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"The responsibility is huge. I felt it every day. I haven't taken it lightly. You want to do the right thing by everyone involved."
During a recent Q&A for her new ITV factual drama Honour, actress Keeley Hawes broke down in tears as she described the responsibility she felt playing a real-life detective investigating an ‘honour killing'.
The star of Line of Duty and The Durrells plays DCI Caroline Goode in the two-part drama, based on the true story of the brutal death of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod, whose murder was arranged by her own family because she fell in love with the wrong man.
DCI Caroline Goode was the police detective who doggedly pursued justice for Banaz.
Speaking ahead of the launch of the drama, Hawes - who’s also an executive producer on the show - talks the ‘responsibility’ of playing a real-life character, the emotional impact of working on the drama and the importance of keeping Banaz Mahmod’s memory alive.
1. How did you and your production company become involved with Honour?
Keeley Hawes: I had started [production company] Buddy Club almost at the same time as I was sent the scripts for Honour. It was with ITV and it was still at a very early stage at that time. I didn’t know anything about the story, I’d never heard of Banaz Mahmod or Caroline Goode, but when I read the scripts I was completely taken with this story. I thought it was something I would really love to be involved with.
I had been an executive producer on The Durrells but apart from that, in my 33 years in the business, I didn’t have any experience on that side. So it was very generous of Liza Marshall of Hera Pictures to allow me to come in in that capacity, and it worked really well [Honour was made by Buddy Club in association with Hera Pictures].
It was a big learning curve. I thought, "I am going to need to know this so well, from the inside out". So I was involved in conversations that, as an actor, you’re not privy to, all of that was very useful and it worked very well for everyone. I had also just worked with the director Richard Laxton on Mrs Wilson, so he came to mind for me and Liza had always wanted to work with him. I thought he would be brilliant for this, and he was.
2. How much did you know, if anything, about honour killing and violence?
Keeley: My knowledge was virtually zero and what I thought I knew was probably wrong. It’s difficult to remember back now but I had no real idea about it - which is part of the problem, that none of us are armed with any knowledge about it, as the police weren’t in this case, including, initially, Caroline Goode’s team.
3. What was it like meeting Caroline Goode?
Keeley: When Caroline first saw my name she had no idea who I was, which was fantastic. Having watched the 2012 documentary Banaz: A Love Story and read the scripts, we met and had a cup of tea.
It was fascinating to meet Caroline but my representation of her as a character is certainly not an impression. I took aspects of her character, her confidence, her relationship with her team, all of those things, which are all there in the writing as well.
It is an honour to play her, which of course carries the weight and responsibility of playing a real person. If you met her in the street you would have no clue about all of the extraordinary things that she does.
Also what I love about her is she always gives thanks to her police team. She is like the director we have on set, someone who enables everybody else to do their job really well.
4. How did you feel when you watched the real-life video footage of Banaz asking a police officer for help, fearing she could be murdered?
Keeley: Watching the documentary [Banaz: A Love Story], I sat in total stunned silence and then had a very quiet afternoon. It is an incredibly moving documentary and it won an Emmy for good reason.
Banaz is so vulnerable in those videos, both mentally and physically fragile. However she is extraordinary because she has such strength at the same time, to be doing what she is doing and sitting there being interviewed.
You can really see how Caroline and her team, and anybody who watches that, will feel the same. The immense sadness you feel watching that young woman. If you thought you could find her, help her or get justice for her, then you would, as Caroline did.
Caroline has since gone out of her way to be part of the education process since this case. Things have changed because of this landmark case. If just one person feels they can reach out to a charity, or what they are going through is not normal because of this drama, then the whole endeavour has been worthwhile.
5. What struck you about the police investigation into Banaz’s murder?
Keeley: They really were determined to get justice for Banaz. To find her body and also extradite two of the guilty men back from Iraq, something that had never been done before.
I asked Caroline, "Were you very emotional? Did it affect you in that way every day? Or do you become hardened to these things?", because you imagine the police don’t have time to be emotional, and she had been doing this job for a long time.
Caroline said, "Yes, of course I got emotional. How could you not?"
It was a very emotional job for everyone working on this drama. All of us took the job home with us at night. Not a moment went by when we weren’t talking or thinking about Banaz. I still find it emotional today. The image of Banaz will always move me.
6. How do you reflect on making Honour?
Keeley: So many things set this story apart, firstly Banaz and her courage and bravery in going to the police and continuing to go to the police. Giving them a list of names of people who would be responsible for her death, that is extraordinary.
Then we have another amazing woman in Caroline Goode, who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Although they are in many ways very, very different, in that way Banaz and Caroline are quite similar, in their tenacity and inner strength.
Obviously everything I do is important to me but there is a huge, additional responsibility that comes with this particular drama. Not only playing a real person and representing all of the people in the story but the main responsibility is because it’s about Banaz and keeping her memory alive.
I hope our drama serves the memory of Banaz. That is very important. I also hope it may give people the confidence to speak out if they are in that situation or have an inkling that someone else might be going through anything like what Banaz had to suffer. That would mean it had been a real success as far as I’m concerned.
7. How should Banaz be remembered?
Keeley: She was hugely courageous. Letting people know this is not right and it won’t be tolerated.
Honour premieres Monday, September 28 at 9pm on ITV.
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