in life, you know, these things happen, and … I've changed in the past three years … (to Honeysuckle) I'm sure you have.

Honeysuckle Weeks: I hope I have! (both laughing)

Interviewer: Finally, Honeysuckle, if Christopher Foyle acts as a surrogate father figure to your character Sam in the series, in what role or capacity do you think of Anthony's character Paul?

Honeysuckle Weeks: Um … well, I was discussing this with Anthony and I think it's sort of a sibling thing, isn't it. I mean, older brother who I look up to and respect because he's doing the real business, you know. He's actually investigating the murders, he's the one with the brain … and I think I'm just, you know, I'm very grateful to have his support. And he does support Sam, and he is always there for her and backs her up and is ready to defend her to Foyle and when she's perhaps got the wrong end of the stick about what the job entails and stuff. And I think it makes it, it's a very important part that they have a strong relationship. I'm not sure how, whether it's going to be romantic or not; I think at the moment it's a sibling thing … (Anthony is nodding agreement)

Interviewer: You obviously agree, Anthony, you think that your character sees Sam as a sister?

Anthony Howell: Yes, yeah …

Honeysuckle Weeks: We have a brief flirtation, don't we …

Anthony Howell: Yeah, we do, yeah, there's a lovely scene in the first of this one.

Honeysuckle Weeks: But I think that's just the joy of the moment, you know, why not dance? Meal? It's bound to happen, isn't it?

Anthony Howell: And Milner's - I think Milner at that stage has got used to living away from his wife. And he gets on very well with Sam, and, you know, I think he's very protective of her, and he sees her vulnerability, her house has just been bombed, so of course he's going to want to take care of her … and he sees in terms of the job that - she's passionate about it, and inquisitive, and, um -

Honeysuckle Weeks: Enthusiastic!

Anthony Howell: Yeah, very enthusiastic! And she's a breath of fresh air. It's not … some of the police work's quite dull, and I think it's great to have Sam's character around because some of the conversations they have are delightful. I think he enjoys, definitely enjoys having her around.

Interviewer: Well, it's been delightful talking to you, Honeysuckle and Anthony. Thank you very much.

Anthony Howell: Thank you.

Honeysuckle Weeks: Thanks.

Thanks to Lynette for the transcription.