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Utopia: 'Series one was fab, but this is just epic'

Alexandra Roach insists Utopia’s return is simply thrilling

By Jeananne Craig

With her porcelain skin, piercing blue eyes and vintage style, Alexandra Roach regularly finds herself cast in costume dramas.

“I've got that face — people put me in period stuff,” the Welsh actress says with a mock sigh. “When am I not in a wig or a corset?”

She's been a young Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, a countess in Anna Karenina and played First World War women in Private Peaceful and upcoming drama Testament Of Youth.

So the role of student Becky in ultra-modern Channel 4 conspiracy thriller Utopia, which returns for a second series next week, makes a refreshing change.

“I wouldn't say it was easier (than costume drama),” the actress says in her Carmarthenshire lilt. “Especially in series two, there's more emotional stuff that happens to my character. But it's very different, and that's why I love this job.”

In series one of the complex drama, we saw Becky and fellow members of an online comic book forum discover a cult graphic novel manuscript — and then go on the run from a shadowy organisation known as The Network, who wanted its contents kept secret.

At the climax of the series, the identity of The Network's head, Mr Rabbit, was revealed as MI5 spy Milner (played by Geraldine James), along with what was meant to be hidden within the pages of the manuscript. Initially thought to be the coding to Janus, the Network's virus designed to stem global overpopulation via mass sterilisation, the graphic novel in the end acted only as bait to bring the group's reclusive guardian angel, Jessica Hyde (Fiona O'Shaughnessy), out of hiding.

Believing The Network to be defeated, Becky abandoned the group as she desperately tried to find a cure for a degenerative disease she suffers from, and Milner played one final card: capturing Hyde and the secrets to the Janus virus, which in the final seconds was revealed as being concealed within Hyde's own DNA.

As series two begins, we see Becky reunited with her friend and love interest Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), and the show also goes back in time to learn about Milner's network.

“I read the scripts for series two on my bed like, ‘Oh my God'. It's an incredible journey,” Roach (26) enthuses.

“Series one was ambitious, but series two does become pretty epic. Global.”

Not that the actress got to enjoy the new international twist (“I wish!”); most of her scenes were filmed in the north of England.

“We shot for four months and we had this mad schedule. It takes a lot of time to shoot, so there's not much time to mess about on set — you have to get to it.

“To unwind, we'd just hang out and chill. We found out that (Japanese restaurant) Wagamama delivered, and it was downhill from there,” she adds, joking that perhaps her role should have involved a corset after the takeaways.

The series is shot in a very distinctive way — all vibrant colours and quirky camera angles, not to mention graphic violence — which took some getting used to for the cast.

“We didn't have really a clue that that was going on (in series one),” Roach says of the stylised approach.

“We thought it was taking ages to set the lights and the camera, and then we watched the series and were like, ‘Ahhh, that's what they were doing'. And they haven't compromised on that for series two.”

It's the first time Roach has had to revisit a character for a second series, and she confesses to being a bit nervous at first.

“We had eight months between series one and two, and I was hoping that character was still in me somewhere after doing loads of other stuff.”

Once she'd donned Becky's clothes and filming began, however, the fear lifted.

“It just felt more instinctive. Rather than thinking, ‘Oh, what would my character do here?' it was like, ‘She'd definitely do this'.”

Her passion for the show is palpable and she confesses to “hounding” Utopia creator Dennis Kelly to find out his plans for a potential third series.

“As always, he's got mad ideas kicking around his head, so hopefully we'll be back. I'd love another one.”

Roach's big break came when, fresh out of Rada, she was chosen to play the young Thatcher to Meryl Streep's older version in 2011 Oscar-winner The Iron Lady.

Since then, she has played Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts' wife in One Chance, and appeared alongside Chris O'Dowd in the salsa dancing film Cuban Fury.

When she isn't filming, Roach tries to get home to Wales “as much as I can”.

“It's getting less and less, to be honest. I went back for my brother's wedding last weekend, so it was nice to see everyone. I love Wales, but you have to be (in London) for the work.”

Despite having a former policeman father and a brother and sister in the force, Roach never had an interest in following in their footsteps. However, she reveals: “I keep getting cast as detectives recently.

“They must just sense that my family are all in the police force and think, ‘She'd be good at that'. I mean, I can act it, but don't give me that in real life. Gosh.”

So does she have any dream roles?

“You can't really do that in this game, you have to just take what you're given,” she replies. “It's not (the actor's) job to create the roles. You just read stuff, and as long as it excites you and the character excites you, that's what it's all about.”

  • Utopia returns to Channel 4 with a double bill on Monday, July 14 and Tuesday, July 15, 10pm

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