Interview with Jamie-Lee O’Donnell Who Plays Rose In New Comic Drama Screw

Interview with Jamie-Lee O’Donnell Who Plays Rose In New Comic Drama Screw

Welcome to C Wing in a busy men’s prison, a place that’s bursting at the seams with humour, emotional high stakes and danger for prisoners and officers alike. At the head of a group of embattled prison officers is Leigh (Nina Sosanya – His Dark Materials, Little Birds) a woman who has devoted her entire adult life to this prison and its population. Leigh keeps her inmates in line and has their backs when they need it. Into the pressure cooker of Long Marsh Prison enters Rose (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell – Derry Girls), a 21-year-old trainee officer. It’s a baptism of fire even for this street-smart young woman. She joins fellow screws Ali (Faraz Ayub - Line of Duty, Bodyguard), Gary (Stephen Wight - I May Destroy You, Manhunt), Don (Ron Donachie - Titanic, Game of Thrones), and Jackie (Laura Checkley- King Gary, Detectorists).

Screw, Thursdays, from January 6, C4, 9pm.

How would you describe the tone of Screw?
There's quite heavy stuff in there, but they’re trying to keep it as true to life as possible because not everything is doom and gloom – even in dramatic times, there's some sort of a silver lining. It's a survival instinct to find the lighter side of things, especially when the reality you're faced with is quite dark.

You’re best known for playing Michelle in Derry Girls, but you’ve done a lot of straight drama as well. Do you enjoy working in that grey area between the two?
I really do. I’m lucky to have the chance to do both in my career, doing Rose and going back to Michelle at some point. Some of the scenes in Screw are a million miles from Michelle, which I'm really happy about.

Why did you want to get involved in Screw?
First and foremost it was because of the characters, who were so real and well written. Rose seemed like a really complex and interesting character and there are a lot of twists and turns to the show. After I’d read the first couple of episodes, I was desperate to find out what happened in episode three, which is always exciting.

Did you find Rose an easy character to relate to?
In some ways. Our journeys are quite different, but how she handles things and her attitude towards things feels quite familiar. Because of where she comes from, she has these really positive attributes about herself and she's quite adaptable. I could definitely relate to that.
What does Rose’s life look like when we when we first meet her?
I don’t think prison is what she’s expecting. I don’t think she’s intimidated by it either, but she builds different relationships with different people, including some people she never would really speak to on the outside – people who remind her of home. There are a lot of interesting dynamics within the prison that allow her to open up a little and express herself in different ways.

Is Rose a sort of audience proxy, introducing us to prison life?
I think that’s it. It’s a new world for her, just as it will be for a lot of people watching the show. After those first impressions, we get to sit back and watch how things really are. It’ll be an eye-opener.

What is Rose’s relationship like with Leigh?
They’re both quite guarded people for their own different reasons. Anyone starting a new job might not want to dive in with both feet, especially this job, so there's always going to be a bit of caution when it comes to dealing with a problem. Given Leigh is head honcho, Rose feels her way around things at first.

How were the cast to work with?
Fantastic and really funny. We had really good craic on set because some of the scenes are quite heavy and dramatic, so we kept it light where we could. It ended up feeling a bit like a 9 to 5 where
you come into the same place every morning, wearing the same uniform, so we had a routine we got comfortable with. I think we’ve all achieved something really special.

The set sounds amazing.
Every single time someone walked onto the set for the first time, you could see their jaw drop as they took in the vastness of it. You forget that it's not a real building because it’s so well made and authentic – even the doors are really heavy. I slammed my finger in one of them on the last scene of the last day, which was pretty painful!

Being a prison officer is a physical job. Were you learning the techniques to make it look convincing?
The producers brought in some professional prison officers so we could find out what it’s like to work in a prison, and they were very honest with us. Two of the officers we spoke to were women and that was a big surprise, learning how many women work in men’s prisons. Although these were small women, they were obviously really confident and very powerful. It wasn’t the obvious image whenever you think of a prison officer. We learnt some basic techniques about how to defuse a physical situation, and also the respect that they have for the job, the compassion they show for their colleagues and the prisoners. It added a lot of layers for me.

Do you have any skills or tools to do that job?
I’d like to think so. I’d like to think I’m just as strong and compassionate.

What about Michelle?
I’m sure she could! Why not? She can reach for the stars and she’s a good talker. She’s definitely tough enough. She’d rule the wing.

What was the biggest challenge of working on Screw?
Doing a northern English accent. I tried my best! I really enjoy doing accents and although I was nervous, putting my heart and soul into it, thankfully people on set responded really well.

What was your perception of prison before you started on Screw?
I hadn’t really thought about it, to be honest. I was surprised by how underfunded and overcrowded the system is. There are people in there with severe mental-health problems, people who have made awful mistakes, people who have stolen from the corner shop, and all those people are treated the same in terms of where they end up and their rehabilitation. I just don’t understand how prison can be a solution for all those different people.

What’s the latest on Derry Girls?
It's definitely happening! I haven’t seen any scripts yet but Lisa McGee has told me the storyline for Michelle and I’m so excited to get back. It’s great craic. The wait has been a bit frustrating, but I’m focusing on the positive – it’s coming…

interview supplied by C4




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