Eve: Interview: Jane Asher

eve asherVeteran actress Jane Asher is one of the key figures in CBBC’s Eve, playing Mary Douglas, the creator of the titular robot, who has lost her company and pretty much everything but is desperate for her “daughter” to be by her side. In the second series, we see that she’s not just interested in robots – she’s had other irons in the fire which become vitally important in the closing episodes. Asher spoke with Paul Simpson when he visited the set during the filming of the final episode in autumn 2015…

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What were you told about Mary when you came on board?

That’s a good question. I think I was just told that she was a bit of a maverick scientist who had created a robot. It was just a very small but – as they always say when you’re offered these things – a very telling role. Integral to the plot etc…. But I have to say, she is. So I was immediately intrigued.

I always love doing things for children. I really love it, whether it’s on stage or screen, partly because they don’t give you any bullshit, if you’ll pardon the expression. They let you know if it’s no good, or if they’re bored. If you’re in a theatre, you can kind of feel it, or you hear if you’re on screen. When you’ve got children of your own, you know how much these things mean. The things you watch and read as a child stay with you forever if they’re any good.

What has the reaction been like?

I never watch anything I’m in and I never look at the reactions, because they can only throw you. I haven’t had a lot of reaction, if I’m absolutely honest, but what I have had, the children look at me… I think the word would be “askance”! They really do. I met with someone recently and their children were definitely cowering back and very unsure of me. We all want to be liked, so I was saying, “I’m not really horrible!” and so on. Any reaction has been perfect – I’m someone to be wary of.

Eve - episode 1 (3)During the first series, we find out that there’s more to her agenda than we first think. How far in advance were you aware that she was going to be darkening? In many ways she is the character with the most shades of grey…

This is a very interesting discussion. I might hold that she is the most moral, well-intentioned and good person in this series.

I didn’t know initially; I heard little rumours. I remember walking on the set on the first day and being very warmly greeted by everybody but someone going, “Just you wait – she’s going to… No”. I knew something was going to slightly change.

It’s all a question of the greater good. She believes very strongly that human beings have made a terrible mess of the planet and that it’s pretty much hopeless and they’re not going to change, and the planet is doomed unless we do something pretty drastic. Well, anybody with any sense nowadays would agree that that is a very clever and correct way of looking at the world. Look at it now: ISIS etc. It’s pretty hopeless. She decides that it has to be run by robots.

I remember a long time ago reading about UIMs – ultra intelligent machines – saying that the only hope for the world will be if the UIMs are so clever they can actually talk to each other and work it out. The guy who wrote it was very clever; I think he did predict the end of books, and he was wrong about that, but he was right in so much else that he predicted.

Finally there comes a point where to save the world, Mary has a plan and she has to follow through, and if there is a little collateral damage, as they call it nowadays, then so be it.

I have a lot of sympathy for her view: I’m not saying I could go quite as far as she goes but she sticks to her guns. In this series, she has a bargain, which she keeps her side of, and the children don’t. I think that’s absolutely outrageous – I want to pull them up and say “a deal’s a deal”, but they cheat. They totally cheat. It’s clever, very clever what they do, but I’ve kept up my end of it.

Eve photographs by Alan PeeblesThe danger with that is you get into My Lai territory – “to save the village we had to destroy it” – and there was that vibe in series 1…

I was going to reprogram Eve – that’s not quite My Lai! – and take her back to her default position because she had gone awry. Emotions, we know, are terribly dangerous; they muddle you hopelessly. You lose all sense of proportion – which is what’s so wonderful about it, but it doesn’t help save the planet.

She’s not really evil – you might say she was misguided.

That’s why I was talking shades of grey; she’s as near a villain as the series had in the first year…

Yes, of course she is.

Katherine in the first series is more the stereotypical villain…

Yes! I was ousted from my company. I was the brilliant brains behind the whole Mary Douglas Institute and I was ousted in a terrible coup. Obviously I’m a genius – to create a robot like Eve is not easy! And as for teleportation…

Does Mary still want control of the company back?

I wonder why she was so desperate to continue the manufacture of the teleportation. Obviously there’s something she’s after. She’s clearly after the nanobots – I don’t know why. She’s given up on Eve: Eve’s disappointed her too many times and I assume she grabs Rebecca because she knows somehow that the nanobots went from Rebecca to Will. Maybe to infiltrate every human being with nanobots might be a better way of saving the world than having to make millions of robots. That could be her ploy.

Mary could fall in love – I was thinking maybe she could have Lord Hoffman as a toy boy? She wears a wedding ring – we never quite establish whether she is divorced, widowed, or someone pretending because she doesn’t want sex – but if that happened, it could change everything.

What’s her relationship like with Eve now?

I think she still sees her as her daughter. She’s very upset and disappointed and hurt by the way Eve has turned against her, and betrayed her whole purpose in life, which was to be rational, inasmuch as a robot is far more rational than we are if it’s programmed correctly. I think she still loves Eve – it’s the closest Mary comes to love.

Eve - episode 1 (5)Where would you like her to go next?

I think it could be interesting to have some emotion come in; you wouldn’t want her to be relentlessly the baddy. I love playing the baddy, and I never mind people hating me – that’s great. But on the other hand you don’t want her to be apparently out for evil for its own sake. I don’t think she is.

When I saw she was blown up, I did panic, but then I had a lovely email from Peter, the producer, saying “Don’t panic!” If she has uploaded all her genetic information, it could be quite funny if she puts herself together again slightly awry. I don’t know in what way – her hair’s green or she’s got one leg. Maybe she comes back and she’s really sweet… It would be great if she had some sort of relationship – she must be very lonely.

I love playing her, it’s such fun.

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