Emilia talks about working on Silent Witness and her ambitions for the future.
David explains how Jack and the team strive to track down a sniper at large in London.
Hot on the heels of the news that Silent Witness is coming back for an eighteenth series, the BBC have released an interview with Emilia Fox who plays Dr Nikki Alexander…
“You’ve been playing Dr Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness for 10 years now. What initially attracted you to the role?
When Nikki was first introduced she was a tomboy and she was a real live wire. She had a great spirit and was fun, and she was passionate about her work. She’d thrown herself into everything whether it’d be hobbies or work or the people that she became involved with. She was really good at betting on horseracing – I remember that! Her specialist skills were archaeological anthropology and I found that fascinating linked with the pathology as well, so there was something to really get your teeth into as an actress, not just as a character but also learning the whole new world of anthropology and the medical science of pathology. Key to it as well was the dimension between the three main characters as that was really well written. I think it gave room for Tom Ward and I to build on that relationship between Harry and Nikki into a moonlighting scenario of ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ which was fun to play.
What do you think are Nikki’s best and worst traits?
Nikki’s best trait is that she throws herself into her work with heart and soul but it’s probably also her worst trait because she sometimes gets involved too deeply, and can’t really stand back from the situation. She has terrible taste in male suitors and I think that is probably to do with an absent father. Also being a workaholic and fear of commitment!
Describe Nikki’s relationship with Jack, Thomas and Clarissa.
Nikki’s relationship with Jack is like brother and sister. They really look out for each other but they also bicker, but you feel that they really care about each other. They don’t talk about each other’s’ personal lives too much but you feel that within the work environment they’re very much with each other. With Clarissa, she has the insight on all of our characters. She’s the knowing one in all sorts of ways, professionally and also personally, so she has a sort of good humoured commentary on the characters. I think it’s lovely for Nikki and Clarissa being the females together on things and they have this teasing relationship with Jack. Thomas is Nikki and everyone’s boss, so they’ve got to a point where they really respect each other. They haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on things, but I think that the relationship is building between them.
Do you relate to Nikki yourself?
We’ve sort of grown together over 10 years, so I do relate to her in because I have been her for so long. She contains a lot of me in her. I try to keep elements separate but I have a total understanding of her being a woman at a certain time in her life, who has thrown herself into her work and she’s so much part of my everyday life. She’s been a constant through all sorts of bits of my own life, so yes I do relate to her in many ways.
Do you have to research for your role?
The research really started when I got the part and it was suggested that I go and see an autopsy – which I did. It was interesting in many ways. He was an old man, so it seemed like a natural death but what was fascinating was the process of going through the body until finally pinning down exactly what it was that had caused his death. My fear was that I would faint or be embarrassing in that situation, and of course because it was so riveting you don’t. I really understood why Silent Witness is a programme that people are interested in, because it is the detective process of going through the body and the clues are there in front of you. Afterwards I found it quite thought-provoking because I was thinking ‘Is this it? Is this what life is all about?’ That you end up on a mortuary slab with people you don’t know looking at you, in such an exposed situation? I found that quite haunting. I remember being on the train going back and feeling quite upset by it. Then by the end of the train journey I thought actually, no, life is all about living it in the moment and making the most of it while you’re here. This was backed up by a second autopsy I saw on a young man who had a tragic untimely death, which really reconfirmed that we must make the most of life.
Could you describe your working practice on set?
First of all as soon as we get the scripts, I like to do a timeline for Nikki all the way through the two episodes so at any time I can go back to my timeline and see exactly where she is in terms of what scene she’s just been in or what scene she’s going to be in. This is for practical reasons but also emotionally, so you know where you are in relation to the other characters. So if it’s a romantic graph you need to draw, you need to know when they’re meeting, when you start feelings things, tensions or whatever. Certainly so with a case because they’re such intricate plots so you need to know what you know when, and be very precise about that. Also with the medical stuff, you really need to know what you’re talking about because sometimes it can feel like another language, so you need to be really clear on where you are in the story and what that means in each scene. So that’s how I start really; with the script. On set, the joy of it is working with the director and the other actors, so I like to try and make the other actors and feel as comfortable as possible so we can try things out. With David, Richard and Liz we have a kind of shorthand with each other. Then the rehearsals and working with the crew – you really rely a lot on them telling you what works and doesn’t work. I just try and make it as fun as possible!
What do you enjoy most about being part of Silent Witness?
I really enjoy the everyday of coming into Silent Witness. I look forward to it. I look forward to telling the stories, the filming process, seeing the Silent Witness family every day. Every time the series ends I mourn it and look forward to seeing everyone again like it’s a new term at school. Pretty much everything! I’m very lucky. I really enjoy my job.
