ITV’s The Widow starts this week and here’s one of its stars, Alex Kingston, talking about the show…
Q: Why did you want to be involved with The Widow?
“I read the first three episodes and thought Judith was incredibly complex. A woman with a journey. I wanted to see if I could understand her. That’s what appealed to me about the character. Also, I had never worked in South Africa before. Much of the story is set in the Democratic Republic of Congo but it was impossible to film there because it is just too dangerous.
“So, the idea of working in South Africa really appealed to me. That country totally got under my skin. I absolutely loved it. The people, the crew, everybody in production were just so nice and really hard-working. That was a bonus.
“I felt very much that we were all in this together. We were all part of a team who were trying to tell this story. And even though I may have been in front of the camera, the people who were behind the camera are working much longer hours. Their job is just as important.
“It’s not a good thing but also a fact of life that people on the crew are not paid what people in Europe or in America in this business expect to be paid. So we had a lot of crew. As a result of that jobs got done. It was very unusual to be working with such a large crew, incredible caterers with everything just there.
“That’s what keeps productions going to South Africa. It is really busy and vibrant and that’s not a bad thing. With work being created and people paid. Studios in South Africa now have amazing facilities. And you also get great coffee in Africa. So we were on fire.”
Q: Who is Judith?
“Judith has set up a charity which operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She feels her vocation is to help people who are suffering there. Especially people in extremely rural or hard to get to areas where there is no infrastructure. Giving them clean water. It’s a relatively simple idea but it’s effective. That is what she is about.
“We find out later in the series that her mother is back home in England but other than that she appears to have no other family. So Judith is devoted to her work. She wants to feel she is doing something worthwhile. It’s a relatively small world she works in and so everybody knows everybody else. Then one of her co-workers, Will, is involved in a plane crash.
“In a way, Judith doesn’t know why she does what she does. She can have a knee-jerk reaction to things. We find out more about her background as the story unfolds.”
Q: What sort of world does The Widow investigate?
“Writers Harry and Jack Williams have tapped into an area that nobody had been talking about until we began filming. Then suddenly there were headlines appearing. I just thought, ‘How ironic.’ It’s just so upsetting to know there is abuse of the vulnerable. Whether in church, schools, football clubs or wherever. Right from the opening scene in The Widow we see child soldiers in the jungle and the story develops from there.
“The Widow also illustrates links between our world in the West and Africa. The continent of Africa is so rich in terms of its natural resources. Gold, diamonds, minerals.
“I find it so shocking that a few individuals reap the benefits and the wealth doesn’t go back to the people. The majority of the wealth is taken out of Africa and goes to China and the rest of the world who have laid their claim in a very divisive and corrupt way many years ago. When the African people didn’t really know what it was, they had. I find it so upsetting. It’s not right.”
Q: How would you describe Judith’s relationship with Georgia (Kate Beckinsale)?
“Judith has her reservations about the reason why Georgia believes her husband Will has somehow survived a plane crash a few years ago now. She thinks, ‘Can’t you just move on? He’s gone. Accept it.’
“Judith employed Will but didn’t know Georgia terribly well. They perhaps met once or twice when Judith was back home in England. So there is no friendship or connection between the two women. Then suddenly Georgia turns up on Judith’s doorstep in the Congo with a belief that Will is actually still alive. Judith is, of course, quite rightly sceptical.
“What’s nice is that there are these two strong female characters who are both coming to the story from different angles. That was fun to play.”
Q: What was the filming experience like?
“The house we used for Judith’s home was located in the suburbs of Cape Town. Even though we were not filming in the Congo there was still a definite edge. One had to keep one’s antenna sharp at all times. You can’t let your guard down.
“The suburbs are not grand at all. There are dirt roads. But that neighbourhood is affluent by local South African standards. Judith’s house has a pool, for example. But everybody’s house is gated or fenced with razor wire. It’s a very strange way to live. But that’s just how people live there.
“While we were filming, we heard of really tragic situations where people were being mugged and killed for money. That’s part of life there. So you have to be careful. Pretty much everything we did was filmed on location.
“The first week we went out to South Africa, prepping before filming, there was news about two people working for non-governmental organisations in the DRC who had been kidnapped by one of the militias and they were found beheaded. They were out there trying to negotiate with different militia to surrender up their child soldiers and had a degree of success with that. But, obviously, they rubbed somebody up the wrong way and that was it.
“It’s incredibly hard. I guess at a certain point you have to leave because you are just going to get burned out. You have to be an incredibly strong personality. But these places cannot be abandoned.
“Some people might find that ‘edge’ exciting. It makes you feel alive. You look at how war correspondents endlessly put their lives at risk to report from places that are just so dangerous. That must also, in part, involve the adrenaline giving you some sort of high, in a way. At the same time you know you are doing good because these things do have to be reported.”
Q: Was the weather an issue during filming in Africa?
“It was hot. But I don’t mind the heat. That adds texture to the show and that’s what you want. We also went through a drought with a countdown to having no water anymore. In the hotels and apartments where we were all staying you were advised to only shower every other day and for no longer than two minutes. It literally was real water rationing.
“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to shower.’ Because at the end of our working day we’re filthy. I found a champagne bucket in the apartment I was staying in. And every other day I would straddle the champagne bucket and try and catch as much of the water as I could in the bucket. So at least I could use it to flush the toilet. I was trying to do my bit.”
Q: Judith says: “In a mad world, only the mad are sane.” The world in general appears to be a little mad at present?
“It’s terrifying. It seems like the end of the world order as we have known it and generations in the past have known it. But I think it will eventually mean changing for good. Politically governments are going to look very different in future. The very fact we have somebody like Donald Trump as president indicates that. It’s fascinating being here in England with everything that has gone on. Clinging to the sofa in horror.”
Q: One of the child soldiers climbs a tree in the jungle because she wants to see the whole world. Have you ever been anywhere where you felt that was possible?
“In a way it’s almost the opposite. I’ve been to places that, for me, have been spectacular. But have actually made me feel how small and insignificant I am. So it’s less about looking at an amazing vista and going, ‘Wow, I can see the whole world.’ You’re standing in a desert and seeing the most extraordinary sky full of stars.
“Knowing that if we didn’t have the most horrendous light pollution that we have, everybody would be able to see an extraordinary night sky and it might remind us that we are all so insignificant. And that actually might make us think differently about how we relate to the world.
“At the moment when you wake up in a city, you get up, you go to work, you do your job, you watch TV, whatever it is you do. But you don’t have any real sense of being connected to the greater world and the planet Earth. Whereas if one was able to look up into the sky every night and see those stars and constellations, you would know that you are just a small blip. I think right now that would be really helpful.”
Q: One character says: “We can never hide who we are.” Do you agree?
“In the end truth will out? That quote does ultimately ring true. Sometimes it takes a lot longer to discover the truth about people. People can spend their whole life hiding who they are. On the whole you can sense if there’s an energy about someone that’s not right. I certainly can and I just avoid those sorts of people. I really do listen to my instinct because I think it serves me quite well.”
Q: One main focus of The Widow is a plane crash. Are you a nervous flyer?
“I have to fly a lot for my job. I’m a relatively happy flyer. As long as I can lie flat. I can sleep on a plane. Even if there is turbulence, I tell myself it’s like being a baby in a cradle and I’m just being rocked. That keeps me calm.”
Q: Are you good at working out screen drama puzzles before the end?
“I’m a total Miss Marple when it comes to that. I love to try and work it out before the end. Sometimes I’m right and my husband looks at me like I really am Miss Marple because he hasn’t got a clue. But then other times I’m spectacularly wrong. But I do enjoy trying to figure it out for myself.”