• Programme Information
• Interview with Writer, Creator and Executive Producer Rob Williams
• Interview with Nina Sosanya who plays Leigh
• Interview with Jamie-Lee O’Donnell who plays Rose
• Interview with Laura Checkley who plays Jackie
• Interview with Stephen Wight who plays Gary
• Interview with Faraz Ayub who plays Ali
• Interview with Ron Donachie who plays Don
• Character Bios
Welcome to C Wing in a busy men’s prison, a place that’s bursting at the seams with humour, emotional high stakes and danger for prisoners and officers alike. At the head of a group of embattled prison officers is Leigh (Nina Sosanya – His Dark Materials, Little Birds) a woman who has devoted her entire adult life to this prison and its population. Leigh keeps her inmates in line and has their backs when they need it. Into the pressure cooker of Long Marsh Prison enters Rose (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell – Derry Girls), a 21-year-old trainee officer. It’s a baptism of fire even for this street-smart young woman. She joins fellow screws Ali (Faraz Ayub - Line of Duty, Bodyguard), Gary (Stephen Wight - I May Destroy You, Manhunt), Don (Ron Donachie - Titanic, Game of Thrones), and Jackie (Laura Checkley- King Gary, Detectorists).
Interview with Rob Williams- writer, creator and executive producer
It’s rare to see a prison drama told from the perspective of the officers rather than the inmates.
Yes, it’s a world I’ve wanted to write about for a long time but I needed to find a fresh way into it because there are so many prisoner-focused shows and books. That in itself is interesting. I've met lots of officers and found myself not really thinking about them as individuals but as uniforms. One or two naturally challenged that by things they did or said, and then it grew from conversations with Sarah Brown, my co-executive producer on Screw. They’re public servants, yet they’ve never really had their own TV show in the way that paramedics, firefighters and police have. I think a lot of prison officers do feel fairly ignored and even disliked. As soon as that thought occurred, it went from there: why do I feel slightly uncomfortable with it as well?
You’ve done a lot of work in prisons. How did that come about?
I used to teach art and design at local colleges in the West Midlands. When I was doing a teacher's qualification in the late ’90s, one of the women on the course said I'd be really good at teaching in prisons. It was incredibly good money at the time so I started teaching drawing and painting in prisons and I was blown away by the environment. It challenged all my preconceptions. Then after a few years in publishing, I started writing and doing some voluntary work, which I’ve done it ever since. I've had the privilege of spending time on the wings, talking to prisoners and officers. While there's not a single story or character that is a direct translation in Screw, there is a desire to represent that world as I see it: there is laughter, there is humour, there is humanity, there is friendship, there is real life. It's not just violence and drudgery and darkness.
How did you come up with Rose and Leigh?
Rose was the starting point. I remember a day when I saw a young female prison officer who looked like Amy Winehouse, a little bird like figure who had real authority about her. I thought: wow, that's a great character. Rose is apparently doing the job simply because it’s a job. You don't need much training or many qualifications and can get started pretty quickly, with a fair bit of job security. I'm also really drawn to characters who have a mentor character, people at different ends of their careers and people who are incredibly good at their job. Leigh came from the idea of an officer who genuinely does care, who is really frustrated by the constraints that are put on her. I started thinking about what the effect would be of all that, of having a certain amount of control and power, but operating within a system that just doesn’t work for a huge amount of people who experience it. As I dived into that character and asked myself why she's like that, that gave rise to this secret she’s hiding. The conflict between Rose and Leigh is at the heart of the series.
What made Nina and Jamie-Lee right for the roles?
They’re so different, not only as characters but as actors – they have a different energy. Jamie-Lee is all about instinct. She wears her heart on her sleeve, which is perfect for Rose. Nina is very controlled, thoughtful and watchful. You always sense that she's telling you what she wants you to know as an actor. I thought pitting them against each other would be great fun.
What were the pillars of your research?
