So, how does it feel to be the most hated woman in Law & Order: UK fandom? Kidding! Seriously, you had the unenviable position of having to write Jamie out of the show and he, unfortunately, has a very bad habit of playing characters who frequently die on screen. We’re you prepared for backlash? Was it better or worse than you expected it to be?
In the UK it wasn’t half as bad as it could have been. Paul Nicholls is everyone’s teenage heartthrob so he was welcomed with open arms and I think that cushioned the blow, but Stateside was another matter! I think there was a huge amount of disappointment and even anger from some fans. Yes I was prepared for it because I felt the same enormous sense of loss about Jamie’s departure. He is a fantastic actor but also a lovely human being. He always championed my writing for the show and was very vocal with the producers about which episodes he liked best and why. Writing for Matt Devlin was never anything but a pleasure and in my heart I wasn’t finished with him. I had so many more fantastic episodes to write for him but Jamie wanted to go. Maybe I wasn’t as heartbroken as you hardcore ‘Bamber Babes’ but I was pretty gutted when I got the news.
Can you elaborate on the decision to kill Matt off rather than suspend/transfer/etc. him out of the series? Jamie's early departure was dictated, in part, by his filming the 17th Precinct pilot, but why was Matt’s death deemed to be the best option?
I talked at length with our exec Andrew Woodhead about how Matt would go. It was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made on the show. I felt I had two responsibilities – one to the character of Matt Devlin and one to the show as a whole. As a writer I’ve always strived to create television that is heart stoppingly powerful and there was of course a part of me that couldn’t resist the opportunity to mine some very dark and powerful emotional territory by killing Matt and leaving Ronnie on the brink of breaking his sobriety. I also felt in my heart that Matt was just far too fabulous a character to just walk off into the sunset with a few goodbye drinks and a wave. He had to die a hero and that’s what he did. He died saving a boy’s life – that’s Matt, selfless, defender of the law to the end and demonstrating his unique affinity with children, born in his own damaged childhood. I do understand how painful his death was to some of the fans but it enabled us to give him a hero’s exit and take Ronnie to a very dark but important place for his character. And I would just like to add that Jamie was very happy with the decision and Deal, the script that took him out of the show.
The episode you based "Deal" on, "Slave", plays out differently. Can you talk a little about the process through which the adaptation became the episode we saw? Was "Slave" chosen before or after the decision was made to craft a story that writes Matt out of the show? Or was it chosen first, because you wanted to write about the issues in the case at hand, and determined later that it would be something that could be combined with Matt's exit?
I chose Slave before we even knew Jamie wanted to leave and pitched my idea for it at a story conference in the previous series but it just didn’t fit into the season so we saved it for 5 (3 in the US). It was only when I got the news about Jamie’s departure that I pitched the idea to use Slave to take him out. So it fulfilled two functions really, I was very passionate about the issues and wanted to explore kids running drugs on UK estates but also saw it as the perfect episode for Matt’s exit.
Will the ramifications of Matt's death affect the characters for some time and extend past “Survivor's Guilt”? Ronnie is a recovering alcoholic and, as mentioned back in "Samaritan," has already lost one partner to a violent death. It’s hard to imagine Matt’s death won’t have lingering consequences for him, in particular.
Of course but this is also Law & Order and the format doesn’t leave a lot of room for personal stories so Ronnie gets on with living and working. But you know what, isn’t that what we all do? It’s human nature.
The mothership has, traditionally, had male detectives. Was there any sort of mandate the new detective be male or was there discussion of the new DS being female or non-Caucasian?
I think we all felt it needed to be a male cop – the dynamic works so well with older, been round the block cop Ronnie and younger, tougher cop beside him, managed by our tough and brilliant female DI. We did have a conversation about maybe bringing in a female cop to investigate Matt’s death for one episode and then bring in his replacement but it just didn’t feel right. I wanted to bring Sam Casey in to investigate Matt’s death and through that investigation forge a bond with Ronnie and with the audience – afterall he’s the cop that finds Matt’s killer. I would have loved to see a British-African actor play Sam’s role and you can see from Deal and Survivor’s Guilt, as well as many other L&O UK episodes that as a show we regularly write big meaty roles for actors of different ethnicities. In fact we saw so many brilliant black and Asian actors for the role but in the end Paul Nicholls just was Sam Casey. He was perfect.
Can you tell us a little bit about DS Sam Casey and his portrayer, Paul Nicholls? How involved were you in the casting process?
Sam’s a tough no nonsense cop but he has a huge heart. With a young son from a broken relationship, he’s still a hands on dad as well as a great cop. All the Producers were very much involved in casting Sam and talked at length about who should play him. I love what Paul’s done with Sam, that hint of a Bolton accent betraying his birthplace after years in London. He has that slightly edgy, damaged , been through the mill, quality about his performance which is exactly the way I saw Sam.
I know it’s a long shot that you know the answer, but a fan asked if Jamie took any souvenirs, such as Matt's St. Christopher medallion, from the set? And, since I'm curious, did you take anything on your last trip to the set?
Gosh, I really have no idea! I’m sure our fabulous costume designer Ray Holman could answer that question for you! I didn’t take any souvenirs but I do have a Law & Order UK – Season 3 mug which Freema gave me on my desk and every time I see the ‘Love from Freema’ on the back I smile and then get a little teary at the thought of never writing another line for Alesha and the others.
And now we have the painful questions out of the way..... ;)
In Series 5 and 6, there seemed to be more of a focus on the copper side of the action. Was this dictated by your knowledge of losing one actor (Jamie) and having another (Peter) on a limited basis? Were there other factors? Or was I imagining things?
