With the second series of fantastic BBC Two drama Peaky Blinders just around the corner, we couldn't resist catching up with Helen McCrory - who plays Aunt Polly - to find out just what we can expect from the show and her character going forward.

Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC

Going back to before series one, what initially drew you to the role of Aunt Polly in Peaky Blinders?

Well I was sent the scripts in the traditional way, they came through the post, and Otto Bathurst phoned me up who I'd worked with before and said: 'There's a part I'd like you to have a look at', and I was just fascinated in this world. I didn't think that I'd seen it on British television before. I thought that we're known in Britain to do our television histories, but they tend to be of the upper classes or Upstairs, Downstairs set in London, in a white stucco house crescent and to see a whole world that was now set in working class, criminal streets of Birmingham, with men coming back from the First World War, and the impact of war on them, the impact of communism, the impact of women suddenly working at home and working out of the home and having to hand it back to the men was just a fascinating part of our own history, that we are still reeling from now and picking up the consequences from. So, I said 'yes', and then on top of that, Otto talked to me about the way that he wanted to film it - was much more in the world of John Ford and the Westerns, and instead of doing British gritty realism, to make it look cinematic and to have fun with it, and we've continued that into the second series - these huge epic landscapes and, this idea of Wild West, still prevails as a tone.

As you said it's a very unique show - so what research did you have to do to prepare?

Well I researched, I read a lot about Birmingham. I read a lot about what happened to men who came back from the First World War. But also you know, my grandparents fought in the Second World War, their grand - my 'mam' I met with my great grandmother, her husband was shellshocked and then brought back in a wheelchair from the First World War. So I'm probably the last generation that met that generation and heard those stories. My grandmother on the other side was a cleaning lady, her husband was killed, she cleaned pubs and she had three daughters. My great grandfather, he lost his wife and they had three sons and they survived, so I had all those stories of what life was like then, so I drew on my own personal experience from families as far as the period was concerned.

And as far as gang warfare and crime warfare, I just researched and talked to Steve Knight, a lot.

How has filming the second series compared to the first?

It has a very different feel this time round. I think the luxury of coming back to work with a cast and crew that you've worked with before gives you an enormous advantage - it gives you a short hand so you hit the ground running. You don't have the tentative first footsteps that you do the first time you do a series.

You're also revisiting characters that you've asked questions to the author about the first time round - things you want to explore - so particularly with Polly whose character is very, very much expanded in this next series. You're much more comfortable with the material and perhaps you'll take bigger risks than you would the first time round, because you know what you've created and you have a springboard to go from.

Tom Hardy has joined this series, what is he like to work with?

Tom is one of the criminal gang leaders that we meet when we go down to London. I don't do scenes with Tom - I've met him of old and I like him very much as a man and admire him as an actor - but I'm with you. I'm with the punters! I can't wait to see him in it! (laughs) I can't be more help to you than that, I'm sorry! No idea mate!

Without giving away too much what should we expect from the show and Aunt Polly?

I think when we find Aunt Polly, we knew from the last show that she was the sort of godmother of the Peaky Blinders, and she was all about control, and she was all about putting her voice first, and when we meet her two years later, this is a woman very changed, this is a woman who's become obsessed with finding her two children who we know from the first series were taken away from her - and not just obsessed with finding them but then the self-questioning and the self-doubt and the self-loathing that comes from, one, allowing them to be taken from her even though she was of course helpless, and secondly wondering what sort of mother and world she'll bring them into, if she does find them, because of course she lives in a life of violence and crime. So those two elements of doubt and self-doubt start to destroy her. So when we find Polly she's become much wilder, unhinged, anarchic, and she has to get herself together, so it was really exciting to take her in new directions, and she has an emotional storyline that takes us right the way through the series and packs such a punch by the end. I can't tell you my last line of the series because it will give it all away! But it was my favourite line. It was a joy to do and Steve Knight gave me a gift of a part, so I'm just gonna be crossing my fingers with everybody else on a Thursday night when I watch it that I haven't let the side down! (laughs)

Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC

Does the show feel different this time round because it is on a much larger scale?

I think that's exactly it to answer your first question about what to expect from Peaky Blinders.

That world keeps growing actually throughout the episodes, it's incredible what Steve did and he did a big ask as well - the whole production team had to keep coming up with just larger and larger scenes that we went into, he didn't get smaller. After we watch episode one and we see all the money on screen and then we take it down because hopefully we've got the viewer, but then in this case he just keeps writing bigger and bigger (laughs) - so apart from the fact I think we've bankrupted the network - they can expect it to keep growing and becoming more complex. It's a dark, dark twisted world as well that also has the same cinematic ambition as the first one, and fantastic music, and it's fun. For however much it is set in all this realism, yes, but it's still good fun. It still is all tongue-in-cheek, and I enjoy that in the show as well. It never loses fat, this is filmed for television.

You have obviously starred in big movies as well, how does that world compare to the TV world?

Well they're different in budget but not in ambition, and actually as far as writing's concerned, sometimes far more satisfying. Now I've played Polly for onscreen, 12 hours, and a film at the most is going to give you three hours. So it allows you to research and explore a character in a much more satisfying way as a performer.

Also I think the view has begun to change. People are watching television in a much more novelistic way. People buy boxsets of Breaking Bad or whatever it is and they'll sit down and watch House of Cards, and they start to see television as a novelistic drama that we spend a lot longer with the characters and allow them to change and be brought into different worlds. I think the viewers are changing with television at the same time. Their demands are also moulding what television is coming up with.

With such an extensive career what are some of your highlights so far?

Medea this summer was extraordinary, at the National, to play the National Theatre's first Medea in the main house in a 1,400 seater that was designed just like a Greek Ampitheatre has got to be one of the big highlights in my life.

Anna Karenina was one of my first big television breaks, a piece I was very proud of.

One of my first was Streetlife, sat on a council estate when I shaved my head and pierced my nose, playing a working class woman from the valleys, becoming a single mother. There's lot.

Penny Dreadful which I'm about to do now up in Dublin I'm really enjoying. That's a whole new other world of gothic horror for Showtime, then you see what novelistic drama can actually do with the budget of Americans which is just extraordinary. I just went to see my house - you're looking down at the floor and the flagstone I'm walking on, I said: 'God this feels real' and they went: 'yeah it is real'. They are building a house in a studio - it's a very exciting time for me, and I'm enjoying it.

Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC

Peaky Blinders Series 2 begins Thursday October 2nd at 9pm (BBC TWO).

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