Interview with Kay Mellor
What inspired you to write The Syndicate?
The times we are living in, where people are desperate and holding on to the dream of winning the lottery as the only solution available. It’s a natural dramatic premise because it has highs and lows, an air of anticipation and chance and ultimately can be life changing. It’s become more pertinent today than ever before. And as Shakespeare put it ‘it is such stuff as dreams are made of’… and he usually got it right!
You talked to real life lottery winners in your research – what did you learn about their lives since they won?
Their lives weren’t necessarily made better. Sometimes lives were made more complicated, families were fractured and friends were lost. The initial happiness was fleeting; one of the winners told me it lasted for just six days. Some people felt it was a great sense of responsibility. It became apparent to me that winning the lottery is not necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be.
The Syndicate is set in Leeds – was the location important to you, do you think Northern dramas have a different feel to ones set elsewhere?
I think it’s vital that the north of England is represented in mainstream drama, not just soap opera. For me personally northern dramas have a different feeling because it feels like these are my people, this is the world I know, this is the world I grew up in. That’s not to say that I don’t watch and enjoy British dramas that are set in the south of England. I just think that geographically there needs to be equality and England exists outside of London.
You have a great cast in The Syndicate – did you have these actors in mind when you wrote the characters?
I never have actors in mind when I write my characters. It’s the character that leads me to the actor rather than the actor that leads me to the character. We were fortunate that we had a great casting director, David Shaw, who visualised the characters very well.
Timothy Spall was my first choice for Bob and I was absolutely delighted when he said yes. Similarly, Matthew McNulty was my first choice for Stuart. I’d auditioned him for a part in A Passionate Woman but he was pipped at the post by another actor so when his name came up as a possible Stuart I leapt at the chance.
Joanna Page and Matthew Lewis both walked into the audition room and the part was theirs – they were so brilliant. The part that was the most difficult to cast was that of Denise. It was agonising finding just the right person that had warmth, humour, vulnerability and a sort of naivety. David introduced us to Lorraine Bruce who made me laugh and cry within the same minute. I thought it would be a hard fight with the BBC because she was a relative unknown. Much to my delight it was the opposite. Ben Stephenson and Polly Hill encouraged me to cast the person who was right for the role and everyday during the shoot Lorraine proved she was.
You are an actor, writer and director – which role do you prefer?
They are all intrinsically linked and I’m very lucky because I’m able to do all three but I’d have to say that writing is my first love – it’s the ultimate creative process.
And finally do you play the lottery and what would you do if you won?
No. I have the best job in the world so I feel like I’ve already won the lottery!