Every script was read by serving prison officers and our main advisor is a serving prison officer who has been incredibly helpful. John Podmore was great early on when I was working on the big story arcs – he used to be a prison governor in Brixton and Belmarsh, and is still involved in that world. I spoke to Mark Fairhurst of the Prison Officers Association as well, and we've been incredibly careful to talk to some of the groups and charities that have a stake in the various issues we address through the show. We've been careful not to just assume anything. Everyone has been raving about the set. It's incredible. Midway through the shoot, we did some exterior shots in a different part of Scotland and I’m so glad we did because people were feeling very, very oppressed by that set. Even though Kelvin Hall, where we built the set, is a huge space, you could tell people were feeling as though the walls were closing in a bit, so people were very pleased to be stepping outside.
How do you hope the series might change people's perspectives on prison?
First and foremost, I hope it’s a piece of drama that people enjoy and anything else that comes from that is wonderful. The biggest win would be something as simple as people thinking that prison isn’t what they thought it was, because it's far richer than it's given credit for. I’d hope they would ask whether it’s the best way for the inmates to be spending their time. If it’s not helping them, then it's not helping us because they will all come out again. The question we all need to be asking is: what is prison for?
What’s next for you?
Hopefully another series of Screw, but otherwise we’re just finishing on a show that's coming out next year for Apple TV called Suspicion with Uma Thurman. I'm also writing a pilot for an American network at the moment.
Interview with Nina Sosanya- “Leigh Henry”
What is Screw about?
It's set in C Wing of Long Marsh Prison, a Category B male prison. That wing is run by supervising officer Leigh Henry, who I play. There’s a motley crew of prison officers under her beady eye, and into that comes a new young officer called Rose, played by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell. Because of the nature of prison life and the types of people drawn towards working there, everybody has a very different take on how prison should be run, how prisoners should be dealt with, what rules are to be adhered to or broken. It’s a pressure cooker of personalities.
Where does Leigh stand on prison: what should it be accomplishing?
She absolutely lives for her job, which ordinarily makes my heart sink when you hear that in a character breakdown. But when you look at what this job actually is, it's completely fascinating. She utterly believes that she can and should be trying to make a difference within a system that she sees as broken. She runs her wing like the captain of a ship, according to her own beliefs and rules, and doesn’t particularly trust anybody else to do the job as well as well as she can. She finds it easier to relate to the prisoners than the staff members, and this causes incidents. She's quite unpredictable and enigmatic, but she's compassionate and trying to do the best she can within a broken system. One of the things that she says is about how these people have already been judged – the loss of liberty is the punishment – so the officers’ job is to look after them while they're here, to make that time as beneficial as they can.
Why did you want to do Screw?
It opened my eyes to an area I was completely ignorant about. Prison is not something I think about, which goes to the heart of the whole problem. If you don't have any connection with it, it's out of sight, out of mind, and that doesn't seem like a great way for society to treat anyone. I also really didn't understand that female officers worked in male prisons, so that was intriguing to me.
How has doing Screw changed your perceptions of prison?
That line about loss of liberty being the punishment is what I hadn't really understood. Is it correct to shut people away with no real means to effect change within their lives? Is it right to send them back out and expect them to rehabilitate themselves in a world that is now hostile to them because of the stigma of having been in prison? None of this seems to work. I hope people who watch this show might start to think about that and look at what is needed in terms of trying to respect this as a job which is as important as education, policing, health… It should be right up there, but people just don't talk about it.
Do you need a particular mindset as a female officer in a male prison?
I think so. I spoke at length with a female prison officer who worked in the prison system for many years and the main thing is that they seem to have an extraordinary amount of courage and compassion. Every single day can be a volatile situation, so it takes a particular type of person to be able to stay. I think the biggest quality is compassion, because they're looking after people in the most vulnerable state: if you don’t feel compassion then you're not going to last very long.
Why did she decide to become a prison officer in particular?
That's very much very much bound up in who she is and it's really tricky to answer without giving anything away…
What do we know about Leigh’s life outside her work?
We don’t really, which is one of the joys of the programme. 90% of it takes place within this one wing of this prison, so it really is about who everybody is once they're behind those gates. The outside world sort of doesn't exist while you're in there. All these people are thrown together in the same building, day in day out, even though they’re completely different, with vastly different attitudes and life experiences.
Could you talk a little about the set?
