At the start of Primeval, Abby Maitland was a budding zoologist who probably didn’t really know one end of a gun from the other. We go back to the original press conference for the show for this interview with Hannah Spearritt from 2007…
Words: Paul Simpson
What did you think when you first read the script?
I thought it was something I would love to get involved in. It was very fresh and just something that I’d never really seen on British TV before. When I went for the audition, I never really expected to get it. It seemed too big for me. But I just put my head down and gave it my best shot.
Why did you think it was too big?
I knew that there were so many great actresses out there who would be going for it, and I was feeling quite nervous. I suppose your insecurities just come into play, and you think there’s going to be someone better than you. I suppose when you want a part you don’t want to be disappointed, so you put it out of your head a bit.
Had you been for lots of acting auditions before?
Yes, but this was probably the most primetime thing I’d gone for. I did some TV auditions last year, but nothing on the scale of this.
Did you want to act when you were in S Club?
Yes. I got myself an agent when I was 16 and was a maid in a BBC drama called The Cater Street Hangman. That’s what I was really interested in at the time. I went to the audition for S Club with a friend when I was doing a West End show. We just went as something to do.
S Club was a great time. We had the TV show as well as the music. It wasn’t a serious thing, but it was my little time when I could feel that I was doing what I wanted to do. It’s also given me a great platform to come back to it. It’s great to come back to the acting side of things while I’m still quite young.
Were you worried that people would see you as a singer rather than an actress?
Yes. I’m sure there have been auditions where they’ve thought, “We don’t want to see her because of her background”. But you never hear about those. It’s just a case of getting in there and trying to prove yourself.
But everyone has a past and I never want to forget it, because it’s part of my life. That’s the great thing about Billie Piper [who was best known for playing Rose on Doctor Who at the time, long before The Secret Diary of a Call Girl]. She has shown that it can be done, and she does a great job of what she does. I might not have been seen for this had she not shown that the crossover can be done.
So you don’t mind being compared to Billie Piper?
I think it’s a compliment really. Everyone likes to do things their own way, and I think that I will do this in my own way. But she’s had great success doing what I’m trying to do, so I can live with that!
Abby’s a fun girl to play. She’s a lot cooler than I am, and I like her. She’s meant to be likeable and warm hearted. She’s got this sort of tomboy thing going on. Originally she rode a Vespa, which I was very excited about, but that didn’t come off in the end, so she drives a Mini.
There are certain aspects of myself that I inflicted on the role, but she’s more together than I am. She makes more quick decisions than I can as well.
Whose idea was the rock chick look?
Me and Jo, the costume designer, worked together and had similar ideas from the off. I think the bike jacket came up with the Vespa, and we went round and kitted her out with loads more stuff that we liked. I chose a lot of stuff.
You’ve got two guys fighting over you – but are you more interested in your pet dinosaur, Rex?
One is more interested than the other! Abby’s quite interested in Stephen, though. She’s swept away by the wrong men most of the time. I think she likes the fact that Stephen’s quite mature, uses guns and kills animals, and is dangerous. She likes the way he looks as well. She’s quite superficial in that way.
But Connor, bless him, is completely in love with Abby, and you’ll see that more and more as the show progresses. Abby and Connor’s relationship is quite endearing. They’ve got a really sweet relationship that develops through the show. He ends up moving in to her flat. Abby and Stephen fizzle out a little bit… But I don’t want to tell you where it goes.
Is there a love scene?
No love scenes… Or maybe there are!
Is Rex entirely CGI or was there a physical prop?
There was an animatronic Rex as well as the CGI. That made it easier for me. At first, all the CGI stuff was hard to do. One of the first scenes we had was reacting to the Gorgonopsid running through the forest. We had a traffic cone on a stick for the eyeline, and we were given the dimensions around that!
To kick off with that, we were just gauging what everyone else was doing. You don’t know what line to go to, but you get used to it. The animatronic Rex was something I could physically touch and see, which helped.
Did you get quite attached to him?
He was falling apart by the end! Otherwise I would probably have asked to take him home. But wires were popping through his feet. He was quite expensive, and everyone spoke to him every day. Some days he was having a good day, other days bad days. He was the star of the show, really.
What’s next for you after Primeval?
I’m doing a short film called Colour Blind at the moment. It’s directed by Andrew Lee-Potts, who plays Connor in the show. It’s about a girl who lives a life without colour. I’ve got a couple of auditions this week as well, so we’ll see if anything comes from that…