Dean Andrews on Ashes to Ashes

Rotherham’s Dean Andrews is best-known for his role as bullish misogynist cop Ray Carling, who first came on to our screens in the BBC drama Life on Mars.  Set in Manchester in 1973, the show was hugely successful and ran for two series, with John Simm starring alongside Dean as a modern detective stuck in the seventies.The follow up to Life On Mars, Ashes to Ashes, finds DS Carling in 1980s London, still the same old chauvinistic yet lovable crime-fighter, but this time alongside Keeley Hawes as Detective Inspector Alex Drake, a hostage negotiator who wakes up after being shot to find herself in the seedy underworld of London in 1981.

Dean took a break from filming the second series of Ashes to Ashes, due on our screens in March, to tell us about the award winning show, the dangers of filming in remote Pakistan and his love of fly fishing.

You’re originally from Rotherham – do you still live in the area?

Yes – on the outskirts of Rotherham.

Growing up in Rotherham, did you always want to be a singer and actor?

Acting wasn’t something I’d thought about.  When you live in Rotherham acting isn’t really a job you aspire to.  When I was growing up, most people were going into the steelworks or the pits.  I did always want to sing though – my Dad did the club circuit, and I love all the big band swing stuff.  I was a professional singer from 1982, first in the working men’s clubs and then cruise liners and holiday camps.

The acting just came about by a stroke of luck.  The film director Ken Loach came to Sheffield in 2000 to make a film called The Navigators, and he likes to use ordinary people in his films.  He goes to entertainment agencies to find them, because he believes that singers and comedians have natural timing and a way of telling stories.  A few club acts from the area ended up with parts in the film, and I ended up with the lead role, which created a lot of interest.

One of the other boys in the film, a Sheffield lad called Tom Craig, took his agent to the premiere in Leicester Square and she pointed me out, saying she’d enjoyed my performance and asked if she could represent me.  The rest is history!

Did you make the change to full-time acting following the film or did you continue to sing?

I stopped singing professionally in July 2007.  I was still doing the clubs while we filmed Life on Mars – I’d film Monday to Friday, then sing on a Saturday night.  I do miss the singing but not the 120 mile round trip to sing for an hour!  I gave up when we started filming Ashes to Ashes because we were on location in London.

You have a very varied career and have been in some very popular shows, such as Eastenders and Casualty.  What was it like to work on such established shows as a relative newcomer?

It was quite intimidating at first.  It helped that I’d worked with Ken Loach – all people in the acting business are big fans of Ken and have an ambition to work with him.  They were interested in me because they wanted to know his techniques and how he worked, so I was accepted quickly.  I didn’t give away that I was a new actor, I wanted them to have faith in me.

Have you ever been star-struck by anyone you’ve worked with?

Oh yes!  I played opposite Brenda Blethyn in Between the Sheets, a drama based on Lady Chatterley’s Lover.   She was lady of the manor and I was the bit of rough, and we fell in love.  To play opposite an actress who’s been nominated for two Oscars was amazing.  Alan Armstrong was also in that, and he’s a fantastic actor.  One of my earliest jobs was in Clocking Off, Paul Abott’s Bafta award winning drama series, and I was also in a Channel 4 drama called Buried with Lenny Jones who won a Bafta for his role.  I’m working with people I’ve watched on screen and thought were amazing.  It’s brilliant for me, because I’m always learning.  There are so many different aspects of this business and how it works.  Working on Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes for the last three or four years I’ve been able to learn more about the technical side of things, like lights and how to move to look best on the camera.  It’s an ongoing process but it never stops being exciting.

How did you get the role in Life on Mars?

I got a call from my agent, went along for the audition and met the team.  I personally think I’m physically ideal for the part, but I hope that personality wise I’m completely opposite to Ray Carling!  We have nothing in common – I’m not bullish or outspoken, I live quietly with my wife and daughters, who are 23 and 17, and I spend my spare time fishing.  I’m flattered that they thought I could play the role though, I suppose that says a lot about my acting ability!

Life on Mars, and then Ashes to Ashes, were huge prime time hits.  How did your life change following your appearance in the shows?

With a show like that you do get recognised on a daily basis.  The beauty of it is that people enjoy the show so much you don’t get any variations in their opinions, and they only have positive things to say.  I’m very lucky to get such positive feedback.