It's a life-size replica of a prison wing, the sort that might have been built in the mid-19th century where it’s about the railings and the steel steps. It was built over three levels within this huge hangar in Glasgow, and goes around two corners. Once you step through the gates, you're actually in this sort of living, breathing, breathing prison with 100 or so cells, most of which can open and lock. There are offices and pool tables, classrooms and medical stores… You'd be forgiven for thinking that the series is going to look claustrophobic or samey, but it's exactly the opposite because these three levels allow the camera to sweep from one place to another. Rob would write these huge scenes and we’d be going, why is this not five or six scenes? But you can go from level one to level three, into a cell and out to the office, all in one. It makes it really dynamic.
What's Leigh’s relationship like with Rose?
She’s really unimpressed. When Rose arrives, Leigh is juggling about five different situations with admin, governors breathing down her neck, and prisoners under lockdown because her team is so short-staffed. They keep sending these young recruits who have just got sacked from some other job and think this this will be a breeze. Leigh sees Rose as one of those: someone who is young and doesn't seem to have taken much interest in the training. She’s made a lot of assumptions about Rose and doesn't trust her.
How does she get on with the rest of her team?
She’s closest to Jackie, but keeps her at arm's length in terms of their private life because she feels like that’s the best way for her to get the job done. She really doesn't ask Jackie anything about her life either, even though Jackie would love her to. She banters and gets along very easily with the male prisoners which is probably one reason why she's in a male prison.
Might you have the tools to do that job yourself?
No, not at all. Everything we do as actors is so controlled, but the whole nature of the work as a real prison officer is the opposite. You have to be ready for anything and everything.
Interview with Jamie-Lee O’Donnell- ‘Rose Gill’
How would you describe the tone of Screw?
There's quite heavy stuff in there, but they’re trying to keep it as true to life as possible because not everything is doom and gloom – even in dramatic times, there's some sort of a silver lining. It's a survival instinct to find the lighter side of things, especially when the reality you're faced with is quite dark.
You’re best known for playing Michelle in Derry Girls, but you’ve done a lot of straight drama as well. Do you enjoy working in that grey area between the two?
I really do. I’m lucky to have the chance to do both in my career, doing Rose and going back to Michelle at some point. Some of the scenes in Screw are a million miles from Michelle, which I'm really happy about.
Why did you want to get involved in Screw?
First and foremost it was because of the characters, who were so real and well written. Rose seemed like a really complex and interesting character and there are a lot of twists and turns to the show. After I’d read the first couple of episodes, I was desperate to find out what happened in episode three, which is always exciting.
Did you find Rose an easy character to relate to?
In some ways. Our journeys are quite different, but how she handles things and her attitude towards things feels quite familiar. Because of where she comes from, she has these really positive attributes about herself and she's quite adaptable. I could definitely relate to that.
What does Rose’s life look like when we when we first meet her?
I don’t think prison is what she’s expecting. I don’t think she’s intimidated by it either, but she builds different relationships with different people, including some people she never would really speak to on the outside – people who remind her of home. There are a lot of interesting dynamics within the prison that allow her to open up a little and express herself in different ways.
Is Rose a sort of audience proxy, introducing us to prison life?
I think that’s it. It’s a new world for her, just as it will be for a lot of people watching the show. After those first impressions, we get to sit back and watch how things really are. It’ll be an eye-opener.
What is Rose’s relationship like with Leigh?
They’re both quite guarded people for their own different reasons. Anyone starting a new job might not want to dive in with both feet, especially this job, so there's always going to be a bit of caution when it comes to dealing with a problem. Given Leigh is head honcho, Rose feels her way around things at first.
How were the cast to work with?
Fantastic and really funny. We had really good craic on set because some of the scenes are quite heavy and dramatic, so we kept it light where we could. It ended up feeling a bit like a 9 to 5 where
you come into the same place every morning, wearing the same uniform, so we had a routine we got comfortable with. I think we’ve all achieved something really special.
The set sounds amazing.
Every single time someone walked onto the set for the first time, you could see their jaw drop as they took in the vastness of it. You forget that it's not a real building because it’s so well made and authentic – even the doors are really heavy. I slammed my finger in one of them on the last scene of the last day, which was pretty painful!
