Can you tell us about your character?
Francesca is married to a man who is serving 18 years in prison for drug trafficking. And she’s got two teenage children and her father. She’s an ordinary working-class woman but has had a lot of money. At the point that we meet her in the second series, she’s lost all her money and she’s living in very reduced circumstances to what she’s been used to. She’s a very strong character – she’s a survivor, she’s brave, she doesn’t feel sorry for herself.
What attracted you to Francesca?
The thing that drew me to her and the thing that I most like about her is her strength. I find her to be quite an inspirational and incredibly sympathetic character, even though she doesn’t necessarily display obvious sympathetic traits.
What drew you back to Prisoners’ Wives?
It’s the second time around for me so I have very good memories of the first series. I was hoping and haven’t been disappointed that it would be just as fun and challenging. And the people. There are wonderful actors and actresses in it and all the crew.
Have you done a lot of preparation for the role?
I had done a lot of research and preparation for the previous series so I felt fairly confident about knowing who she was, and where she was from. All the writing’s based on real conversations with real wives, mothers, daughters of prisoners so, that was incredibly helpful from a research point of view.
What makes Prisoners’ Wives different from other dramas?
The focus of the show is the four women whereas usually it’s the men. It’s very humanistic, very truthful, and I think the writing’s good and the production values are extremely high. I think you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck…
You might recognise Polly from roles in State of Play and Rome.
Can you describe your character?
Harriet has a very isolated life at the beginning of series one. She’s lost her husband, her son has ended up in prison, and she can’t bear the humiliation of this situation. She’s very closed in, and gradually, throughout the first series we see the character crack open and reach out for help and connection with other characters. And then in series two we see her go from strength to strength… She really begins to enjoy life a little more and has a little bit of romance. I hope that it’ll be really touching to see the way in which her character develops and grows in confidence.
What attracted you to Harriet?
Harriet’s the most endearing character. I absolutely adore playing her. She’s one of my favourite characters ever that I’ve put together. As soon as I read the scripts I knew that I desperately wanted to play this character. There are so many very touching, moving, emotional scenes, and yet there are wonderful hints of comedy as well. We see her awkwardness and her vulnerability and because she makes so much effort she’s always optimistic. She’s always trying to save the situation or make the best of it and in that way I think we really enjoy backing her and wanting the best for her and everyone around her. Also I felt a real connection to the character as a mother, connecting with the awfulness of imagining your son in prison.
What drew you to Prisoners’ Wives?
Reading the scripts and realising what a very new and original idea this was. We always see stories which lead up to prison, or are involved in prison but we don’t see the lives affected on the outside. And certainly the feedback we’ve had following the first series… People are really thrilled to have had themselves represented because it’s never been done dramatically before. So, there was a huge pull to wanting to honour that large segment of society which just gets shoved to one side and ignored, and tarred with the same brush as everyone within prison.
How did you prepare for the role?
I decided to go on a prison visit myself. Where I live there is a bus that calls at the local train station specifically to take the loved ones to the local prison. I got permission to go on the bus even though I wasn’t visiting anyone in person and I met up with the people on the bus. I came clean and said, ‘I’m actually doing a television programme, I’m not actually here to visit anyone.’ And I thought that might really put people off, they might think, ‘Oh, you know, we don’t want her coming and intruding on our world and what’s she gonna say about us?’ And it was the complete opposite. They all embraced me.
You might recognise Pippa as sex mad Joanna in Green Wing or for her roles in Scott & Bailey and Mr Selfridge.
Can you tell us a bit about your character?
She’s a housewife, happily married with three small boys. She’s from a council estate, she’s very house-proud, she looks after herself and the boys always look immaculate. Mick, her husband, is a football coach and she’s very pleased with her little gang.
When I got the breakdown for the character it described her and Mick as the Posh and Becks of the council estate which made me laugh and it’s true. She’s quite into how she appears and how she comes across.
What drew you to your character?
I was drawn to the character of Kim because of her journey. She has a pretty easy life… and you see her having to deal with problems and issues that she’s never had to before. It’s interesting how her viewpoint changes. That in turn has an effect on how she judges other people.
For me as an actor that was great because I get to do the whole range of emotion from anger to tears to laughter to hysterics. I liked the character too as I can relate to her. When you can see yourself in a character that always helps. It’s important to like someone you’re playing and she’s very likeable… Fundamentally despite what happens and what she goes through she’s a very good-hearted, loving person.
What attracted you to Prisoners’ Wives?
It’s so rare to be involved in a good drama, and there’s a lot on television but a lot isn’t particularly great. This is good quality TV and that’s just an absolute privilege. Also it’s a drama centred around women which is so rare. They’re strong women. And that doesn’t mean they’re strong and bolshy. That means they’re vulnerable but a lot of their strengths are in their weaknesses.
What research did you do to prepare for the role?
We got to visit a prison and that was so insightful. It was just to get the actual feel and to go through the rigmarole of being searched… It’s something that you think you know watching films and television but it’s a very different thing in reality. That was invaluable for me for a few of the scenes especially where I take the children in to see their dad. It’s a horrible thing to have to go through and to just be a small part of that as a visitor… it makes you never want to be in that position.
What were the most challenging moments for you?
There are certain scenes that you can put pressure on yourself to get right because they’re so important. There was one particular scene where I had to cradle my children because their dad was taken away in a police car and I accidentally poked the youngest one in the eye. He managed to withhold the tears whilst the camera was rolling – professional to the end – and then burst into hysterics once the camera had stopped rolling and that took a lot of apologising and sweets and chocolates and whatnot. But we’re friends again now…
You might recognise Sally from her role as Kelly Maguire in Shameless.
Can you tell us a little bit about your character?
Aisling is 18 and she’s from Sheffield. Her relationship with the prison is that her dad is inside, and has been throughout her life. It’s all about exploring her relationship with him.
What drew you to the character?
She’s a multi-layered character. She’s got a toughness about her but she’s got a level of vulnerability, and there’s an element of fun in her but also a bit of weariness for someone who’s so young. I think it’s really nice as an actor to be able to find those roles where you can do lots of different things and you can explore all those different elements to a personality.
What attracted you to Prisoners’ Wives?
I watched the first series when it came out and I really enjoyed it. I really loved that it was doing something different that was focused on women and not just their relationship with the men in their lives but how they struggled and got through this because it’s something I don’t think that’s been addressed in any drama that I’ve seen.
What preparation did you do for the role?
We were lucky enough to go to a prison and have a look and see what that was like. It was a totally bizarre experience and I feel very fortunate that I was able to go and see the reality of what that is like for people. And it made this feel a lot more real, and certainly made me feel like I would like to honour that what people go through.
You might recognise Karla from roles in Misfits and Lightfields.
Prisoners’ Wives starts Thursday 14 March at 9:00pm on BBC1