An Interview With Lynda La Plante CBE

Morning folks, I am honoured (bit much for a Sunday morning) to introduce to the blog one of my writing heroes and someone who is in my Top 5 writing inspirations.

Lynda La Plante CBE answers my questions regarding her training experience at RADA, my favourite ever TV series Trial and Retribution and her advice for both the unpublished author and aspiring actor.

Lynda is the author of the DCI Jane Tennison novels, Widows (now turned into a film), most recently Widows’ Revenge, and wrote Prime Suspect featuring Helen Mirren as the eponymous DCI Tennison.

Over to you, Lynda…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author and do you have a favourite author now?  

As a child I loved Louisa May Alcott – Little Women.

My favourite author now is Michael Connelly.

2) How did you find your training experience at RADA? 

As I was only 16 I was exceedingly naive and had never lived away from home.  The only prior acting experience I had was with my Speech & Drama teacher at school.  However, I had been training as a dancer from the age of 4.  I gained a scholarship to RADA, not really understanding what a prestigious establishment it was.  I found a lot of my training very frustrating, such as learning how to courtesy for a period costume drama.  It was incredibly tedious.  On leaving RADA it was imperative, in the finals, to be given a significant role at the Vanbrugh Theatre.  This was the opportunity for students to attract Agents, as well as Casting Directors.  When the list went up for the casting of the finals productions I was cast as an 80 year old Nun and a 70 year old bag lady.  Obviously disappointed I approached the Principal.  He told me that I was rather small, plain looking, and would probably only ever have success as an actress in my late 40s.

 Two years after leaving RADA I was cast as the leading actress at Liverpool Playhouse, playing the most beautiful woman in Venice, opposite Anthony Hopkins.  After the opening night performance the Stage Doorman told me there was someone waiting to see me and the Principal of RADA walked into my Dressing Room:

“Oh my dear, darling, girl….what a brilliant performance.”

I told him to “F*** off”.

3) What do you enjoy most when script writing? 

Script writing takes place on different levels.  The most enjoyable level for me is piecing together the jigsaw of the storyline, then layering in the characters.  

4) I am a huge Trial and Retribution fan – having watched it far too young – what did you enjoy about writing the character conflict between Walker and Connor? (David Hayman and Victoria Smurfit) 

The conflict between the characters of DCI Walker and DI Connor was wonderful.  David Hayman is one of the most exciting and professional actors I have ever worked with. Victoria Smurfit was not only very beautiful but was a very confident actress.  They sparked each other.  I find it so tiresome that in many crime dramas, when there is a male and female on an investigation, there has to be some kind of love interest.  I was keen to establish a professionalism and a realism between my two characters.

5) Do you have any advice for the unpublished author or undiscovered actor? 

My advice to any unpublished author is never sign an agreement unless it is overseen by an Agent or a Lawyer.  I would also discourage an author from sending a completed manuscript to anyone in the industry.  Focus on learning how to complete a two page Treatment of the story/script – if the Treatment is picked up then you have an opportunity to sell it vocally.  Don’t give anything away for free.

 The hardest thing for an undiscovered actor is that without work it is almost impossible to get an Agent to see you.  Every Agent’s mantra is “I’ve never seen your work.”  So you need to search high and low, apply to every fringe theatre, every TV soap series, the National Theatre, the RSC…The offers of work will not come to you – you have to go out and find them.  You need to adopt a very professional attitude.  If you get an audition and they give you two pages of a script to read, LEARN THEM.  The most important tool for any undiscovered actor is a good, professional, head shot.

4) What do you think of the crime and thriller market currently? 

I think the Swedish crime series have made an incredible impact.  If you consider that they are eleven hours, with sub-titles, they still became monster successes and have changed the views of the heads of commissioning in every TV network.  I was once told by a lead figure at the BBC that they were no longer commissioning crime drama – they soon changed their minds. 

5) How did you create and shape the character of DCI Jane Tennison for the series Prime Suspect? What did you think of the tv adaptation? 

I was very lucky to have been able to create the character of DCI Jane Tennison for the original series of Prime Suspect.  As a novelist and screen writer I always go to source for research, and I was very fortunate to make contact with DCI Jackie Malton, who guided me through every level of a high-ranking police woman’s life. I was then able to insist that the character of Jane Tennison be castwith an actor who was the right age, and I wanted Helen Mirren from the outset.  Dame Helen Mirren has proved that she is not only a consummate actress but the television series became iconic due to her performance.  The scripts were also incredibly strong and the productions were steered by an exceedingly good Director, Chris Menaul, at the helm.

The TV adaptation of my book ‘Tennison’ (retitled ‘Prime Suspect 1973’ by ITV) was sadly a very negative experience for me. I withdrew from the series as the casting went against my wishes, and the script-writing was very inexperienced and not true to the book.  The recent Agatha Christie (Ordeal by Innocence) received criticism, not only for the swearing, but also due to the fact that they decided to change the killer’s identity.  This is disrespectful to the author.  

6) When writing, do you need music or silence? Did you have a favourite band growing up? 

I write in silence.  Coming from Liverpool, my favourite band was the Beatles.

7) Do you like Rod Stewart, and if so, do you have a favourite song of his? 

Yes.  In the TV adaptation of ‘She’s Out’ (the third book in the Widows series), one of the characters sings ‘Reason to Believe’.

Thank you for visiting my blog, Lynda. It has been a real pleasure to interview you.

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