Being a prison officer is a physical job. Were you learning the techniques to make it look convincing?
The producers brought in some professional prison officers so we could find out what it’s like to work in a prison, and they were very honest with us. Two of the officers we spoke to were women and that was a big surprise, learning how many women work in men’s prisons. Although these were small women, they were obviously really confident and very powerful. It wasn’t the obvious image whenever you think of a prison officer. We learnt some basic techniques about how to defuse a physical situation, and also the respect that they have for the job, the compassion they show for their colleagues and the prisoners. It added a lot of layers for me.
Do you have any skills or tools to do that job?
I’d like to think so. I’d like to think I’m just as strong and compassionate.
What about Michelle?
I’m sure she could! Why not? She can reach for the stars and she’s a good talker. She’s definitely tough enough. She’d rule the wing.
What was the biggest challenge of working on Screw?
Doing a northern English accent. I tried my best! I really enjoy doing accents and although I was nervous, putting my heart and soul into it, thankfully people on set responded really well.
What was your perception of prison before you started on Screw?
I hadn’t really thought about it, to be honest. I was surprised by how underfunded and overcrowded the system is. There are people in there with severe mental-health problems, people who have made awful mistakes, people who have stolen from the corner shop, and all those people are treated the same in terms of where they end up and their rehabilitation. I just don’t understand how prison can be a solution for all those different people.
What’s the latest on Derry Girls?
It's definitely happening! I haven’t seen any scripts yet but Lisa McGee has told me the storyline for Michelle and I’m so excited to get back. It’s great craic. The wait has been a bit frustrating, but I’m focusing on the positive – it’s coming…
Interview with Laura Checkley- ‘Jackie Stokes’
How would you describe Jackie?
She's no-nonsense, but doesn't take life too seriously. She’s a good mum and a good mate with a big heart, but you don't want to push her because she’s no mug. She likes to think of herself as the mum of the prison, but she believes in boundaries and discipline. Although the prisoners trust her, she keeps them at arms’ length because that's the healthy thing to do. When she goes home to her husband and five kids, she leaves it at the gates and doesn’t take the work with her. Life's too short.
Does she regard the prisoners as an extension of her family?
Yeah, definitely. She speaks about that throughout the series, how prisoners need boundaries and distance just like her kids.
How would you characterise the dynamic between Jackie and Leigh?
Jackie likes to think of herself as Leigh’s great friend and right-hand woman, but Leigh is a complex character who doesn’t like to let people in. She’ll always have Leigh’s back, but there’s only so far you can push her, so that friendship does unravel in an interesting way.
Why did Jackie want to do the job in the first place?
I talked about this with Rob [Williams, creator] and Tom [Vaughan, director] during rehearsals. I think Jackie started out working with young offenders like a lot of prison officers, then meeting her husband took her up north with the natural progression being a move to prison. She’s got foster kids, which says a lot about her character: having the time to do that and step into a prison every day shows how much compassion and empathy she has. She’s a bit of a fixer.
What appealed about Screw?
I’ve always been quite obsessed with prison dramas, so I’ve always wanted to be in one! I'm a huge fan of Wentworth and Prisoner Cell Block H and I’ll watch any prison documentary going. When the script came in, I just knew what to do with Jackie. I recognised that strength and matriarchal spirit in a lot of women I've grown up with. She's also got some great one-liners and I love my comedy, so that was important, although I’ve not really been in a big drama before so that was a big pull for me.
The set sounds extraordinary.
It was incredible. Walking onto it was like walking into a real prison. The detail was so impressive. The doors were really heavy. Nothing wobbled about and, because it’s over three floors, that gave the shooting a real fluidity. No acting required, basically.
Do you have skills to thrive as a prison officer?
I’d like to think so but, while I play a lot of characters that to get stuck in and look after themselves, I’m the opposite. I’m a bit of a coward. I take my hat off to real officers, what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis and the resilience and compassion that requires. I’d probably get too involved, wanting to take everyone home and look after them, but you have to be really careful – a lot of the officers take their wedding rings off, because it’s vital the prisoners know very little about you.