What do you least enjoy or find most challenging?
The autopsies are like exams! They loom over the filming process. They normally come at the end of the shoot on each story. Each story takes five weeks to film – that’s two episodes – and the autopsies come in the fifth week, and so for quite a while you can put it off and think ‘I’ll learn it closer to the time.’ Then suddenly the time comes and I think I’ve got all these lines to learn! ‘Do I understand what I’m saying?’ And also trying to make it look real when you’re actually doing the autopsies, so you’re not only remembering the lines, you also have to learn new medical procedure on the day. That’s the difficult bit of it. The hours are long, but as an actor you get the lucky side of it with the crew here all the time. The series is top and tailed by extreme weather so it can be very cold!
Do you have a most memorable moment so far?
I have lots of memorable moments. The first scene I ever shot was when I was brushing my teeth in the mortuary and Leo came in and said ‘What are you doing? Who are you and why are you brushing your teeth in the mortuary?’ That’s the sort of character Nikki was when she first came into the show. But my most memorable moment was when I sat as myself at the desk in the science room, and Tom who was playing Harry came in and went ‘That’s my desk you’re sitting at!’ and from that moment it formed that relationship which was always teasing. It happened unexpectedly but it really was the foundation for the next 8 years of filming. Other memorable moments were the death of Leo and I think the introduction of the new regulars, who have formed this team which has evolved Silent Witness into the next stage of its life.
What’s the element in series 18 you are most looking forward to watching yourself?
I think all the stuff we did on the London Underground. It was so exciting shooting it. We were doing it guerrilla style, just jumping on and off tubes. We were doing scenes in front of the public on the tube, and goodness knows what they thought! They’re sitting there coming in and out of work and we would be literally going up and down the tube lines until we’d got the scenes. We would jump off; go across platforms and onto another one. It was really exciting because often you’re in really far away locations or the studio, and what’s so great about Silent Witness is that it is a series which is very much set in London and I think this series really shows off where we are rooted.
How do you balance your work and family life?
It’s a juggle. You’ve just got to constantly keep the balls in the air and have lots of support, which I do in Rose’s Dad and Cassie who lives with me. She copes with all the early mornings when I go off to work. Contrary to what people believe – that filming can be difficult being a parent – it can also be incredibly good because you get afternoons, mornings or days off. So there are lots of opportunities to go back and be with my daughter Rose that I wouldn’t have if I was doing a 9 to 5 job. Sometimes when the storyline focusses on the guest characters, those few days I get to be at home with her and just be Mum doing the school run and things like that. The studio is really close to my house, so I’ve always been able to go backwards and forwards in any breaks I have in the day. In fact she used to have her very own Silent Witness room which was way bigger than any of our trailers!
You’ve achieved so much. What ambitions do you still have?
I still want to work as much as possible. I still want to keep evolving Silent Witness as much as possible. I like to do as much different stuff work wise as I can in-between series; to play characters which are as extreme as possible away from Nikki. I think I’d like to direct one day, maybe produce and I’d like to write children’s books.
We would like to wish Emilia, her daughter Rose and all the people who keep visiting our site a very Happy Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas!!!
(photo taken of my hometown’s Christmas market)
Christmas… is not an external event at all, but a piece of one’s home that one carries in one’s heart.
Silent Witness actress Emilia Fox lacked confidence in the kitchen. So we brought her to the new GHI Cookery School for a Christmas cookery lesson! Here’s what happened…
British Actress and Silent Witness star Emilia Fox has confessed to lacking confidence in the kitchen. So much so, she hardly cooks anything at all! So where better to boost her skills than the new Good Housekeeping Cookery School?
One of the first to experience all the shiny mod-cons in the cookery school kitchen, Emilia joined us to learn how to make Pimms Salmon Gravadlax ahead of Christmas (expect a full feature on this in our February issue!).
How did Emilia find it? Well, she left telling us, ‘I definitely feel inspired to go home and experiment a bit more now!’
But don’t just take our word for it, see how it went in our preview video below…
I’ve added a video clip of Emilia presenting an award at the British Comedy Awards 2014:
Thanks Kathryn Morris UK for the heads-up!
EDIT: Many thanks to Catherine for emailing me, you can read the full article (including the recipes!) below now!
And here’s another photo:
TheTimes.co.uk has posted a new interview with Emilia
Is there any more daunting culinary challenge than Christmas dinner? Not in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined myself saying: “Hey, it’s Christmas at mine this year!” Instead, I’ve always left it to my mother, who is happy to get up at 4am to sort out the turkey and the stuffing.
