Keeley Hawes: New role 'unlike anything I'd aspire to be' says The Bodyguard star
Intriguing new drama The Summer Of Rockets, set in Britain during the Cold War, stars Keeley Hawes as the wife of an MP. She tells Georgia Humphreys about working with writer Stephen Poliakoff and why her character is a challenge
KEELEY Hawes seems to be everywhere at the moment. Over the past few years she's become one of the UK's biggest TV stars, sealed by her impressive turn in The Bodyguard, the show everyone was talking about last summer.
Other roles in the last 12 months include Mrs Wilson, Traitors and a return to The Durrells – and she can be seen next in new BBC Two drama Summer Of Rockets, penned by Stephen Poliakoff.
This is the first time Hawes (43) has collaborated with the writer/director, known for BBC dramas such as Shooting The Past, Dancing On The Edge and Close To The Enemy.
"My husband's worked with him, so I'd heard first-hand about what it's like to work with him," says the London-born actress, who's married to Matthew Macfayden. "And I've met him over the years quite a few times and I was getting a bit annoyed about that because he hadn't cast me," she quips, laughing.
"But yeah, he works unlike anybody else, so the whole thing is a very different discipline."
The series is set in the UK during the Cold War – in 1958, to be exact. At the centre of the story is Russian Jewish emigre Samuel (Toby Stephens), a designer of bespoke hearing aids, who is asked to demonstrate his work by MI5.
But that's not really what they want from him. He is actually tasked with secretly obtaining information about some new friends of his – Kathleen, played by Hawes, and her MP husband Richard (Linus Roache).
In a period of history that was full of uncertainty about the future, the show asks, who can you really trust?
As for why Kathleen was an interesting character to play, Hawes calls her "very much a woman of her time".
"She lives for her husband in this perfect home and her perfect life and wonderful son in this beautiful countryside," she says. "It's such a world away from anything I know about, and I find it very difficult being... She's so unlike anything that I would aspire to be.
"That sounds like I'm sticking myself into holes..." Hawes adds, taking a moment to choose her words carefully. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be the perfect wife and mother, of course there isn't, but this is a woman who doesn't have any ambition to do anything else, which is very alien to me.
"So it's interesting to play that, and quite suffocating, but ultimately that's how she feels."
Another intriguing plot development is that Kathleen and Richard have a secret – their 21-year-old son has gone missing.
"They don't go to the press about it because it would look very bad for the family," says Hawes, who has three children of her own – two with Macfayden and one from her first marriage ton DJ Spencer McCallum.
"So it's this awful secret and they don't know if the police have looked into it, but he's literally disappeared – as many people do. And this is a time without the internet and social media, when it was easier to disappear than now.
"He disappears – after nothing [no row] – a couple of days after his 21st birthday and they have no clue why. It becomes her life's work to find out where he is and why he's left. And she doesn't have a job so she can just dedicate everything to that."
Although it's an emotional storyline to play out, Hawes says because of the time period, Kathleen's feelings are "all stifled".
"This period, these people, this world they're in – it's all quite suffocating," she says. "They don't show emotion, this class of people... It's all very buttoned up."
Hawes has starred in many period dramas – arguably one of her most memorable roles was BBC's Upstairs Downstairs which aired from 2010 to 2012. Asked about the appeal, she says simply: "They're diverse. This year I've gone from 30s, 40s, 50s, into the 60s on a few jobs and it's quite odd that I just think it comes in waves and there seems to be a fashion."
What made the filming experience of Summer Of Rockets stand out though was the rehearsal time they had with Poliakoff, along with his writing methods.
"The scripts never change," notes Hawes. "That's incredibly rare. I don't think a word of it has changed. Jed Mercurio [writer of The Bodyguard] was talking about writing and he said he probably wouldn't be a writer without laptops.
"Stephen has always handwritten everything and he still hand writes everything, which is really amazing. And then he dictates it to an assistant and so nothing ever changes because he's handwritten it and there's nothing he hasn't covered."
Then there's her look in Summer Of Rockets; stunning red-head wig, bright lipstick and fancy dresses. Considering previous roles like Line Of Duty have seen her be anything but, does she like getting the chance to look glamorous?
"I couldn't care less," she says. "I really couldn't."
:: Summer Of Rockets starts on BBC Two on Wednesday May 22