webnexttech | Sally Lindsay on creating The Madame Blanc Mysteries
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Stanley Kubrick once made Tom Cruise walk through a door 90 times for an incidental scene in his erotic thriller, Eyes Wide Shut.The legendary director’s punishing insistence on perfection isn’t perhaps what you think of when considering The Madame Blanc Mysteries, Channel 5’s delightfully cosy crime drama starring Sally Lindsay.
But Sally often disagrees with her husband, Steve White, about Kubrick’s method of filming, which involved berating his actors and making them film countless retakes.
“Me and Steve always argue about Stanley Kubrick!” she says.
“I say if you haven’t done it by the first five takes you’re doing something wrong!
He says Kubrick was an artist, I suppose that was his schtick – and that’s great, some people are like that.
“But sometimes I think that none of what we’re doing is heart surgery.
We’re making telly!” The Madame Blanc Mysteries Sally is the co-creator, writer, producer and star of The Madame Blanc Mysteries, and the set of the drama about an antiques dealer in France seems the opposite of the Kubrickian method.
In fact, the only Shining is the sun, mainly because the show is filmed in Malta.
Now in its third season, Sally’s show is seemingly populated both behind and in front of the camera with her friends and family.
Steve Edge, with whom she worked on Phoenix Nights, is Dom, the taxi driver sidekick.
The director, Dermot Boyd, worked with her on Mount Pleasant.
The show was co-created with Sue Vincent, who she worked alongside in The Vagina Monologues.
Even her husband, Steve, who you may recognise as Paul Weller’s drummer, provides the music.
It seems like creating her own community – and a convivial one at that – is part of the reason why she makes Madame Blanc.
“No, that is the only reason I do it,” Sally says with a laugh.
“I’ve been very lucky in my life.
I’ve worked on some amazing productions and met some dear friends over the 25 years I’ve been doing this.
I met Edgy all those years ago on Phoenix Nights, that’s how long I retain people.
There’s something magical about working with people that you love.
“And some are new friends, like Robin (Askwith, who plays a local chateau owner) who I hadn’t met before and I consider him one of my best friends now.
“Once I walked through the door of producer and having a production company, all these players in my life came to the top.
Dermot was a director on Mount Pleasant, Shaun, my director of photography, was on Mount Pleasant.
You have these team players in your head, who you love.” It’s a bit like assembling a team in the Ocean’s 11 movie, with Sally as Danny Ocean, I suggest.
“Ha, yeah but with slightly less money,” adds Sally.
“We do assemble them!
It’s hot and we film a lot of minutes every day, and we expect a lot from people because I suppose it’s a smaller budget compared with premium shows, but these people always deliver.
They’ve been phenomenal.” ‘It’s just a massive laugh really’ Speaking to Sally, you suspect very few people would wish her ill.
She’s got the same winning and sharp personality as Shelley in Coronation Street, which you have to imagine makes being a producer easier.
Especially when she has to do things like tell Steve, to whom she’s been married for 20 years, the music he’s created isn’t right.
“We’ve been together for 20 years so we’ve got a real shorthand now,” she ponders.
“And he’s got such a vast musical knowledge because of who he is.
“I’ll say to him I want something that sounds like that song that goes ‘la la da’ and he knows exactly what I mean.
But so many times they’ve written something and I’ve said, ‘it’s just not right’ and they go off and change it and they’ve got there.
None of us are trying to catch each other out, we’re just trying to make the show the best it can be.
“I think because of the way we make it, it’s different.
It’s personable, it’s got a nice energy.
It’s hard to describe, you should come and see us doing it.
It’s just a massive laugh really.” That’s not to say Sally treats what she’s doing, even cosy mysteries, as trifling; she grew up in a working-class household where, for many, television was a solace.
“I found telly very important.
For me, telly was a gift in the corner of the room.
“Whatever you’ve got going on in your life, telly is there.
But having said that, I’m not clamping a ventricle down.
“It’s telly and it’s lovely.
The process should be as entertaining as what you produce.
“That’s not always possible, some days you’re stressed out of your mind and you think you’re not going to get it done.
“As a producer I’ve had to make grown-up decisions, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
“But if you make it easy and nice then people will want to come back.
I think this is why we get these amazing guest stars.
The rumours spread: they’re all having a massive laugh over there, I should spend a week with them.
“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” Championing diversity Following her success on Coronation Street, Sally created Saffron Cherry Productions, which now produces Madame Blanc.
The company focuses on writers and “diverse storytellers, book adaptations and strong female voices”.
Part of Saffron Cherry’s aims include correcting the uneven split in entertainment.
“Among drama writers, only 14.5% are women, so I’m part of this tiny little, teeny weeny little group,” adds Sally.
“There should be an active split, that fact it’s only 14% is a disgrace really.
“Whereas in soaps, it’s 50% women.
But soaps are much more difficult, because you’ve got to constantly create multiple characters, stories, and backgrounds going back years.
What a training ground for writing drama.
“Then when it comes to writing drama they say ‘yeah, you’re great at that but we’re going to get the blokes to do this’.
And that drives me insane because there are so many amazing female writers being overlooked.” In the 90s and early 2000s she tended to see more confrontational directors and producers, perhaps enamoured by auteurs like Kubrick.
“I’ve worked with massive ****holes and I just think…why?
I don’t know what they’re getting out of it,” says Sally.
“A lot of it is about asserting control.
I think they thought everyone had to be scared of them.
“But I don’t understand it, I’ve found the more supportive and complimentary of actors, the more you get out of them.
“A nurturing atmosphere where you get the best out of people and everybody has a lovely time, that’s inclusive…that’s what I want.” ‘I learned a lot from Betty’ Sally starred as Shelley Unwin on Coronation Street for five years, where she worked behind the bar at the Rovers Return pub.
It was there, pulling pints, where she learned from the veteran soap actor – and former music hall star – Betty Driver, who played Betty Williams from 1969 until 2011.
“I learned this on Coronation Street, working with Betty – that if you’re behind the bar you have lots of control of the mood of the room.
“Betty was wonderful, she was so affable and wonderful.
“I learned everything from her, including comic timing.
“I’ve taken what I learned from her to every job, to the point that I got to this job, Madame Blanc, and I get to be in charge.
“And I think, ‘why would you be an ****hole?’ “You’ve got this magical thing, this dream.
You go off to the sun and film with your mate.
Why would you be bad about it?
What’s bad about it?” The character of Jean White is a “pure fantasy” of Sally’s.
“I’m very passionate about the look of the show,” she adds.
“The community we’ve created in Madame Blanc is that everybody’s on the same page, which sounds like a bit of a utopia, but it is!
Everybody wants the show to be great.
“And they turn up on time and say the words!” The Madame Blanc Mysteries continues Thursday, 9pm, Channel 5

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