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'Sexism is still there today, it's just not so obvious'

It's all eyes on Stefanie Martini as she prepares to take the lead in Prime Suspect 1973, but the actress is hopeful her depiction of Jane Tennison will be judged on its own merit, she tells Gemma Dunn.

Following in Dame Helen Mirren's footsteps was never going to be an easy feat, but rising star Stefanie Martini is determined to make her own tracks in ITV's hottest new prequel, Prime Suspect 1973.

The actress is set to play Mirren's famous character, WPC Jane Tennison, in the new six-part crime drama. But in a twist to the original adaptation (Prime Suspect - based on Lynda La Plante's bestselling novel, Tennison - ran from 1991 to 2006), this series will rewind to the Seventies to chart the police officer at the beginning of her career, revealing how she became such a complex and formidable character in the Metropolitan Police.

With much anticipation for its revival, Martini confesses to feeling the pressure once she sat down to rewatch the original hit.

"Only then, it slowly dawned on me what a big deal it was," confides the 26-year-old, who joins forces with the likes of Sam Reid (The Riot Club) and Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners).

"But I also think it's very different. I have to see it as a separate thing. I have to appreciate it and take what I can from Helen Mirren's performance and the research I did, but then I also have to let that go and treat it as my own interpretation.

"I can't crumble under that pressure, or see it as something bigger than me."

That's not to say she didn't welcome a blessing from the Oscar-winner, however.

"I think she released a statement saying it's really great that it's going again, because it's good for young women to see what it was like in that time.

"So, although she doesn't really have anything to do with it, it's nice to know she supports it, for sure."

Playing the young recruit at a time when woman police constables were slowly being integrated into the force, Martini admits to, at first, being shocked at the blatant sexism in the workplace.

"Back then, that was just what happened and people just accepted that that was a woman's place. Whereas today, if anyone I knew was like, 'Oi you, make the tea', I would be like 'Sorry? You do that', or if they expected you to do their ironing, or something, it would be ridiculous.

"But there's also a lot of parallels with today; there's a lot of everyday sexism that happens in different ways - how women are looked at and not taken seriously in the workplace. They might not be as obvious, but they're still there."

Referencing this year's politically-heavy Golden Globe speeches and the worldwide Women's March, which took place the day after US president Donald Trump was inaugurated, Martini insists she's pleased to be coming into the industry with her eyes wide open. "It's a difficult situation, obviously, with everything going on politically," she begins, "But it's great to see so many women - and actually men, as well - unite across the world. So many people to say, 'Look this is wrong'.

"I think it's very important to use what's going on in real life to inform your work and, I mean, who knows if what I've done, or the show that we have made, will have an impact on that at all, but it's a good thing to explore."

Having graduated from Rada less than two years ago, Martini's talent - and progressive drive - has certainly turned industry heads.

The relative newcomer has already impressed in her breakout role as heroine Mary Thorne in Julian Fellowes' Dr Thorne; is currently storming US audiences as Lady Ev in NBC's apocalyptic Wizard Of Oz reboot, Emerald City; and has filmed her part of Sophia de Haviland in the upcoming film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Crooked House.

"It's all gone very fast for me and only now I'm able to sit back and look at what's happened," she explains.

Newbie or not, she's a performer who knows what she wants - and that's undoubtedly a role with substance.

"It's really nice to play a girl, where, if she looks pretty or whatever, it's got nothing to do with what she's trying to do," Martini says in reference to Tennison, who, at 22, shares the same burning ambition to succeed professionally.

"I honestly don't think I'm very good at playing the girlfriend role; I get bored," she elaborates. "I much prefer character parts that could stand alone without the man - a woman doesn't necessarily have to be strong to be that kind of woman either.

"I'm not interested in just being something for people to look at. I get excited by projects if there's depth to the character and things to explore that are interesting and different from character to character."

Despite having recently spent time in LA, Martini - who lives in London with her two best friends - admits she can't picture herself relocating for her career anytime soon, however.

"I'm not a very flashy person, I get the tube everywhere and walk around with no make-up on most of the time," she declares, pondering the idea of eventually losing her anonymity to fame. "I'm not into the glitz and glamour, really.

"None of my friends from home are actors, none of my family are actors, so it's nice I can go home and, while they're very proud and supportive, I'm exactly the same as I've always been to them and it keeps me grounded."

As for future roles, Martini is characteristically setting the bar high.

"Theatre-wise, I would love to play a big Shakespearian women's role, or something really technically challenging."

  • Prime Suspect 1973, ITV, Thursday, 9pm

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