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Interview with Locked Up's Maggie Civantos

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Framed by her lover for corporate fraud, young Macarena Ferreiro finds herself locked up in a high-security women’s prison surrounded by tough, ruthless criminals in this tense, provocative Spanish thriller. Macarena is a naive young woman who finds herself incarcerated in a high-security jail. Still in denial about her crime, she lies to her parents and tells them she’s gone away on a sailing trip, but prison proves to be a very rude awakening for Macarena and she finds herself struggling to cope. Her cellmate Yolanda takes Macarena under her wing, but a midnight visit from Zulema, the prison’s self-appointed queen bee, is about to change Macarena’s life for ever. Starring Maggie Civantos, Carlos Hipolito, Najwa Nimri, Roberto Enriquez, Inma Cuevas, Ramiro Blas, Berta Vazquez, Alberto Velasco, Marta Aledo, Daniel Ortiz and Alba Flores. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Can you tell us a bit about Locked Up, and introduce your character, Macarena?

Locked Up is a prison thriller based on the story of my character, Macarena Ferreiro who is sent to prison after her lover (and boss) tricks her into committing a tax crime. Once in prison, the stage is set for trouble. Macarena finds out information that could lead her to the hiding place of $9 million. But Zulema, one of the most dangerous inmates at Cruz del Sur, is on the same trail. From this moment on, Macarena's family gets involved in the clash between these two characters and a thrilling plot starts to unravel.

Macarena will undergo a major evolution during the first season, which will become even more apparent in the second series. This character evokes a good deal of empathy, being an ordinary woman, with an education... the character the audience identifies most with. Through her eyes, we will witness this transformation she needs to go through in order to survive inside the prison.

What was it that attracted you to the role of Macarena, and the show in general?

It was this change and evolution that Macarena goes through episode after episode. What I like about her is that she is a very strong character, as weak as she might seem. In the beginning, she is completely out of her element, but she gradually adapts to the circumstances and finds ways to overcome them. She is quite a heroic character – she fights to survive in prison, she fights for her family and she won't stop fighting and getting over her mistakes. This character teaches me volumes about being an actress, but I was especially attracted to it because of this evolution.

The character in itself talks about people not being who we think we are, but only a product of the circumstances around us. This character will see her values, her morals, her ethics, all fall down to pieces... So she tries to rebuild her life into a new one, which is darker and much more hostile.

When Macarena enters the prison, some of the inmates in the prison are friendlier than others. Can you tell us about your character’s relationships with these other characters, and what this means for her future in the prison?

They are all criminals, but some of them will provide light and guidance to Macarena, as helping hands for her to rely on inside the prison. These inmates are Rizos (Curly) and Sole. Sole is the 'mum' in the prison, the one who has the wisdom and level-headedness to deal with problems in a mature, calm way. Rizos is quite the opposite. She is immature, even childish at times, but she embodies purity, kindness and friendship. Rizos' generosity towards Macarena from the moment she steps into the prison will bring about a gay relationship, even with Macarena being heterosexual.

In the first episodes, we will see Macarena fighting these conflicting feelings, as, up to this moment, she had always been sure of her sexual orientation.

How much did you know about female prisons before filming the show? Did you do any research or speak to any convicts?

I didn't speak to any convicts because I didn't actually have much time to prepare after receiving the role. I started shooting only ten days after that. That's why I tried to do as much research as possible by watching documentary films. Besides, there are no private prisons in Spain, like the one in the show. The plot is not based on real events. Both the prison and the whole penal system are completely fictional. The relationships between the inmates are very real, though. Then, I have worked with my imagination and with the scripts, which were terrific.

Did you discover anything in particular which surprised or shocked you about life in prison?

Not really, as I haven't had any contact with real prisoners. But, after watching those documentary films on female prisons, I was appalled at the living conditions of many inmates in certain prisons in Latin America. And I was really shocked at the level of violence in some of those prisons.

Being set in a prison, the show is quite dark, and deals with some quite disturbing plotlines. Did this affect you at all while you were filming? Did it change your view on life at all?

Not permanently, no. But it is true that, even when I go home, I keep working on that darkness and doing research, as Macarena gradually loses her values and loses faith in life and people. To put myself in her shoes, I need to feel what she feels. When you are studying this kind of dark world, some of it remains with you at the end of the day, so, once you're done, you need to shake that off and draw the line between the character and yourself. I have my own method, but a part of the character inevitably gets to you when you are studying it in such a close, intense way.

How would you describe the show in three words?

Emotion, action and intensity.

The show was hugely popular in Spain, and is now becoming the first Spanish drama to be aired on UK television… What do you think has made it so successful?

Apart from it being a really good show, it was successful in Spain because of its boldness, which brought about a revolution in Spanish fiction. There was a commitment to offer new elements in fiction, and the show was not intended for all audiences, but it was firmly grounded in the thriller genre. Besides, the intriguing plots in each episode provide a dramatic tension that manages to get people hooked – it can be really addictive.

And why do you think prison dramas in general remain appealing to such a broad range of audiences and nationalities?

It is a curious phenomenon, but it is true. Stories set inside prisons are really interesting and I think the reason for this is that, after all, you are talking about personal relationships in a closed environment, which always adds to the intensity of those relationships.

Locked Up premieres tomorrow (Tuesday 17th May) on Channel 4 at 10pm - with all the episodes then available to stream on Walter Presents.

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