How has doing Screw affected your thoughts on prison?
I've probably always sensationalised it. Even the documentaries are terribly bleak, but also quite explosive. It’s the mundanity that got me more than anything: we did a diary with the real-life prison officers, putting the uniform on, going in in the morning and making a cup of tea, doing the paperwork… I learnt, for example, that at break you don’t let everyone out at once, you do it floor by floor because there are different people with different issues and problems, so you can't mix them.
Does a female officer need a particular mindset in a male prison?
Yeah, I think so. The two female officers we spoke to told us that at times it can be easier than working in an all-female prison, in terms of dynamics and energies: to defuse a problem with a prisoner, they would often put the female officer front and centre because male energy on male energy doesn't always solve the problem. Of course there are incidents, but the two officers said they’d sooner work in a male prison than a female prison.
How did you enjoy working with the ensemble cast?
They’re so brilliant. I learned a lot from working with incredible heavyweights like Nina Sosanya. It was a big challenge to do a big drama, so learning how to be consistent as a dramatic actress was my big thing. It was good to not worry about being funny and just tell the truth.
Interview with Stephen Wight- ‘Gary Campbell’
How would you describe the tone of Screw?
It's something that we constantly discussed, even while shooting. Primarily it’s very much a drama, but Rob’s scripts have that sense of realism. With a lot of services like that, whether it be the police force or the army, there is an element of humour which is vital for the survival of the characters in the show and prison officers in real life. It's about finding the truth of the situation, and humour comes out
of that. These are not necessarily pleasant places to work, but there is light and shade. We’re not fixed on the conception that prison life is incredibly bleak, cold and dark.
How would you describe Gary?
On the surface he can seem a very simple man, but I found him incredibly complex. He is a no-nonsense, working-class, angry, white man, but underneath all of that, there is a good heart. He's fiercely loyal to his colleagues and sees them as an extended family, but he keeps his life inside and outside prison very separate.
What made him the way he is?
Gary hasn't achieved everything in his life he wanted. He wanted to join the police force, and it’s a source of frustration for him that he didn’t make it. Someone like him is straight-talking in the sense that he is not politically correct in a lot of his views or in the way he expresses himself. But like with Trump supporters, you have to engage with people like him to understand them, because someone like Gary can feel easily marginalised in a world where people do a lot of talking but not a lot of listening.
Is he good at his job?
Yeah, absolutely. Working with the prison officers that we met during rehearsals, we realised this is all about trust. Gary is fiercely loyal to his colleagues and wouldn't do anything to put them in jeopardy – he’ll always have your back, whether or not he agrees with you. While he may have less sympathy for certain prisoners, he understands he has a job to do.
Tell us about the set.
It was incredible. There was this sense of theatre about it, that we would actually be operating, 99% of the time, on this purpose-built set. When you're working on an amazing set, that becomes a character in and of itself. The detail envelops you, so it was an incredible playground for us.
What insights did the real-life prison officers offer?
The human detail of being bored during a day where nothing’s going on, followed by a day with some incident that you just couldn't even imagine. They were also really good on building relationships: trust within your team and the difficulty of gaining the trust of prisoners, while also being distant from them. You shouldn't tell prisoners anything about yourself because the more information you give them, the more leverage they have. Also, the practicalities: how do you put on a hold? How do you de-escalate a situation? What happens when a fight kicks off? What do you do with the keys? How do you close the doors? It adds an element of immersion for the audience.
How has making Screw changed your perceptions of prison?
The more you learn about the nuances and challenges of day-to-day life, not just for the officers but for the prisoners they are serving, you realise the level of complexity is almost impossible. They do an amazing job. For me it became about reform of the system, What punishment is fitting for the crime, and how do we help those people? When you’re not involved in that world, it's “lock ’em up and throw away the key” – you don't really need to think about it, so it’s easy to dehumanise it all. But how do we make it a better, more purposeful, more functional system? We ask a lot of the people who look after the prisoners and, while we're not going to solve all the issues or suggest we have all the answers, I hope we’ll open up a dialogue because it’s an important subject.
Interview with Faraz Ayub- ‘Ali Shah’
What was the appeal of Screw?
