By Marion McMullen 16 Jan 2010
ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER – COVENTRY TELEGRAPH
“I CALL him Mr Ponky Pants,” laughs Warwickshire actor Ben Daniels about his Law & Ordercharacter. “You want to grab him and shake him, which I sort of love but it’s great that we’re moving him away from that.”
Nuneaton-born Ben plays legal eagle James Steel in ITV’s Monday night crime drama.
It is the second series of Law & Order: UK and 45-year-old Ben said all the cast were delighted to be back in crime-fighting mode.
“Yes, we love it, we love it, we love it! So we are all thrilled to be back,” he says.
There was a certain amount of pressure to make the UK version a success after the popularity of the Law & Order brand in the US, and the Brits rose to the challenge averaging around six million viewers each week for the first series.
“I know, it’s fantastic,” says Olivier Award-winning actor Ben.
“All of us were thinking five million and we would have been happy with that but six million is great. It’s really, really exciting. Everyone seems to love it which is great.”
Some of the harrowing storylines lead to lots of gallows humour on set and Ben explains: “We have such a good time and I think we consciously make sure that the working atmosphere is actually quite jolly, so you can deal with the storylines much better.”
The cream of British acting talent feature in the new series and Coronation Street’s Bradley Walsh, Battlestar Galatica’s Jamie Bamber, Harriet Walters, Bill Paterson and former Doctor Who companion Freema Agyeman are all back.
Ben, who has also appeared on TV in The Passion, The State Within and Cutting It, says: “I think it’s a deeply satisfying format and it’s what I love about the American series.
“You see a beginning, a middle and an end, from a body being discovered to the verdict in court.
“These people are brought to justice or they go through a trial so I think it’s quite satisfying to watch that. It’s not so satisfying when they get off, in fact it’s hugely frustrating.
“I know that the actors playing the DA’s in the American version used to take it really personally when they lost a case. You’ve got all the evidence and you know that these people are guilty and it’s kind of frustrating.
“The quality of the acting is also amazing in the American version. Filming in New York they pluck these great actors from the theatre there and it’s brilliant to watch. We get the most fantastic actors coming in to the British version too.
“Every two weeks you get another first rate actor to work alongside and it’s just completely brilliant.
“We really get to lock horns with them as well because of the nature of what we do, especially scenes when we have to cross-examine defendants. You’re at loggerheads with an incredible actor playing a barrister or the defendant.
“And you’ll see a lot of those defence barristers return, which I think is something we enjoy. There’s continuity with certain characters in a series that isn’t about continuity particularly.”
Ben got his first taste of acting at school at Manor Park School, in Nuneaton, and later went on to study drama in Stratford.
His mother Cynthia had shops selling children’s clothes and bridal wear in Nuneaton, Tamworth and Hinckley and his father Danny was an engineer at Rolls-Royce and later a greengrocer.
Playing James Steel in Law And Order: UK is a challenge and Ben points out: “I do think he’s very closed and has built a lot of walls.
“He takes it personally when he loses a case, because it’s everything to him. He’s totally work and justice obsessed and I think towards the end of this series and particularly in the last episode you see the turn that is going to take us into series three.”
But Ben says James is a great character to play. “Oh God, I like so many things about him,” he says. “I like his fight for justice but that can also be really irritating.
“I don’t know how bearable that would be in a real human being. I like his dedication, his honesty, his passion.”
The openly gay actor lives with his long-term partner in London, but there are hints that there might be a relationship between James and co-worker Alesha on the cards, although it might be a while before it comes to the boil.
“I don’t think they’re in a great emotional place at the moment and I don’t think they can see the wood for the trees,” says Ben.
“I think they have clocked it subconsciously. You get this in Law & Order all the time where you suddenly get an insight into these people’s lives and it builds on what you know about those characters.
“So I think the relationship between James and Alesha is something that has grown, I think they started to write it because Freema and I get on so well. They started to realise that James and Alesha’s relationship was a good relationship to have.
“So their relationship is very much an ‘Are they or aren’t they? Will they or won’t they?’”
Ben is hoping the new series will attract even more fans and says they have taken the best of the American series and given it a British slant.
“There are six main characters who are endlessly fascinating and within those six characters come an extraordinary cast of British actors that I don’t ever see on any other TV programme,” he says.
And Ben says his character still has a lot of surprises in store.
“In the last episode of series two I think you see him becoming more like the defence barrister he used to be when he will start playing tricks and he will not necessarily be so upfront with how he gets information from people,” he adds.
“I think that you can just see it starting as this series ends.”