What can we expect from the new series of Ashes to Ashes?

It’s the same journey for Alex Drake, she’s still trying to get back to her daughter in the present day and moves on a bit with her journey.  There are some fantastic guest artists, some brilliant fight scenes and some great shoot-outs!

You were filming in Pakistan recently for the film Khandahar Break.  Can you tell use about it?

It’s basically about two British guys, ex military, and they’ve been working out in Afghanistan clearing mines.  They have a beautiful Muslim interpreter and my friend in the film falls in love with her.  It’s very much against her culture and causes all sorts of problems in her society, and then it’s a race against time to get away from the situation.

The schedule and conditions were quite gruelling – how did you cope?

I don’t really know to be honest!  You’re quite well looked after in this business so I wanted to challenge myself in a situation that wasn’t comfortable to me.  I  thought that was the perfect opportunity but I didn’t realise the dangers.  We were filming in very remote parts of Pakistan, close to the mountains and the border to Afghanistan.  People carried AK47s like we carry mobile phones – it was very intimidating.  A lot of villagers hadn’t seen anyone like us before, so it was difficult to cope with the attention we received.

You write quite a comprehensive blog on your website,  Why did you start writing that?

There’s a lot of interest in all the characters in Ashes to Ashes, and people always want to know what’s going off on set.  So whenever I got chance, I started to write a few lines so fans could see what was happening, how the filming was going and who the guests were.  It all adds to the enjoyment and the anticipation of the show.  I’m happy to answer any questions about my working life, I’m pleased that they’re interested in my work and the character.  I do keep my private life very separate though.

How do you find time to fit it in around your filming schedule?

It only takes half an hour – although don’t do it as often as I should. There’s not a lot to tell people most of the time, so I tend to wait until there’s something special to tell someone.  For example, we did a cover shoot for the Radio Times which was a real laugh so I reported back on that.

Is writing something you would like to take up professionally?

No – I’m not good enough!  I stick to what I do, I’m quite happy to be an actor.

Are reviews important to you?

I suppose they’re reasonably important, but one man’s wine is another man’s vinegar so I tend to pay more attention to viewing figures.  Ashes to Ashes got 6.5 million viewers so I’m very happy with that.

You also like to keep an eye on forums and fan sites – are these more important to you than TV reviews?

To a degree they are – these guys on the fan sites know their drama.  Even if they haven’t enjoyed an episode they’re constructive with their criticism and you can see how they’ve come to their conclusion.

Do you ever respond to comments on forums?

Yes I do.  I haven’t for a while, but if people are asking questions or there’s something they don’t understand I’m happy to nip on and give them an answer.

You say on your blog that you were disappointed to not win the Bafta – are awards important to you?

I don’t think so much that they’re important to me, but it’s recognition for all the people who put an awful lot of work in and I think we deserved that Bafta.  The programme that won, The Street, was a great programme, great TV – I was in it! – but it wasn’t something that hadn’t been done before.  It was drama done brilliantly, as was Clocking Off before it, but it was a similar  format and we’d been there before.  I thought Life on Mars was breakthrough TV, it had never been done before.

Did winning the Emmy make up for it?

Kind of – but not really because we’re British and it’s the British Academy of Film and TV Awards.  The Emmy’s fantastic but it’s American, and it’s good to have recognition from your own unions and own people.

What are the awards ceremonies like from an insider’s point of view?

It’s great fun – you just stand there amazed at who’s there.  Joan Collins, Sir Michael Gambon, Michael Parkinson, Dame Judi Dench, Brenda Blethyn –  all that TV royalty and then me, just an ordinary bloke!

You’re a keen fly fisherman and have a series of instructional DVDs out.  Why did you decide to make those?

My friend and I went on a training weekend with John Tyzack, a five times English National Rivers Champion.  We learnt so much from just one weekend’s instruction with him, we found ourselves wishing there were DVDs around when we were learning to fly fish.  So we thought why not have a word with John and see if he’s up for it?  Luckily he was, so we got together with a friend who’s a producer and another friend who’s a director and created a set of DVDs.

It’s going really well.  The first two, Early Season Trout and Small Streams, are out now, and the third one is due out later this year.

Can you recommend any good spots for fly fishing in South Yorkshire?

No – sorry!  I keep them all quiet.