Traces: Laura Fraser interview

Laura first garnered attention in the gritty 1996 film Small Faces and has worked extensively in TV and film since, notching up an impressive CV that includes A Knight's Tale, Breaking Bad, The Missing, One of Us, The Loch and Better Call Saul.

Laura Fraser plays Sarah Gordon

Laura Fraser plays Sarah Gordon

An expert on fire, Sarah is a Professor of Forensic Chemistry and the Director of the Scottish Institute of Forensic Science and Anatomy where Emma Hedges starts her new job.

What attracted you to Traces?

Of course, there's the crime-thriller element, but there's this really detailed, it seemed to me as a layman, really researched backdrop, the intricacies of the lab tests, and my character, the fire expert, and the forensic anthropology. I just found it quite fascinating and then I couldn't stop reading it, so I thought that's a good sign.

Can you tell us a bit about your character, Sarah?

Sarah Gordon, she's a Professor of Forensic Chemistry and the Director of SIFA, the Scottish Institute of Forensic Science and Anatomy, so in addition to running that, teaching students and lecturing, she also helps police with enquiries related to fires or examining remnants like materials or surfaces, to find some clues to help them solve crimes.

When you were sent the scripts, what grabbed your attention the most?

The story is really compelling. I've played a professor before, but never a Professor of Forensic Chemistry and I love that she was so into fire, that's her area of expertise. It seemed to me she was a little bit of a pyromaniac... in a good way.

When getting into character, what sort of research do you like to do?

It was actually really good for this because they set us up, they took us to a lab in Preston, part of the university there and a bunch of us got to go and ask questions and look at the lab, hold bones, see mock burnt-out rooms and they helped us work out how you would locate where the fire started, or what might have caused the fire. It was really interesting. You could see how people who actually do this for a living would go there, so that when it happens in real life, they have an experience previously of seeing it. It's always going to be shocking, but I guess you would have learnt to start numbing.

Why are people so enthusiastic about crime drama?

When you're a kid and you get told fairy tales, they always have a dark element and there's something really cathartic about that, you can explore the darkness from a safe distance. I also read this thing that said people used to believe, I don't know if it was superstition or just a widely-held belief, that you had to engage with the darkness, the evil, in order to keep it at bay. Maybe it's the remnants of that. Like in India, where you see corpses in the street and the funeral pyres at the Ganges, there's the constant life and death cycle and it's much more natural.

Have you got to grips with understanding the world of forensic science?

At the beginning, we were all reading Forensics by Val McDermid, All the Remains by Sue Black and, for myself, I was watching endless videos and reading articles about Niamh McDaid who Amelia had been talking to. She's been helping us understand all the information so we can use it during filming to make it a bit more realistic. For example, Niamh McDaid gave the evidence as a fire expert for the Grenfell Tower enquiry. I was watching so much and then looking at chemistry videos and flaming combustion and realised how much learning is required to fully understand all of the detail. It's a fascinating world of forensic science!

What are the challenges you've faced as an actor in creating a series rooted in forensic science?

I found it really hard to memorise because normally, you can find a link between each sentence because there's an emotional connection, but chemistry language can be tricky to get your head around!

Traces has an amazing female line-up and is written by and produced by women too. Do you think this is a turning point in the future of women in crime drama?

I don't, because if it was a turning point, it wouldn't be remarked upon. We will approach the turning point when it's not a question or an issue. RED Productions have been producing female-led dramas for years. It's sad to say I don't think it's quite there yet.