She’s usually seen conducting post-mortems under the artificial lights of the Lyell Centre lab as Silent Witness’s forensic pathologist Nikki Alexander. So Emilia Fox was delighted to be on location in sunny Italy for her latest TV series, the Acorn TV crime drama Signora Volpe.
The three-parter stars Emilia as Sylvia, a high-ranking MI6 employee who is taking a welcome break from work to attend her niece’s wedding in Umbria, where she is reunited with her sister, played by Tara Fitzgerald.
But when the groom disappears and a dead body is found near his home, Sylvia draws on her espionage skills to conduct her own investigation.
We caught up with Emilia to find out more about why she would make a great spy — but won't be in the next James Bond film...
Your character’s surname is Fox, or ‘volpe,’ in Italian. Was the part written with you in mind?
Emilia: "It was a happy accident! There were quite a few conversations about changing her name, but none of the others worked quite as well."
What can you tell us about Sylvia?
Emilia: "Sylvia’s at a crossroads in her life. She’s been totally focused on her work at MI6, but she wants to escape her job for a while because it has turned into something that she is dissatisfied with. Now she's looking for something else."
Have you found yourself at a similar crossroads in your own life?
Emilia: "Like Sylvia, I'm in my 40s, which is when you think about the first half of your life, what you've done in it and what’s going to happen in the second half. And I’ve realized that I'm distinctly unqualified to do anything other than what I've been doing for the past 20 years!"
What’s Sylvia’s personal life like?
Emilia: "Her career has been to the detriment of her relationships with her family and her ex-husband, Adam (Jamie Bamber, DI Ray), who she is still working with and sleeping with, which makes life a little complicated... When she gets to Italy, she finds the warmth of family life that she isn't part of anymore."
Has this been a nice contrast to working on Silent Witness?
Emilia: "It’s a much brighter world, although there is still a darkness to it. Silent Witness is very focused on the medical and scientific side of crime-solving. Signora Volpe is about crime-solving too, but also about family life and falling in love with a country and a culture."
You mention the family aspect of Signora Volpe. Are you a very family-oriented person?
Emilia: "I have a very close relationship with my mum [actress Joanna David], dad [Edward Fox], brother [Freddie Fox] and with Rose."
You’ve appeared with your mother on Celebrity Gogglebox. Is Gogglebox a show that you watch?
Emilia: "I love watching Gogglebox, and I had such a great time doing that! These days I do most of my television-watching with my 11-year-old daughter, Rose."
What was it like having Tara Fitzgerald playing your sister?
Emilia: "When I read the scripts, I immediately thought of Tara [in that role] and, when she said yes to it, I was thrilled. We immediately had that sisterly bond and the chemistry worked on screen. I loved working with her!"
What preparation did you do for the action-packed espionage elements of the series?
Emilia: "I had training in firearms handling and some brilliant instruction in espionage work. That was really helpful for getting into the mindset of someone who does this kind of job."
Do you think you'd make a good spy?
Emilia: "I’d like to think I’d make a great spy because surely acting must come into it! But I’ve never liked playing hide and seek, and I’m not good at lying!"
There was a female 007 in A Time to Die. How do you fancy starring in a James Bond film?
There was a female 007 in A Time to Die. Fancy starring in a James Bond film?
Emilia: "For many reasons, I think I can rule myself out! There is so far to go with the Bond franchise and a myriad of different people who could be cast in it, but I’m happy with Signora Volpe’s version of spying!"
How did you enjoy filming in Italy?
Emilia: "Rome is an extraordinary place to have lived in for three months. And the lake at Bracciano, where we filmed, is stunning. We swam in it almost every weekend! Aubergine parmigiana [a sort of vegetable lasagna] is my absolute favorite and I think I had that every week out there. We were also taste-testing tiramisu, and we sometimes had a tirami-two day, and sometimes a tirami-three day!"
Signora Volpe is available on Acorn TV from Monday, May 2.
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Ian writes about TV and film for TV Times, What’s on TV and TV & Satellite Week magazines. He co-hosts the weekly TV streaming podcast, Bingewatch.