Rob [Williams, creator] sent a statement over describing how he wanted this show to be about character. I feel like a lot of TV today is about action or plot over character, so the chance to dig into a character was really attractive.
Ali drives a nice sportscar as well – that must have had something to do with it…
Oh, of course, although I didn't get a chance to drive it or anything. No supercar for me! Maybe series two?
How would you describe Ali?
He likes to see the good in everyone and everything. That makes him a bit naive sometimes, because it extends to the prisoners as well. He’s a loyal, decent person, he’s honest and gets along with everyone.
Is he too good a guy for that for that world?
I don't know, maybe. The great thing about the show is, we show the humanity and the good in that world, something we don't often get to see.
Does he lock horns with anyone on the staff?
No, he’s everyone's friend. There are intense moments – it’s a prison! – but it’s nice to play a good guy.
Why did Ali become a prison officer?
I think he’s still searching for his thing, and this is one of his pitstops. He is from an environment not too dissimilar to a lot of the prisoners and probably sees them in a different light to some of the other officers. When he goes into prison, he just sees some of the people he may have grown up with but who took the wrong path in life. Ali feels that he can do some good, help some of these guys and show them that there are alternatives, giving them some sort of nudge in the right direction.
Which aspects of him could you relate to?
I’m from an inner-city environment where you do see people going down the wrong path in life. My parents, family and friends always nudged me in the right direction, so I had role models within my own circle. I also try to see the good in people and not be too judgmental.
What was your understanding of prison life and how did it evolve over the over the process of playing Ali?
My perception of prison before was that it was a place that you want to avoid, obviously! We could never accurately portray what prison is really like, just come close to it. It’s not something that I'd thought about, to be honest.
What insights did speaking to real-life prison officers give you into the part?
Psychologically it was really helpful: how they deal with life in prison, the lack of social life and how prison becomes your life. You have to have empathy, even for people who've committed heinous acts. Some of the prison officers told us about working with murderers and rapists, but they still had to show a sense of humanity to these people. You have to treat everyone within that environment as a human being and not judge them. We don't really recognise prison officers the way we do police officers or firefighters or soldiers, but these guys risk their lives to keep us safe as well. They’re very underappreciated.
Do you think you'd have any of the tools to do that job?
I don't think so. I think I'm too impatient and I couldn’t deal with that environment because it becomes your life. It’s not something you go into light-heartedly, It’s your responsibility to deal with vulnerable people who often have all sorts of serious mental-health issues.
How did the set help you with playing Ali?
It takes you into that world and helps you to portray that character authentically, that claustrophobic experience that it must be for people in real life.
What was the biggest challenge of working on the series?
You have to give a lot in the role, in that world, but I think the audience will feel that. I hope they’re drawn in and feel how we felt in our environment, hopefully experiencing prison life as close as you can to the real thing.
Interview with Ron Donachie- ‘Don Carpenter’
Have you played a prison officer before?
I have, twice. The first time it wasn't really a significant part, but the other time was in a Lynda La Plante drama called the Governor in the mid-1990s. That was a very, very different kind of project to this one. We filmed The Governor in a prison outside Dublin which was very new, purpose-built a few years before. The prison we’re depicting in Screw is a much more traditional, late-19th century building, a bit like Wormwood Scrubs or Strangeways.
Why did you want to get involved in Screw?
The honest answer is: we need to work! But the scripts are terrific and it’s an ensemble piece where the six warders work as a team. That's not the most usual experience these days, so it was a very attractive prospect.
How would you describe Don?
An interesting man. He’s far and away the oldest of the central team of warders, in his mid-sixties and old enough to be everybody's dad. He's an ex-soldier and I suppose he represents what people see as a more traditional form of prison officer than is actually the case these days. Don was very representative of the vast majority of prison officers back when I did The Governor, but it's a much more diverse demographic these days. He's been very good at his job and still is, within the limits of his age and physicality, but he's tired now, too old for the job but still having to work until he’s 68. He finds it very demanding, and he’s just trying to get across the line to his pension. He doesn’t have the elan he once had!
Did you feel like a father figure among the cast?
