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Interview with Green Wing’s Tamsin Greig

September 14th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

You asked for more Green Wing and, with the help of our partners at Digital Rights Group (who’ve also brought us, among others, Spaced, Kingdom and Peep Show), you can catch the second season of the absurd hospital comedy here on Hulu. To kick off the debut, Hulu spoke to the show’s star, Tamsin Greig, about her character, Dr. Caroline Todd. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

Can you give us a one-sentence summary of the show?
Tamsin Greig:
It’s a bizarre, unexpected and sometimes terrifying comedy set in a British hospital where a new member of staff comes in and meets an extraordinary array of surprising characters who work in the hospital, with most of it surrounding the surgical department. And how that woman retains — or otherwise — her sanity in a place of undisguised madness.

Wonderfully put. You, of course, play that new doctor. Can you tell us about your character, Caroline?
Caroline Todd has slightly less control over her limbs that she would like to have, but is unaware of that. She is good at her job but doesn’t know it, and is is at times terrified and anxious and childishly curious about the bizarreness surrounding her, but also finds it almost as though she has come home to weirdness without realizing it.

How is this hospital a hospital unlike any other?
Well, frighteningly, I have to say a number of people who work in the National Health Service here who I’ve met say actually Green Wing is rather like real hospital — they have told me it’s quite like real hospitals. The number is quite high, actually, and I don’t know whether that’s a good thing to promote the show or a bad thing to promote the NHS. I don’t think it’s in any way an extraordinary hospital. It works within a system which, you know, has pretty tough constraints. As you know, in this country, it’s a public health service, so doctors work incredibly long hours under peculiar conditions. So I think that the wildness of the environment, in some ways, adequately reflects the peculiarities of that kind of hyper-existence.

And the one thing I noticed in this particular hospital is that nothing medical ever seems to happen.
[Laughs] We do do a little bit of sewing every now and then on body parts, but the interesting thing about this show is that there are no patients. But there’s a lot of interaction with the people who work in the hospital. But I think the creators of the show were not really that interested in patient-led stories. Because, you know, we have lots of that over here. What they were looking for was just finding a group of people who work together and it could be any environment. Really, the show could have been set anywhere. It could have been set on a space station or on a cruise ship or in a diamond mine. They were just interested in how people in tense situations interact with one another in a work environment. So, in some ways, the patients are unnecessary for the development of these relationships.

Here in the States, Green Wing is often compared to the show Scrubs. Are you familiar with that show?
Yeah, I’ve seen it. I like it. I love the flavor of it. I think it’s darling. I think both shows were being developed at sort of the same time, but I think it’s like that synchronicity where you have the same ideas at the same time. You know that character, Dennis the Menace? It was developed on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time, completely independently. I love that, the idea that when something is going to happen, it’s going to happen at that particular time. There’s a flowering of something extraordinary which is similar… I quite like that, the synchronicity of that.

What are some of your favorite Green Wing episodes, if it’s not asking you to go too far back?
We did this quite a while ago, so it’s difficult to remember specific ones. I can remember in the first season, there’s one episode where my character has a housewarming party and about half the episode is the party. There’s a lot of stuff done on Steadicam, so the Steadicam was like a person at the party, and all these really strange things that happen at the party. It’s cleverly developed, and I like that episode.

We have a special after the second season, which you may well get, and the final scene of that has the most wonderful, most surprising, unexpected, beautiful stunt, which I think America would quite like.

Can you talk about the use of the Steadicam and why the show’s creators decided to go that route for the camerawork?
Yeah, I think what they wanted was a new form of visual storytelling, where it wasn’t done with the traditional wide shot and then the singles and then the cutaways — which has helped television, but it’s become standard. So I think they were very interested in finding a way to engage the audience in a more interactive way, so that the camera is actually part of the action. When we were filming a lot of it, we’d do a lot of it on a single take, so scenes had to be set up very specifically. If there was going to be a reverse shot of someone, the Steadicam would have to do that within the flow of the action, so the cameraman had to have really good thigh muscles and a high boredom threshold, and also an ability to dance because they had to dance within the action. We as actors had done a lot of development in rehearsals, but the cameraman was doing it on the day of, so he had to be pretty nippy. I think probably that it was meant to engage the audience, so much that you actually feel like you’re on the roller coaster with the story.

Is Caroline like you at all? What traits of your own did you bring to the character?
I brought my own hair. I don’t believe that’s the way I walk. I was encouraged to walk in a slightly unguarded, lopsided way, which I feel like I manage to suppress in normal life. We do have quite similar hands, and our eyebrows are the same size, although mine now are slightly smaller having seen them on TV.

What are you up to these days?
I just finished filming for Sky [Network] a two-part adaptation of a Terry Pratchett novel called Going Postal, which we filmed in Budapest. I’ve also just done a BBC adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Emma. And I’m about to start a film which Stephen Frears [The Queen, High Fidelity] is directing called Tamara Drew, in which I will be unrecognizable.

Who are you playing in Emma?
Miss Bates, the lonely, lovely spinster who can’t stop talking. Suprisingly.

You also starred in Black Books. For those of us (OK, me) who are illiterate when it comes to British comedy, can you tell us about it?
Yeah, Black Books … There’s three seasons of that. It’s set in a bookshop run by a curmudgeonly Irish misanthrope called Bernard Black. His main gripe about life is that there are people in the world who want to buy books in his shop. Why he has the shop is never revealed. [Laughs] And why he doesn’t get rid of it is also never divulged. But he runs this bookshop in a very haphazard, drunken way. He has a sidekick/assistant/whipping boy and a friend who has a shop next door, but then loses the shop and just becomes some hanger-on, and that’s the character I play, who is excessively maudlin and as drunken as Bernard is. It’s how the two engage and manipulate and abuse Manny, the assistant.

I love the premise, a bookstore owner who hates selling books.
Hates selling books! But likes drinking and smoking, and doesn’t want to share them with anybody else.

Well thanks, Tamsin, for your time. We can’t wait to dig into Season 2.

Last comment: Feb 27th 2010 2 Comments
  • Betty Thomas says:

    I am totally obsessed with this show! Thanks for the supremely kewl interview with Tamsin. (Looking forward to Going Postal, too, as it’s an excellent book!)

  • […] Green Wing season 2 is up on Hulu!  I love this series, but be warned it is not safe for work and is not for the easily offended! It is really hard to explain if you haven’t seen it.  Tamsin Greig (who you might remember from Black Books ) who plays Dr Caroline Todd describes the show: It’s a bizarre, unexpected and sometimes terrifying comedy set in a British hospital where a new member of staff comes in and meets an extraordinary array of surprising characters who work in the hospital, with most of it surrounding the surgical department. And how that woman retains — or otherwise — her sanity in a place of undisguised madness (Hulu Blog). […]