Hayley Atwell is back on British TV screens with Life Of Crime, which sees one of best actresses on British TV take on a role that sees her span three decades.

Hayley Atwell

Hayley Atwell

With the show airing tonight, she took some time out to talk about the show and why she never fancied a career in the force.


Can you explain what Life of Crime is about?

Hayley: It’s about a woman in the South London police force starting out in the eighties and it follows her career from the very beginning when she graduates. There’s one particular case that haunts her throughout her whole career. She’s trying to solve it but it renders her slightly morally ambiguous. She takes the law into her own hands so it’s about the possible consequences of that.

What attracted you to the role of DCI Denise Woods?

I really wanted to play a lead that was quite complicated but would require me to stretch my muscles a little bit. I think the fact that she is morally ambiguous is really appealing. You have this extra element to her where you don’t know whether you like her or not or if she was right to do what she did. Life of Crime goes into what happens when someone who   starts off with the right intentions makes a pretty immature decision and a selfish one that can potentially ruin other people’s lives.

What was it like playing the same character in three different decades and developing the role over that period of time?

It was really, really tough to do. The young Denise is quite a people pleaser. Her actions are based on her emotions. As she gets older, especially by the third episode she doesn’t really have time for any drama or nonsense and she’s very much matter of fact about things.

How were you aged for the second and third episode?

We had to do a lot of work on the colour of her skin and hair and her dress sense changing. Because each episode is in a different decade you can show it’s a big leap - the clothes in the eighties are so different from the clothes in the mid-nineties. I had worked with Leonie Prendergast, the costume designer, before and she was brilliant at doing that and making it subtle like the high street fashion of the time.

Hayley In 80's Mode

You get to dress in eighties and nineties fashions in the series, was it fun to wear those outfits?

I felt I looked like my mum! I looked at some of the outfits and thought ‘God I remember that’, the shoulder pads and the bright colours and lots of lace and the punky Madonna look. I much preferred that than the nineties.

Did you do much research for the role of DCI Woods?

I went to a police station in Brixton for a cup of tea with one of the police officers. He was a huge help because he had been there for a good 20 years. He definitely would have been around at the time that Denise’s character would have been coming up through the ranks. I also spoke to a retired police officer and she was very similar in terms of status to Denise. She went through the ranks of the police force and did very well for herself. She was able to divulge a bit of what it would have been like for Denise going in and the unashamed amount of bum slapping and comments about her sexuality.

There was a big change for women in the eighties when women were allowed to walk the beat with officers. If you wanted to work in that job you found a way of dealing with it and sticking up for yourself as and when you can. Certainly by the time we hit episode three Denise is in a greater position of power and the battles she comes up against it’s not about sexism it’s about the consequences of a decision she made back in the early days of her career.

Is policing a career that has ever interested you in the past?

No, absolutely not. My grandfather was a police officer in Manchester and I can see the scars of what that did to him. I think that back then it was a particularly violent job to do and particularly difficult. I have respect for anyone who’s doing a job like that but I’m too soft, I’m too romantic.

What was it like working with Richard Coyle and Con O’Neill?

Richard, Con and I had a fair few scenes together at the beginning and we just giggled and laughed a lot. I first met Con O’Neill when I was seven years old. For my seventh birthday my mum took me to see Blood Brothers, which he was in and because it was my birthday she took me down to the stage door in the hope of maybe getting his autograph. I got to sit on his knee and he was lovely and I                developed a big crush on him after that.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on Captain America 2 and a Jimi Hendrix project ‘All is By My Side’ so I’m in LA for both of those. I’m also starting in June a fantastic project which I’ve only just confirmed so I can’t talk about it yet. It’s an exciting project and another lead which is exciting.

Life Of Crime is on tonight at 9pm on ITV

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