Traces: Molly Windsor interview

Molly’s breakthrough came at just eleven years of age when she took the lead role in TV drama The Unloved in 2009. She won a BAFTA for her work in acclaimed miniseries Three Girls in 2017 and has also starred in ITV’s 2019 thriller Cheat.

Molly Windsor plays Emma Hedges

Molly Windsor plays Emma Hedges

A fiery but vulnerable spirit, Emma has to confront her mother’s unsolved murder when she returns to Dundee to start her new job as a lab technician at the Scottish Institute of Forensic Science and Anatomy.

What attracted you to Traces?

When you look at a job, you have to go with your gut instincts and, for me, Traces was one where I was taken away by the story and by the writing and characters. My instincts were telling me I was really protective over the script and of the story, then I met the rest of the team and Amelia, the writer, she went through the arc of the story with me and the way she told it was really compelling. I thought yeah, this is going to be a goody.

Can you tell us a bit about your character?

So, Emma was born in Dundee, but left when she was really young, after her mother disappeared. She went to Manchester with her Aunt Julie. She worked really, really hard at school and at college and left university with a First Class degree in Analytical Chemistry. It's that that brings her back to Dundee and that's where Traces starts.

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

For me, I think it's that thing of you're reading the script as a job, so anything will grab your attention in terms of practicality, where it's shooting, where it's set, what the script's like. You pick out any flaws within an instant. But, for Traces, it grabbed my attention because all of that slipped away and you're just reading the story and that's quite rare, so that stayed with me when I read it the first time.

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

I think it's different for every job. For me, I put a timeline together of a character and then flesh it out as much as I can. Someone that's in their early 20s, they've had nearly 20 years of experiences, their family, their history, where they come from, all their thoughts and beliefs, so you've got a lot of thinking to do. Then, for something like Traces, you look into the specifics of, for example, chemistry and forensic science, so you've got enough to keep you busy.

Why are people so enthusiastic about crime drama?

We had a day speaking to a crime-scene investigator and then to forensic scientists and it's just fascinating because that's a part of society we don't get to see. Information like that is largely confidential. It's the unknown you want to know more about. There's a quote in Val's book where they said something about the way to deal with death is to remove the strangeness from it, to make it so familiar. It was saying it's such a dark thing, if you remove the strangeness and make it so familiar, that removes its power.

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

It's a completely different way of thinking. They're so pragmatic, where as our whole career is led by imagination and kind of going off on tangents and being led by emotion. To learn to be dealing with facts and numbers is a whole different way of thinking. I have an even greater respect for the people who do it, so I feel even less capable!

How important is forensic science in helping Emma solve her mother's murder?

Emma's never trying to solve her mum's murder. I think she's trying to understand it and that's where the forensic science is so important because it deals with facts. When you lose someone you love, you try and make sense of it because, emotionally, it doesn't make sense. They're not there anymore and you want them there, so then you try and understand it intellectually. I think that's Emma's way of processing it. She's never had that opportunity because she was very young when her mum died. So, she was kind of led by the people around her and by family that obviously were being led by their emotions, so to come to forensic science and be so close to looking at the facts, I think it's that that's really important and really drives her.

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

Again, it's because you have so much respect for the people that work in forensic science so you want to get it right. That's the challenge because we could quite easily go 'OK, we'll enjoy being actors and being in a lab and it's fun and we're having a nice time'. The thing is, it's so familiar to someone who does this day in, day out. It's their job, you do it without thinking, so for me to get my head round it and do it so it feels familiar, then again we have really dramatic, high-emotion scenes on top of that, that has to be secondary, that has to be part of the routine with it.

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 always get shocked by that question because in my career, I've been so lucky, and it's predominantly been female directors and female producers for me. Probably 90% of the work I've done has been led by women. I'm having an unusual experience in terms of the horrendous statistics that show there is an inequality, but it's one of those where you think we're doing great work, hopefully, and that should speak for itself.

Can you describe Traces in one sentence?

Really, really, really good.