The truth is I get incredibly intimidated in the kitchen. I think it’s because mum (the actress Joanna David) is such a brilliant cook. Dad (the actor Edward Fox) knows how to cook only three things, all breakfast-related — a fry-up, porridge and scrambled eggs — so it’s clear that mum had ownership over the kitchen. As well as being quite territorial, she was so busy that it must have been much easier not to have me bashing about in the kitchen. Then, after I left home, I always seemed to have friends who were great cooks, so I would offer to do the washing-up instead.
Now I really regret not having learnt to cook when I was younger. It’s one of those life skills that are fairly fundamental to being independent and give personal satisfaction in achieving, like knowing a second language or being able to play a musical instrument. You learn it and then you have it for ever, and you can take it to whatever degree you want and wherever in the world you want. I feel that having travelled so much for work I should have picked up really fine culinary skills and be cooking Italian, French, African or Russian cuisine. Instead, my hard-earned repertoire doesn’t go beyond pretty basic traditional English food — things like shepherd’s pie or fish pie, followed by apple crumble and custard. And I learnt to cook those only after my daughter Rose, who is four, was born. She made me want to be more domestic, because life in general became much more home-centric and I wanted to feed her well.
My theory is that children eat better when they’re included in the cooking process and are more enthusiastic about food. Cooking well is all about confidence and feeling able to experiment. When we go to Pizza Express Rose is always hanging off the counter asking to make her own pizza, an attitude that has always eluded me.
When she was a baby I had cooking lessons at home for about a year . I wrote everything down, but inexcusably I rarely use the recipes, although my knife skills did improve considerably. Subsequently, I started up the Scrambled Egg Club with my friend Sara. Every weekend we’d invite friends and my parents over and we would have to cook a dish that was out of our comfort zone — for me that was the whole world of gastronomy. (I did have some success with sea bass and a fruit-layered elderflower jelly that took nearly a whole night to make because you had to freeze every layer.) My father was the judge: if he thought a particular dish was a failure he would decree that we had to have scrambled eggs instead. (Actually I don’t think we ever did have to resort to the scrambleds.)
So it isn’t that I am unable to cook, it’s just that I find it daunting. I worry about whether I have the right kitchen equipment and all the ingredients.
My job is another factor. When I’m working I’ll often leave the house at 5.30am and find breakfast waiting for me courtesy of the caterers on set. Same for lunch. By the time I get home, often late, I can’t be bothered to cook, so I just graze on crackers and hummus, which does seem a bit ridiculous at my age. I seem to have so little free time that cooking gets put on to the back burner when it should be right at the front. I’m always making excuses for myself, even though when I do nerve myself to cook at home, I absolutely love it.
I don’t aspire to being a domestic goddess — a mere kitchen-confident mortal would do me fine. I want to be able to cook for Rose and her friends and be able to invite people over to supper and cook while chatting and not even think about it. Even now I’ll still only invite the most forgiving of my friends to sample my shepherd’s pie.
This is how I found myself signing up for the “continental Christmas cookery day” at the Good Housekeeping Institute. I felt that if anybody was going to be able to teach me the basics it would happen here, because the recipes are supposed to be completely foolproof. Their motto is “Tried, Tested, Trusted” after all. First up — make your own Pimm’s Salmon Gravlax. How to do that? It was in fact delightfully simple and took no time at all, just a case of getting sugar, salt, pepper, dill, orange and lemon zest, mixingthem with some Pimm’s and rubbing the mixture into the salmon, which takes five minutes. You then put the salmon in the fridge for three days, covered in clingfilm and weighed down with a few tins of canned food, remove excess liquid regularly and slice it up before guests arrive. It’s the sort of brilliantly simple recipe that makes people think you know what you’re doing. I have never attempted to assist with Christmas dinner before, but maybe with this recipe it might be the year that I offer to make the starter. Me turning up in Dorset bearing a side of home-gravlax will cause about as much astonishment as Father Christmas inviting himself to lunch.
Port and fig duck breasts were surprisingly easy too . I found the hardest bit was scoring the fat without cutting into the meat beneath. Then you simply fry the breasts on a low heat until the fat turns golden and shrinks. The clever thing about this recipe is that you can do this bit the day before, which eases the pressure of getting timings accurate. After that, the duck just needs a quick blast in the oven, while you boil up a little port, some stock and a squeeze of orange juice. Slice a couple of figs in half, sizzle them in the pan and then arrange everything beautifully on the plate. Presentation, I have learnt, is as important as the cooking itself. It makes sense — no one wants to eat food that looks inedible. The result was an impressively festive-looking main course that also seemed to be fairly healthy and it didn’t cause me to boil over in panic.
