Interview With Eileen Gallagher

 
 

AE: Can you give me an example of something — a story line, perhaps —
something you’re looking forward to a second chance on?
EG:
I think toward the end of the series we took too much of it outside the
prison. Some of the stories of maybe the — I don’t want to speak out of turn —
but maybe we went too far with the relationship of Neil Grayling, the prison
governor, and Jack Ellis [who played Jim Fenner]. I just think sometimes we
went a bit too far away from the original core values, which is the women in
the prison. There’s something about the atmosphere of Larkhall Prison, and you
don’t really want to spend too much time outside of there because it sort of
breaks the magic.

And another part of it
is, we love the camp elements, but if it gets too campy, that doesn’t work, and
maybe in later seasons it got a bit over the top, too camp.

It can also be very small
things. In the very first episode, we introduced a new story three-quarters of
the way in with an older woman coming into the prison with hygiene problems,
and that story structure, that story at the end, didn’t merge with the other
stories particularly well. We can see how we could do Episode 1 a little more
successfully. There are small things like that, and then there are big
directional things towards the end in Series 5, and I think 7 and 8.

But for my money, I think
the first three series in particular, which were the Nikki-Helen years, defined
it. The tone was perfect, and I’d like to see that reproduced as far as we can.
These are really fantastic writers — you know their work — and if anyone can
enhance it, I think they will.

AE: With the Nikki and Helen story line, you had to make adjustments as
you went along, based on the actresses and their contracts and various other
issues. Is it your plan to follow the story line as it turned out, or is there
leeway in that?
EG:
Well, there’s leeway. You’re right, the reason we wrote out Helen and
Nikki was that the actress who played Helen, Simone Lahbib,
wanted to do other things, as actresses do. And we don’t have the same system
in America — you tend to have the budget to sign actors on for seven years. In
the U.K., we don’t have that ability. In the U.S. version, there’d be the
opportunity of keeping the characters longer and keeping them in and not
writing them out, if we’re lucky enough that it goes that long.

I think you know that
when Simone decided to leave, we were really keen that for the first time in
television, a lesbian love story would end happily. The history of lesbian love
stories in movies and television is that they end in tragedy because they’re
punished for being lesbians, and we wanted to end our story happily.

We did discuss keeping
Nikki on and have Helen in the background, and we just couldn’t find a way that
would be believable and happy. The only alternative was that we have them going
off in the sunset together. It was a good run of 39 hours. But absolutely we
don’t have to do that the same way again.

Simone Lahbib (left) and Mandana Jones

AE: I believe Alan Ball once said that it used to require courage for
actors to portray gay characters, and now it reveals a distinct lack of courage
if they’re not willing to portray gay
characters. It seems to me your show and Simone and Mandana [Jones']
portrayals may have helped make that statement true.
EG:
That’s very interesting and a great compliment to us and to the actresses
who played those characters. Bad Girls
came on the air in 1999 and it was on at peak time, 9 o’clock, on what was the
biggest channel, ITV.

It’s interesting. I
always think that broadcasters are much more behind the curve than the
audience. Broadcasters are more nervous about the audience’s reaction, and we
got the most fantastic audience reaction to Bad
Girls
from day one. And to be fair, ITV didn’t try to tone it down at all.
They thought it was very brave. They were probably nervous about the reaction,
but they never tried to tone it down.

We had live web chats all
the time, and hundreds of people writing in, and the ones that made me most
proud were the middle-aged women writing in who said, "I never thought I’d
be so tolerant towards lesbians and prisoners and feel the connections and
sympathy I have." And mothers talking to daughters about being gay, and
daughters talking to mothers. We’re just really proud of creating that. It’s
amazing what drama can do.

AE: Speaking of the fans, you create very big characters in general,
and certainly with Nikki and Helen you created iconic characters. Are you
concerned about the comparisons when you bring those characters directly over
to American TV?
EG:
I think that’s always the tough task. I think for fans who have loved
Nikki and Helen, it will be a little tense, wondering how they’ll appear in the
American version. … It will take just a little bit of adjustment and a bit of
making yourself readjust to the new actresses, but I think before a very short
time, people will accept that this is the new Helen and Nikki.

AE: A number of shows have been transferred from Britain to the U.S. Do
you have any models that you look to for how to do it right, or perhaps what to
avoid?
EG:
The biggest success I know of is The
Office
. I think what is good and brave about The Office is that it’s very true to the British show, but it’s
still got the very good American feel to it, so that’s the kind of model we’d
be looking for. It’s faithful without being slavishly tied to the U.K. version.

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