I certainly felt a lot older! The cast are tremendously capable and dynamic, so I don't think they were looking for a surrogate dad. They tolerated my eccentricities, and the fact that it took me longer to climb a flight of stairs. As for Don, he isn’t a father figure either – he’s a closed-off man, but he’s good to Rose and Ali.
What is the tone of Screw?
Different from what you might call it traditional prison drama. Jimmy McGovern’s Time was fantastic, but it was very traditional in that it showed prison as a grim and relentless. Porridge is a masterpiece, but we’re not doing that either. This is a much more nuanced view of the prison service. It isn't relentlessly violent and aggressive, although we explore that, but we also accept that people can't live their lives like that 24 hours a day, whether they’re warders or prisoners. The comedy is never played as comedy, just something that arises out of the reality of their lives. It’s a world made up of people who have good days and bad days like anyone else. Some are violent, some are quite funny, some are on the make, some are lost souls with no grasp of what they’re doing.
How valuable was the set in helping you find your character?
I've been lucky to work on some phenomenal sets: I’ve been on the deck of the Titanic and stood on the walls of Winterfell. Walking on the set of Screw was like walking into an old-fashioned Victorian nick. The atmosphere it creates is just fabulous. It makes a huge contribution if it can have confidence in the thing. It's not one of those shows where, if you bang the wall, the wall shakes. You can slam the doors, you can run up and down the stairs, you can treat it as you would a real building.
What were the biggest challenges of the series?
Playing a tired man is very tiring! It’s quite enervating having to be a bit down all the time. The days where Don had a bit of humour or more interaction were uplifting, the moments where he allows his guard to drop and you find a few surprising things out about him. It was great fun to let a few cats out of the bag.
What kind of insights were the real-life prison officers able to offer you?
A sense that it's a much more cooperative environment than you might otherwise have thought. But above all it was the detail: how you carry your keys, where you would stand in relation to somebody, the manner in which you would talk to people, how you would de-escalate a situation where the tension is rising. They told good stories that gave a sense of some of the laughs they have and some of the appalling things they have to deal with. We had to find a world in between those two extremes.
Supervising Officer Leigh Henry- Nina Sosanya
The most senior officer on C Wing, energetic and enigmatic Leigh joined the prison service aged 20 and has been here ever since. She lives and breathes the job – she’s never had a day off sick and is deeply committed to her wing and to the prisoners in her care. But that certainly doesn’t mean she’s a soft touch: Leigh is absolutely of the mindset that prison is a necessary sanction for criminal acts – but she also knows first-hand just how overstretched our prison system is. So she feels it’s her responsibility as an officer to try, as far as possible, to save the men in her care from the ills of the system – to help them stay out of trouble and survive their sentences, as best she can. As such, Leigh is often magnificent in the ways she goes above and beyond for the prisoners, regardless of what kind of rule-bending (and even breaking) it involves. And in a prison system that Leigh sees as a train-wreck of broken bureaucracy, funding cuts, and identikit staff, she is yet to meet another officer she trusts to care as much about the inhabitants of this “human warehouse” as herself.
For reasons we’ll reveal across the series she only truly feels at home on the wing. We’ll tease the whys and wherefores of her deep connection to this place. These questions create a palpable sense of intrigue around our lead character – compounded when we start to feel a sneaking suspicion that there’s something in Leigh’s past she’s determined to keep hidden.
Officer Rose Gill – Jamie-Lee O'Donnell Rose lives on a notorious estate with her father and younger brother, and has become a young matriarch of sorts. So it would initially appear that to Rose, ‘prison officer’ is only the latest in a long line of poorly paid jobs. She’s clever but has no focus or – despite her outward swagger – confidence in her ability to be or do anything of any real value. We’ll chart Rose’s stuttering progress as a probationer, starting with the same attitude as most people about prison (i.e. she’s never really thought about it and when she does, she shrugs: they get what they deserve – who cares?). It’s a disconcerting, alien world and Rose’s every move is under constant scrutiny beneath the too-bright lights of the landings, where apparently small things become magnified and take on huge significance in the closed environment. But Rose is no clichéd ingénue quivering at the prospect of being surrounded by dangerous men. Very little fazes her. Rose is a fast learner and a survivor; and as she adapts to this new world, she quickly sees that’s the name of the game for everyone on the landings, irrespective of uniform: survival, physical and psychological And so Rose’s journey across the series is inextricably bound up with Leigh’s; as the two women begin to form a fragile but powerful bond, Rose finds herself caught in a struggle that is no longer simply practical – but also ethical and emotional... Just what – or who – will bear the cost?