With the help of the very reassuring chef Shenley Moore I then tackled a vanilla and almond yule log. Once I got over my terror of the GHI’s alarmingly professional-looking KitchenAid mixer I realised I might even make this at home too. I really enjoy a ritual of baking with Rose on Saturday mornings and she would love to help make this. The great thing about a yule log is that the sponge barely has to rise, so you don’t feel anxious about it sagging in the middle. Admittedly, rolling up the cream-covered sponge is a little nerve-racking, but I reassured myself that it wouldn’t matter if there were cracks in the crust: that would just make the log look more authentic.
I was so encouraged by the experience that I have signed up for another class to learn how to make my own edible Christmas presents, things like chutneys, truffles and cheesy biscuits. Hopefully a Christmas treat for all.
It is doubtful that Fox’s Fantastic Food will ever materialise as a bestselling recipe book, but I’m much encouraged and feel more confident about the prospect of coping with Christmas cooking one day, thanks to the skills and patience of those in the kitchen at the now personally tried, tested and trusted Good Housekeeping Institute.
Emilia Fox signed up to the cooking class at the new Good Housekeeping Institute in London, which is now open to the public. www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk/cookery-school.
What every beginner cook needs
Good chopping board
Chef/cook’s knife approx 18cm blade
Medium knife approx 11cm blade
Small knife approx 6cm blade
Flexi rubber spatular
Set mixing bowls (stainless steel are good)
Set saucepans (small, medium, large)
What Emilia learnt to cook
Salmon gravlax with Pimm’s
750g whole, skin-on fresh salmon fillet
125g caster sugar
125g coarse rock salt
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
15g finely chopped fresh dill
Large handful finely chopped fresh mint
Finely grated zest of an orange and a lemon
50ml Pimm’s No 1
1. Lay the salmon fillet (small bones removed) in a large glass serving dish, skin-side down. In a bowl mix the caster sugar, rock salt, black pepper, dill, mint, orange and lemon zest, and Pimm’s No 1.
2. Pat the mixture over the fish. Cover with baking parchment. Wrap dish in clingfilm, then top with a roasting tin or plate that fits inside the dish. Arrange some heavy items on top: about four tins of tomatoes are ideal.
3. Chill for three days; a briny liquid will run out.
4. To serve, lift fish out and wipe off the salt mixture (don’t worry if some bits stay stuck). Lay skin-side down on a board. Use a sharp, long knife to cut thin slices across the grain of the salmon.
5. Gin, brandy or whisky are all great alternatives to Pimm’s.
Duck breast with port and figs
4 x 200g duck breasts
1 tsp rapeseed oil
300ml hot chicken stock
Zest of 1 orange, plus 1-2 tbsp orange juice
9 fresh figs, halved
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Using a small, sharp knife, diagonally score the fat of each duck breast, making sure you don’t cut into the meat. Trim away any sinew and excess fat.
2. Put the duck, skin side down, with the oil into a large frying pan set over the lowest heat to let the fat run out. This will take 15-20 min and can be done up to 24 hours in advance (pour the fat into a bowl and use to cook the roast potatoes later). When the skin has turned golden and most of the fat has drained out, put the duck breasts on a rack set in a roasting tin, skin-side up.
3. Cook the duck in the oven for 15 min for pink and 20 min for well done. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest while you make the sauce.
4. Put the port, hot stock and orange zest into the frying pan and bubble rapidly until syrupy and reduced by two thirds. Stir in orange juice to taste along with any of the juices from the resting duck. Season to taste and keep warm.
5. Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan over a medium-high heat and griddle the figs cut-side down for 3 min until softened. Slice the duck breasts diagonally and arrange on warmed plates with the figs. Drizzle over the sauce.
6. To cook ahead: store the duck in the fridge at the end of step 2 covered in clingfilm for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before completing the recipe.
Snowy Yule log
A little butter to grease
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsptable salt
4 medium eggs
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
75g ground almonds
284ml carton double cream
2 tbsp golden icing sugar, sifted, plus extra to dust
50g flaked almonds, toasted
Optional: 50g of chocolate to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and line a 33cm x 23cm Swiss roll tin with greaseproof paper. Sift together the flour and baking powder with ¼ tsp salt.
2. Use an electric hand whisk to beat the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl for 5-10 min until pale and fluffy. The mixture’s ready if it leaves a ribbon-like trail when you lift the beaters.
3. Using a large metal spoon, carefully fold in the ground almonds and the flour mixture, taking care not to beat too much of the air out of the mixture.
