Silent Witness: Emilia Fox Interview

What's it like to play the lead role in one of the grisliest shows on TV? We asked Silent Witness star Emilia Fox.

Forensics expert Dr. Nikki Alexander as played by Emilia Fox

Forensic expert Dr. Nikki Alexander gets to grips with another grisly case.

Hailing from one of Britain's great acting dynasties and blessed with English rose good looks, Emilia Fox was always going to be a star. But even she felt a little nervous about taking over the lead role on the gripping crime series Silent Witness. Read on for her take on crime, acting, and unpronounceable medical jargon.

How did you feel when you got the call for Silent Witness?

Well I naturally knew that the series had basically rested on the charisma and sheer star power of Amanda Burton, so it was very very flattering to be asked to take over where she left off.

But I didn't let that worry me. I knew that I wasn't being asked to replace Sam Ryan – my character would in fact be taking the show in a new direction, so that made it easier for me. I also enjoyed the series personally – I'd watched it over the years, and really relished the chance to be part of it.

Your parents are the acclaimed actors Edward Fox and Joanna David. Did you always want to follow in their footsteps?

Actually no. Quite the opposite! I don't know if it was just my being a rebellious teen, opposed to everything my parents stood for, but I made a conscious decision at an early age that I would not be an actor.

So I went to Oxford Uni to study English Literature, and my aim was to be an art critic. Well, it was suitably different to what my parents did! But my youthful determination didn't last long – I eventually caved in and had to accept that I did want to be an actor after all, even though I was terrified of people thinking my dad had pulled all the strings for me.

Do your family give you advice on the kinds of parts you play?

Not in the slightest! I think my parents made an early decision not to weigh in on my acting career. They resisted acting the gurus so I could make my own way, I guess, and it's lasted ever since. It's a once in a blue moon thing when, say, my dad tells me what he thinks of a film or show I've been in. Although, saying that, I bet they're absolutely brimming with things they'd love to say to me about my performances.

Was it a challenge to fill the shoes of a forensics expert on Silent Witness?

The thing I really dreaded was the research. When you're doing a series as relentlessly realistic as Silent Witness, based on so much scientific fact, you as an actor really have to make the effort to understand the real world of forensics. And that basically means watching some very gross stuff indeed.

But, watching autopsies, I surprised myself by how un-grossed out I was. I think your natural fascination overrides everything else. You become engrossed in it, and are curious to know more about the case in question. Which is probably how viewers feel when they see grisly things in crime shows. Also it was great to pick up some useless trivia about bodily functions and different internal organs.

Has the experience of Silent Witness been different to previous projects you've worked on?

I can safely say that it's one of the most frantic and exciting things I've worked on. Everything is on fast forward, with people rushing around and hugely detailed scripts to digest. For that reason I think it's a great series to be involved with if you're at the beginning of your career and want to build up instant experience. You come out battle-hardened, under the watchful eyes of our police advisor and our forensic pathologist advisor.

And, because different episodes have different crews attached to them, you get to meet lots of different people all the time and the atmosphere behind the scenes varies a lot, which keeps things interesting – if sometimes confusing!