Playing Amateur Detective
The Serpent is a new BBC drama set in the 1970s which started on New Year’s Day and here’s an interview with one of its stars Ellie Bamber…
Who do you play?
I play Angela Knippenberg, Herman’s wife. We discover the clues together and go on this hunt for Charles. Angela is German, but she’s been living in Paris and America over the years. She’s extremely strong, and doesn’t take any sh*t from anyone!
You’ve played real people before – how does it compare to playing fictional ones, and what preparation did you do?
I think my preparation was different for this role. I’ve played real people before, but none who I’ve been lucky enough to speak to. Angela and I have spoken a few times and had some brilliant conversations. She gave me so many further details of her life in Bangkok before and after the main events of this series. It was brilliant to be able to talk to her.
And then obviously I had to prepare for the accent, which I worked with a vocal coach for. We’d go through the scenes before filming and workshop them with the accent to get it right. I definitely modelled my accent on the real Angela, to include some of the characteristics that are specific to her own accent – even shifting a little when I played the older Angela, who lives in America by that point.
I also speak some Thai in the series, which was interesting to learn. It’s got amazing cadences, so was almost like learning a song, I’d say. I can only say certain things though. The other day I was in a taxi and someone said “say some Thai!” and I said no, because all I can say is things like “Can you check the immigration dates?”. It’s really not useful.
Why do you think the authorities were so reluctant to investigate Charles Sobhraj, and it was left to Herman and Angela?
I think the authorities failed to act against these murders because I think there was a preordained attitude towards hippies of the time, that they were drugged-up no-good kids who were roaming about the world. Global travel was something that was very new and there was that kind of attitude that they were just off somewhere else doing something or other.
Do you think the events of this story could take place today?
I think maybe not – our technology is so much more advanced now, and we’re all so much more instantly in touch. I think the crimes could still happen, but I don’t think it would have taken so long for people to realise all these young people were going missing in such morbid circumstances, so hopefully it would have been stopped much sooner.