4. Pour into the prepared tin and spread the mixture in a thin layer right to the edges. Bake for 12-15 min until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the tin and the cake springs back when you press it gently with a finger. Leave to cool.
5. Lightly whip the cream and the icing sugar in a bowl until the mixture forms soft peaks. Cut out a rectangle of greaseproof paper larger than the cake and dust heavily with icing sugar. Flip cake on to the paper. Remove the tin and carefully peel away the attached greaseproof paper.
6. Spread the cream over the cake and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. With the help of the paper, roll up the cake lengthways. Don’t worry if cracks appear — they’ll add to the log effect.
7. Carefully transfer to a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar and serve in thick slices.
8. Decorate the yule log: melt 50g dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Fill a disposable piping bag with the melted dark chocolate and cut off the tip. Write Noel on a piece of greaseproof, then chill to set. Carefully peel away the greaseproof paper from the word Noel and lay on top of the log.
The Scandi Christmas smorgasbord
200g cooked beetroot, diced
3 sprigs dill, chopped
1½ tsp wholegrain mustard
100g pickled onions, drained
100g cornichons, drained
150g cooked crayfish tails or cooked prawns
125g smoked, peppered mackerel fillets, skinned and flaked
4 tbsp sour cream
200g sliced gravlax
12 crispbreads or crackers
1. In a serving bowl, mix the beetroot with the dill and mustard.
2. Put the pickled onions and cornichons into a separate, small serving bowl.
3. Put the crayfish or prawns and mackerel flakes into a medium serving bowl and the sour cream into a small serving bowl.
4. Lay the slices of gravlax on a board.
5. Let everyone help themselves from the smorgasbord at the table, spreading crispbreads with sour cream and topping with the fish and vegetables.
Did you spend much time with dead bodies as research for Silent Witness?
I’ve been to two autopsies. One before I started and he was an older man, and so in a funny way it was much more natural. Then, later, I saw an autopsy on a man who was in his twenties and that didn’t seem natural at all. He was in the prime of his life – it’s very thought-provoking.
Are you squeamish?
I’m really squeamish. If you were to cut yourself now I’d be hopeless. But weirdly the autopsies are so riveting – that detective process to find the cause of death – that it stops you thinking about that.
Do you use dummies on set?
On set, you’re usually working with a live actor who is pretending to be dead. Everyone’s very sensitive around them because you’re pulling up their eyelashes or looking up their noses.
Do the live actors ever – excuse the pun – corpse?
More often they sleep. The slabs have hot water bottles on them and because they’re lying down with a pillow under their head, you’ll often hear them snore!
You come from a famous acting family. Do you all try to out-act each other at gatherings?
No, we don’t do charades…
Ah, that was my second question!
In a funny way, when I was growing up, I was so unaware of what my family did. It was just a job.
But I read that your parents had Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston round when you were a kid…
No, that was misreported. The people we had round at my mum and dad’s house were Lindsay Anderson and Fred Zinnemann: amazing directors. I think they wanted more famous names and the only thing I could remember from my childhood was being at my uncle’s Christmas party and Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston being there. I didn’t know who they were at all, but they were a very glamorous couple coming in wearing their sunglasses at night.
So were there other famous people around during your youth?
Not really. I didn’t really know about fame and I’m quite glad I didn’t. My childhood was totally about family and friends.
Do you think that posh actors get it in the neck unfairly?
I’m confused by the idea of posh. Perhaps you could explain it to me?
I think it’s about the way you’re educated, the upbringing you have…
Is it the way you sound?
That plays a part in it.
Well if you think about my mum and dad, they learnt a particular way of speaking through drama school. At that point everyone wanted RP, so then the children of the people who were taught at drama school started to speak with RP. My mum’s from up North and my great-great grandfather was a Yorkshireman. If my family are described as posh, it’s nothing to do with silver spoons or anything like that.
And your daughter Rose – is she showing actorly tendencies?
Rose is a born entertainer, like my brother. He came out all-singing, all-dancing and I was completely the opposite: the shyest girl in the world. Rose may follow another profession but I think my job as a mother is to give her every form of opportunity and let her choose.
Born into a renowned acting family – including her father Edward Fox and her uncle James Fox – Emilia Fox, aged 40, is best known for her role as Dr Nikki Alexander in BBC drama ‘Silent Witness’. She was educated at Bryanston School and St Catherine’s College, Oxford. Fox is signed up to the cooking class at the new stand-alone Good Housekeeping Institute in London, now open to the public; goodhousekeeping.co.uk/cookeryschool