We made a conscious decision to focus on the cops a little more than in previous series, partly because while a departure from the US format, it worked well in the UK. The ITV audience love our cops so much and Ronnie is a hugely popular character over here so it felt right to have as much of them as possible in the show.
There have been various hints over the series regarding Matt's father physically abusing him. What's your take on it and how has it shaped who Matt became?
Matt had a tough, Irish Catholic upbringing and I certainly think his experiences as a child gave him a unique affinity with children. In Broken he relates so brilliantly to the young girl he interviews and gets her to open up. In Deal we see Matt at his most active and aggressive in defense of a child. All of these elements of Matt’s character are rooted in his childhood – a fairly damaged childhood in my opinion. But Matt is a survivor – he takes negativity and uses it as a force for good. Isn’t that why we all love him so much?
A question that's been on one or two minds: James and Alesha, did they or didn't they? Can we have an answer on that last scene in "Skeletons"? Or, if there is no official answer, do you have an opinion as to what might have happened?
You really would have to ask the scriptwriter Catherine Treganna. My opinion? Well I always shipped Alesha with Matt so it would be a no they didn’t from me!
Previously, it was reported Bill Patterson would make appearances in Series 5 and 6. Will we be seeing him again? Will there be references to where George is?
George is the new DPP and we had hoped to see him in that role in 5 & 6 but schedules meant that couldn’t happen. But who knows, if the show continues then he may well make an appearance.
A fan question: The mothership episodes exert a certain amount of control over Law & Order: UK episodes, but will we be able to see some flashback to Natalie as a WPC? L&O did something similar with Lt. Van Buren.
I don’t think flashbacks is something we would ever do in the UK show though I would have loved to do a really big meaty Natalie episode so that’s my one regret. It would have been lovely to really explore her character through a single episode.
Another fan question: Why the slow burn on Henry? Is he going to be like Arthur Branch or what?
I’m a fan of the slow burn! Do we really need it all at once? Henry’s very different to George and I hope as the series goes on the fans will get to see who he really is but it will be a slow burn.
Can you provide a little backstory about yourself? What’s your educational background? How did you get into the business? You’ve worked with convicts before, how has that influenced your writing of the characters (the perpetrators, especially)? The suspects/criminals seem to be a bit more sympathetic and less black and white than in some of the American incarnations.
I studied drama at university and went straight on to a PhD in the use of drama in offender rehabilitation. That got me into the prison system where I stayed for about eight years, exploring different rehabilitative techniques. I worked with both male and female offenders all over the UK and loved every second of it but towards the end I was feeling burnt out. I was writing the whole time too – mainly plays and a couple of novels. In 2000 I decided to quit prison and follow my heart into writing full time. It took a while to make my mark but after a couple of years on EastEnders, Chris Chibnall offered me a single episode on Law & Order: UK. I pitched and wrote Hidden and never looked back! I think he took me on because I was scarily knowledgeable about the US show but I soon fell in love with the UK characters. I think you’re right, my work in prison has definitely made me approach the stories with a little more sympathy towards the offenders than the US originals. It’s partly born out of real experience – I try to bring truth to everything I write, but also out of my need to understand. I don’t believe human beings can be intrinsically evil. Something makes them that way and as a writer I want to ask what that might be. I also know from my work that good people do bad things and what drives a good person to a bad act fascinates me. The black and white of a murder case is easy – it’s that grey area in the middle that’s trickier to understand but so much more fun to explore as a writer.
Are you able to tell us anything about the current projects you are working on?
At this precise moment I have 6 original series, a single film and a two part adaptation in various stages of active development so it’s a crazy time! But this industry is crazy too so who knows how many of those will make it to the screen. But there’s plenty of meaty crime series in the mix and hopefully it won’t be too long before one of them is broadcast.
Are there any stories you wanted to tell and weren’t able to either because the network or studio nixed them or because you weren’t able to find a way to work the ideas into the series?
I always wanted to adapt Custody and Captive but for various reasons they never happened. Other than those two I managed to adapt all my favourite episodes. The big favourites for me were always Angel, Killerz and Confession. A certain Mr. Cafolla managed to wrestle Confession out of my hands but he did a great job so I’m not that sore about it!
Along the same lines, is there a story, in hindsight, you wish you had handled differently in any way?
I’m really happy with all of the scripts I worked on. You always have your favourites I guess, mine being Hidden, Broken, ID, Deal & Survivor’s Guilt but I don’t think I would have handled any of the others differently though.
How closely do the writers work with the actors? Is there any kind of back and forth?
We have a table read where the central four actors go through the script afterwards with the writer and producers and discuss anything that doesn’t work for them. We certainly take their opinion on board. Bradley is mad for detail – he will remember some tiny thing Ronnie did in Series 1 or 2 and relate it to the current episode and his behavior in that episode. It’s very handy to have such a sharp mind onboard!
Finally, while I always saw Matt as more of a dog person, we learned in “Deal” he owned a cat. Will we find out what happens to the cat? Not that we fans are obsessive at all!
Well I did write a scene in Survivor’s Guilt that covered that but the constraints of filming on that particular day meant it never made it into the show. So picture the pub scene at the end of the episode… Ronnie is about to take that slug of whisky when Sam steps in and takes it for him, saving him from himself. They exchange a look and we know somehow Ronnie can survive the loss of Matt with Sam at his side. Sam indicates the door – lets get of here. Ronnie nods, reaches down and picks up the cat box at his feet and exits the pub with Sam. Lucky Luciano looks up at Ronnie through the grate in the cat box and gives a gentle mew! Life goes on.
Once again, a big thank you to Emilia for finding the time to answer our questions and provide us with a window into the development of Series 5 and 6 of Law & order: UK. While the show may go on and continue to engross the audience, it won't be quite the same without Emilia and Jamie's talents.