Officer Jackie Stokes – Laura Checkley Jackie is a foulmouthed mother figure to the hundreds of men who pass through her idiosyncratic care. With a wicked sense of humour and nerves of steel, Jackie never runs from a conflict and is usually the first to jump into the fray when a fight breaks out on the wing – living proof that female officers can absolutely hold their own in a male prison. She’s sweary and brutally frank but, almost without exception, she finds something to like about every prisoner. Jackie’s brand of well-meaning tough love stems from her experiences of actual motherhood: she and her (much derided) husband are raising five children of their own, several of whom are fostered. This hectic home life has also taught Jackie to be firm and forthright about drawing clear boundaries between her life in and out of uniform; she has real kids to look after and so, whilst she does care about the prisoners, she leaves her work as an officer squarely at the gates when she returns home to the ‘real world’… Nevertheless, Jackie genuinely cares – and this is the foundation of her close working relationship with Leigh. Indeed, Jackie is the closest thing Leigh has to a friend. Jackie considers herself the Supervising Officer’s unofficial Number Two, and feels protective of her… Yet despite her repeated attempts to reach out to Leigh on a deeper level, Leigh keeps Jackie firmly at arms’ length emotionally.
Officer Gary Campbell- Stephen Wight Everything is black and white to wannabe-alpha Gary: all cons are scum, no exceptions. This is partly why ultra-competitive Gary sees every day as a battle: it’s us against them, goodies versus baddies. He believes he’s a different species to the inmates, superior to them in every respect, and thus he despises liberals as much as cons. He’s vocal about officers’ rights and the heroic role of the prison officer; Gary resents being seen as second-class to the Police (at least partly because he applied to join twice and failed both times). He riles the prisoners for sport; he won’t let a slight or a loose comment pass, ever. He works hard in the gym and can be a little too keen in Control and Restraint situations… The gym for Gary is also about looking good. Being married with two young children doesn’t stop his eye wandering... The arch-enemy of the #metoo movement, Gary will regularly say (and do) things utterly out of step with the times (as defined by the ‘liberal media’) . Officer Ali Shah - Faraz Ayub British Muslim Ali lives with his mum and sisters. He’s an expert on true crime and fond of a conspiracy theory; he loves to debate with colleagues and prisoners alike about anything and everything – but particularly the fascinating facts he always has on the tip of his tongue. And he doesn’t always know when to shut up. He loves his flashy car (it leaves no space for a girlfriend, according to Gary), which takes a ridiculous amount of his monthly salary to own and run – and indeed, debt might become a real problem for Ali at some point… Often the butt of jokes and wind-ups, Ali is quite naive – but very decent and totally loyal. He can struggle with boundaries and get too ‘pally’ with some of the prisoners; sometimes he’s a little too impressed for Leigh’s liking by the notoriety or reputation of an inmate. But Ali makes everyone smile, is good with people and, like Rose, has the heart of a lion.
Officer Don Carpenter – Ron Donachie Don is the officer most people think of when they think about prison officers at all: he did a bit of time in the Forces (actually went to the Falklands but mostly hid), drifted into security work and, about twenty years ago now (he can’t actually remember), he met a guy on holiday in Spain who was a prison officer and thought: sounds easy, I could do that… And he can, with his eyes shut (if possible); it’s very simple – if you don’t bring anything to it… Don is lazy and a miserabilist, he’s Victor Meldrew in uniform – and as such, he’s often (mostly unintentionally) funny. If it wasn’t for prison officers’ retirement age being (controversially) raised to sixty-eight, he’d be long gone by now. Don is counting the hours as much as any prisoner and does all he can to avoid any form of conflict, especially physical – Don’s excuses for being late into the fray whenever it kicks off become legendary.