On Sunday 4 and 11 September, ITV1 screens Appropriate Adult, a two-part drama based on the story of Janet Leach, an ordinary mother whose life was changed when she volunteered to take on the prosecution system role of the same name and subsequently found herself sitting in on police interviews with Fred West. Stylist talks to two-time Oscar nominee Emily Watson about playing the role.
Appropriate Adult explores the investigation into Fred (played by Dominic West) and Rose West through the eyes of your character, Janet Leach. Tell me about her.
She ended up being a main player in the story completely by accident. She was at the very beginning of training to be a social worker so she had volunteered to be an appropriate adult. Basically you expect to sit in on police interviews with minors with learning difficulties so they understand what is being said. She got a call, she didn’t know who it was going to be, went in and sat down: Fred West.
And then the relationship starts to become more complex…
He starts telling her all sorts of stuff that he hasn’t told the police, like there are more bodies. It gets to the point where they have such a relationship of trust that she persuades him that he has to confess. So then she finds herself being acutely vital to the investigation. There are murders about which we would not know were it not for Janet Leach. At the same time she starts kind of crossing boundaries that are dangerous for somebody who is not a professional.
The drama doesn’t actually focus on the murders, does it?
Not at all, no. There is a very deep and dark chasm of knowledge about what the Wests did and we don’t go there. You don’t see any of the crimes, you don’t see any reconstructions, you don’t see bodies.
You met Janet Leach in preparation, and you’ve portrayed real-life characters before. Does it help to meet the person you’re playing?
Sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. It very much did in this case because she is very different from me in a lot of ways.
Were you concerned about the dark subject matter when you were initially approached?
Yes. But when I read it [the script] I realised that it is a very thoughtful and intelligent attempt at looking at a very difficult area of humanity.
Dominic West looks very much like Fred West in the programme...
When I heard they were doing it I thought of him first. I thought he’d be perfect. He does look like him, it’s really quite uncanny. It wasn’t a big stretch for hair and make-up to get him there.
There are murders about which we would not know were it not for Janet Leach
Was it chilling to shoot?
You kind of get used to it because you’re doing take after take but there were moments where it just sort of took your breath away.
Could you and Dominic step out of your characters at the end of the day?
God, yes. Neither of us stayed in character and I think you’d probably damage yourself quite a lot if you did with a role like that.
You shot to fame in your first film role as Bess in Lars von Trier’s Breaking The Waves in 1996, and picked up your first Oscar nomination. What was that period in your life like?
Very intense. I went into a bit of a daze for about a year. I signed off the dole, shot the movie, got married. And then the movie opened and the s*** hit the fan. The press and the whole tour of awards just went on and on and on. It was like nothing I’d experienced and I didn’t know how to shut the door on it really. But God, it was great.
You also have Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of War Horse coming up. What was that like to film?
It was great. I saw the show at The National and absolutely loved it. When you get a call saying Spielberg wants to meet you, that’s an actress-weak-at-the-knees job.
You were born in London and still live in the city. What cultural things do you do outside work?
I love London for the theatre. I love losing myself in an exhibition and I’m old enough now that I don’t mind that I don’t really understand things and don’t have the right opinions. I love cinema too, though I tend to watch a lot of movies at home. It’s easier. I’m in the throes of being a mum really. I’ve got two children, and we watch a lot of wildlife on the BBC website.
Do you take roles that fit around your family?
A lot more than I used to, definitely. But in a way, you’ve still got to follow the good roles. And while the kids are still really little, mixing it up a bit is good for them I think.
Is there anything you’d still like to do, career-wise?
A hilarious comedy. Somebody please. I’d love to do something light and funny.
Words: Leon Forde