Last week, I caught up with Eleanor Matsuura who plays PC Donna Prager in new 8pm BBC One drama Cuffs.
The new fast-paced cop show set in Brighton, focuses on the challenges of front-line policing and stars Ashley Walters, Amanda Abbington and Shaun Dooley. The series is written by the wonderful Julie Gearey (Prisoners’ Wives), and one of the main reasons this is such a great drama is because the characters are fully rounded and not just there to serve a purpose.
One of those characters is PC Donna Prager, played by the very lovely Eleanor Matsuura who I caught ups with last week for a chat about playing Donna, filming in Brighton and Gogglebox!
First of all, congratulations on a brilliant series. What I loved about Cuffs was that it didn’t feel like an 8pm drama, was that the same for you?
Yes. That was one of the things I loved when I read it. It was a surprise that it was for 8 o’clock.
There was a lot of stuff that I was convinced wouldn’t make it into the show, but you make it with the best intentions and try to be as loyal to the script as possible, because I think what Julie has written is amazing.
It’s quite daring for an 8pm show. It’s definitely pushing the envelope out and I think that’s a huge part of its charm. I hope that’s what people will respond well to.
Is that then what attracted you to the role in the first place?
Absolutely. It’s a little bit different. A lot of people would say to me that there are so many cop shows on TV at the moment, so what makes this different?
There are a load of cop shows on at the moment, but the difference with this is that it’s really a character drama. It follows more of the lives and work of eight officers in particular, rather then following a particular cold case. It’s more about the personalities and the everyday workplace of the team in Brighton.
We worked quite closely with the police so a lot of the stories were based on real events that happened in and around Brighton. That informed a lot of the personality of the show.
How would you best describe Donna?
I would describe her as a really tenacious, brilliant, ambitious cop. She’s extremely good at her job, and a good person. She’s very popular with her friends and everyone in the force.
Donna is someone who I’ve never really played before. I always get a lot of tough characters, with a feistiness, and although Donna has that, there’s something softer underneath.
What Julie has done really well is allow us to see the softer side to Donna and all her vulnerabilities. I think they’re probably the most interesting things about a character anyway.
That’s what people will identify with.
Her home life is part of her character. She’s in a great relationship with her girlfriend Alex.
Maybe that’s the beauty of allowing a character to develop over 8 episodes as well. You get to see all the different dimensions of one character, so Donna really comes into her own as the series progresses.
How far into Donna’s personal does the series go?
That’s a good question... Without giving too much away, as the series develops, the main tension for Donna is how she splits her time between her home life and her work. Sometimes the demands of her job means she’s put in situations of real danger, which friends and family will find really difficult.
And that’s the truth of it. Having worked with the police a lot in Brighton, and having trained with them, Cuffs is more about the reality rather than the fantasy.
The reality is that you put yourself in a certain vulnerable position every day, and that’s incredibly difficult to digest sometimes. For Donna, there’s a particular incident that happens later on, which she finds really thrilling and exciting because of the level of danger that was involved. But Alex find it deeply upsetting. She’s always trying to find that balance between the two things.
I attended the screening a few weeks back, and Ashley Walters said how through making Cuffs he had a new round respect for the police. Is that the same for you?
Absolutely. Absolutely! I was really blown away by how versatile you have to be as a police officer. It can be very very mundane, day-to-day they can be dealing with parking offences or somebody who locked themselves out.But at the same time they can get a call and be on a really serious crime scene, or dealing with somebody who’s been murdered, or attacked, or a domestic violence case.
You’ve got to be a particular person to cope with that level of readiness. Just being ready for any eventuality and not being bored by the mundanity of the other everyday elements of the job.
In fact, there’s an episode later on in the series which actually deals with that. Donna and Lino have a particularly boring day and they keep missing out on all the action as Ashley and Jacob’s characters keep getting all the good cases. It’s a brilliant reflection of how ordinary the job is sometimes.
Hopefully it won’t be ordinary to watch! (Laughs) Hopefully int will be a light relief, and a bit of comedy. I massively have respect for the police. It’s a tough job. I genuinely don’t think I could do it.
You mentioned Lino there, what’s the relationship like between Donna and Lino?
