For the first three seasons of British television series Bad Girls, Mandana Jones played Nikki Wade, a lesbian who was put behind bars after killing a police officer who had assaulted her girlfriend. On the series, Jones fell in love with prison governor Helen Stewart (Simone Lahbib) in a lengthy, complex story line that developed over several seasons and made both actresses lesbian icons, despite the fact that they are both straight.
The DVD of the first season of Bad Girls has been available in the United States since 2005, and plans are in the works to release a DVD of the second season. In addition, the FX network is currently developing an American version of the show, which is expected to contain most of the same characters and storylines as the original — including the developing relationship between Nikki and Helen.
Jones, now a 39-year-old mother, discusses in her first interview for an American publication the role that made her famous, her chemistry with co-star Lahbib, and the responsibility she has felt to the lesbian community.
AfterEllen.com: Bad Girls is one of very few TV shows to feature a lesbian relationship and attract a large and diverse audience. Why do you think the show succeeded where others have struggled?
Mandana Jones: I suppose, first off, because they treated the love story with the same degree of detail they would a heterosexual relationship. In Britain here, since it’s a politically correct society, you always have to have the Asian family and the black family and the gay couple. It’s often a bit of tokenism. I think Bad Girls was the first time I can certainly remember that [a lesbian relationship] got that much detail, that much observation.
AE: Tell me a bit about the character you played, Nikki Wade.
MJ: She was that sort of archetypal character, tough on the outside, but really soft as shit inside. In the whole Bad Girls scheme, there were a lot of these sort of cranky nutters, but somehow Nikki was — despite the fact that she had a lot of her own foibles and problems — she was in a sense a kind of moral pivot. She was a loner. She could go in and out of the crowd, but she had her own identity and she didn’t need to hang out in a group.
AE: It may seem an odd question, but do you ever miss the character?
MJ: Do I miss her? She was — she is — a fantastic character, and yes, I do miss her. Short of having a long-term TV contract in which you have a very well-drawn character, you don’t get to do that. You don’t get to play a role that is as fleshed out as Nikki was. So yes, I do, I do miss that.
AE: For your career arc, do you have any regrets about having taken the role?
MJ: No, not at all. Actually, it was very educational for me.
AE: In what way?
MJ: We did some prison visits, and I’d never been inside or around prisons before then. Prior to that, I hadn’t really been forced to look left or right, but just at what was straight ahead of me. I found prison is all about what doesn’t work in our society, and so actually what they show us is what is wrong with our society.
AE: Do certain lines or scenes from the show stay with you?
MJ: One that stays with me always is in the first series, a scene with the character of Monica. Nikki rounds on Monica for having been selfish by trying to commit suicide just before she’s released, in effect throwing away an opportunity so many people would be begging for.
I think that glimpse of Nikki is probably what I loved about her the most, that strength and compassion, but also the limitations of her humanity, that she could still be annoyed and angry and compassionate and understanding at the same time. That was a nice mixture, and I like that kind of thing. I think what makes incredibly moving situations and stories is when you see a conflict of emotions, and I just think life’s a lot like that, really.
AE: You’ve said you were drawn to the show in part because of the quality of the writing.
MJ: I think that communication, 80 percent of it is actually nonverbal, and I think Bad Girls gave the framework for you to play a lot of stuff that wasn’t actually in the text. Very often the construction of a script is all so snapshot and quick-quick-quick to keep the viewers’ attention. In Bad Girls, there’s a lot of subtext that comes through, not just in the Nikki-and-Helen relationship but in all of the relationships. You’ve got the line coming out, but why the viewer gets interested is that there’s subtext; there’s all the unspoken which speaks reams.
AE: Can you explain what made the chemistry between you and Simone Lahbib, who played Nikki’s love interest, Helen Stewart, work so well?
MJ: It’s a very strange thing. I think it was just to do actually with the fact we’d go on set and we would just, as best as we possibly could, suspend disbelief. We were very comfortable in each other’s company, and we could kind of go for it with each other because there wasn’t any embarrassment on a personal level. I think in a way that was quite freeing and amazing.
AE: At a movie premiere, you and Simone held hands and kissed in public. Were you just two friends having fun, or were you making a political statement?
MJ: In all honesty, I think it was a bit of working the crowd, I have to say. [Laughs.] I remember at the time being told to wear a suit to the premiere and I drew the line at that. I thought, well why? We’re not Nikki and Helen, we’re actually Simone and Mandana going out. I said, ‘I’m not wearing a suit; I’m wearing a dress, that’s it. Not unless you want to go and get me a fabulous suit.’ [Laughs.] It was a little bit … when you get told to wear a suit, you know what you’re expected to be doing on that public outing, so I think it was a little bit of a tip and a nod in that direction.