It took seven years, but Scottish actor Simone Lahbib and the rest of the cast of Bad Girls have finally arrived in the United States. Beginning this week, all eight seasons of the popular and award-winning British prison drama begin airing on cable channel Logo, AfterEllen.com's parent company.
Going far beyond women-in-prison stereotypes, Bad Girls featured one of the best-developed lesbian relationships in TV history, between prison warden Helen Stewart (Lahbib) and inmate Nikki Wade (Mandana Jones). A rule-abiding prison official who was straight at the beginning of the series, Helen struggles over the first few seasons to address problems in the prison system while coming to terms with her growing attraction to Nikki.
Now 41, Lahbib currently stars in the British crime drama Wire in the Blood, based on lesbian author Val McDermid's novels, and she has a one-year-old daughter with her husband, actor Raffaello Degruttola. AfterEllen.com recently talked with Lahbib about her latest role, her experiences making Bad Girls, and the media attention that surrounded the controversial show.
AfterEllen.com: Could you tell me about Alex Fielding, the character you play in Wire in the Blood?
Simone Lahbib: She's a deputy inspector for the CID, which is a special branch of the police. She's good at her job, tough, single mum to her 8-year-old son and, like lots of women, she's struggling to juggle her work and her home life. All the stories are very dark, based on the novels of Val McDermid. I still can't get my head around these brutal murders coming from the imagination of this apparently mild-mannered Scottish woman! [Laughs.] She spoke about writing Alex into her next books, if there aren't ownership problems. I hope she does.
We're just about to start what will be my second [season] and Wire' s fifth. Each episode is 90 minutes, shot on film, and looks fantastic. It's been referred to as a British CSI, which is a fair comparison as it comes at the cases from a forensics point of view, then adds a criminal psychologist [Tony Hill, played by Robson Green].
AE: There seems to be a lot of tension between Alex and Tony.
SL: I think at first Alex has no confidence in Tony and really doesn't like him interfering in her cases. He's too speculative; when he talks, all she hears is psychobabble. She wants facts — hard evidence to put the killers away. She isn't interested in getting into the killer's mind. She's already looked and found nothing but fear and rage and hate. But as the series progresses, she realizes how good he is and comes to rely on him.
AE: Does the role get under your skin a little?
SL: Yeah. What's frightening is how close it comes to a case we've all been watching on the news in the U.K. about five prostitutes who were drugged and brutally murdered in Suffolk. It drives it home how close fact and fiction come to each other sometimes.
AE: It's striking how different the tone of Wire is, compared to Bad Girls — and how different Alex is from Helen Stewart, the prison warden you played on Bad Girls.
SL: Completely different. Wire gives us a glimpse into the psyches of some very sick human beings and their horrific crimes. Bad Girls is at a much lighter end of that spectrum. It humanizes the female prisoners and, as we get to know them and their stories, we start to empathize with them. Helen, unlike Alex, cares very much about what goes on in the women's minds. She genuinely cares about them.
What I loved about Bad Girls is that it shed light on so many issues. The prison side of it aside, it really explored women's issues, whether behind bars or in general life. I think it was a really important program, and I'm sad it's been pulled.
AE: Can you talk about a couple of the issues the show raised that most interested you?
SL: One of the issues I was most moved by was the effect on the children of women in prison. In Britain, roughly half of all women in prison are mothers of children under 16, and a third have children under 5. When a woman goes to prison, it devastates the family unit.