They kind of don’t work without the other really. It’s a very particular duo that’s been written
I think, what they have is a real great banter, understanding and a love of the job and each other. Hopefully if we’ve done our jobs right, that really shines through.
I think they’ll be seen as a bit of a light relief to be honest with you! (Laughs).
Thinking back to the Q&A, which sadly you weren’t at, Alex Carter who plays Lino was such a laugh, was that the same on set?
(Laughs) I was so gutted that I couldn’t be there, I really was. I was busy filming in Cardiff. He’s brilliant. He’s brilliant to work with. I knew from the moment that I met him in our audition that he was going to make my job easier, because he’s such a laugh.
He’s naturally very very funny, and really funny. I think he’s a fantastic actor, and it’s not just his comedic skills that he gets to show off. Later on in the series you’ve got some really beautiful moments. I was very very fortunate that he was my work partner in many ways.
We really had a very special time on Cuffs. The cast got very very close, and I hope that reflects on screen. Working with people like Ashley (Walters) and Amanda (Abington) and Shaun (Dooley), who are all so experienced and all brilliant in their very unique and particular way, so the chemistry that we have and the dynamics within the group hopefully really works.
We’re a very very close team. We all stayed at the Jury’s Inn, very Rock ’n’ Roll, very glamorous! (Laughs) We were there for the whole summer really. We kind of started in March and wrapped at the end of July. We were back and forth obviously but we really got to know the city and what a great city to spend time in.
I mean some of the places I’ve filmed over the years I was just really grateful to be somewhere as happy and as bright as Brighton. I think Julie has really embraced its personality so well, and got it spot on.
Would you agree that Cuffs is quite ambitious in the way it shows off Brighton?
I think so. The moment for me where I thought, OK we’re onto something here is the opening of episode one with that huge, almost cinematic, shot of Brighton Pier, which is just beautiful. And then it cuts straight to the nudist beach and I remember there was a lot of talk from the BBC about whether we’re allowed to show bums on BBC One at 8 o’clock.
Let alone other things that come up in the rest of the series. I’m so glad that they kept it in because I think actually, it’s a good gateway, and a good way of saying “This is Cuffs, we’re here and we push the envelope."
One of the things I noticed most when I watched it, was that the closer it got to 9pm the darker it got...
Ooh... you know what, I think that they’ve done that in a very clever way. I didn’t realise that when I was filming but I’ve been watching the episodes and remember thinking “Ooh, that’s a good way of getting around the 8pm challenge”.
Because as the time progresses, so does the episode, and so do the character’s journeys and you go “Oh my god, this is actually really quite dark.
I think it’s done that very cleverly.
Do you think there might be a second series of Cuffs?
Oh I bloody hope so! We’re all deeply deeply proud of it, and really excited about it. I guess the next stage is seeing if the public like it and want us to do more with it. Fingers crossed!
Will you be looking at Twitter whilst the episode is going out? That instant feedback bust be very strange for an actor to deal with...
You’re so right. It’s a very dangerous game actually. It’s a bit Russian Roulette if you like. I know a lot of actors, and I really respect them for this, who just stay away from social media.
I’m quite addicted to it, I quite enjoy it. Especially when I’m on set all day, it’s a really brilliant way to pass the time. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and it’s great. But I am also very aware that it’s a double edged sword, and with it comes the possibility of opening yourself up to criticism or comments from people that might not necessarily be fact.
But I guess it also opens itself up to good stuff too. If people are enjoying it, it’s really nice to read that. I will probably have a look because I’m just not classy enough to keep off of it! (Laughs) I’m just too nosey.
I tell you what my biggest fear is though, that I hope Gogglebox like it. I just really want Gogglebox to like it. I had a phone conversation with Alex (Carter) the other day and I was saying I really really want Scarlett from Gogglebox to like this show.
She’s the best! She’s completely brilliant. I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently and she’s just the best person on the show, and if she doesn’t like it I’ll actually be devastated! (Laughs)
What’s next for you then?
I’m filming A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We’re doing a new adaptation of it for BBC One, it’s Russell T Davies and I’ve been doing a lot of green screen today, flying all around which should be interesting!
It’s really cool, it’s been a lovely shoot so far, and I think it’s out next year. Around the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death I think they’re doing a few bits. There’s The Hollow Crown and this.