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Romola Garai interview: ‘Things you think of as clichés actually happen’

The star of ‘The Hour’ talks about her role in Paula Milne’s new drama ‘Legacy’, about two spies in love and adrift in a sea of ’70s East-West intrigue


What attracted you to playing a spy?
‘There’s a sense of failed possibility about both Anna and Charles [the two spies, played by Garai and Charles Thoroughgood], because of what their jobs have made them. Cold War pieces are an amazing way to talk about denial and people having to do things in secret. But normally, there just aren’t any women in those stories, so that attracted me too.’

There’s a sense of madness. No one knows who to trust.
‘There was no trust. Our government didn’t trust its own employees and no one trusted the government, so it’s a very cynical landscape. Anna knows her husband is cheating on her and it’s sort of acceptable because she’s used to a passionless existence. It’s got easier for her to live without love.’

Were you familiar with the history of the era in terms of three-day weeks, the blackouts and so on?
‘Not so familiar, but it was a fascinating time. The crux of the story is these Russian plots to utilise the strikes and unrest in Britain at the time. I found that really interesting – it’s recent history!’

Did anything shock you?
‘There were some things you think of as clichés, but they do actually happen. Like bugging rooms and following people. You think: That’s weird, I thought that only happened in films.’

Ever fancied that kind of work?
‘I’ve always thought I could never do a job like that, but a lot of preconceptions that writers, actors and directors rely on about spies are probably not true. We spent a day with this amazing guy who had been a spy for a long time: he was flamboyant, performative and told these outrageous stories about missions he’d been involved with.’

Now that you’ve played a spy, could you be the first female Bond?
‘Oh my God, no. You’d have to spend so much time in the gym. Can you imagine? No, I just love sitting around on my arse watching telly and eating sausage rolls.’

You’ve campaigned against supermarkets displaying lad mags. Why does it matter?
‘It’s to do with the principle of supermarkets stocking and selling pornography and about that pornography being listed as being a men’s lifestyle choice; the way these magazines are marketed and the normalisation of them. It’s a good thing for society to say that you can buy porn but, if you want to buy porn, you have to be over 18 and get it from a sex shop. I think that’s a fairly innocuous statement to make.’

Legacy’, Thursday November 28, 9pm, BBC2.

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Legacy

Like most of Milne’s work it’s earnest to a fault, but also psychologically credible thanks to Cox and Garai’s expressive and committed performances. It also looks great: the permanent dusk of blackout 1974 is exploited to maximum effect.

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