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‘Rules of the Game’ star Maxine Peake: ‘I don't know how people work in offices!’

Maxine Peake as Sam Thompson in Rules of the Game.
Maxine Peake as Sam Thompson in 'Rules of the Game'. (Image credit: The Forge/BBC)

Maxine Peake talks about new BBC1 drama Rules of the Game... 

A quick glance through Maxine Peake’s CV reveals why she’s one of the UK’s most sought-after actors – from roles in comedies Dinnerladies and Early Doors to gritty Hillsborough drama Anne, currently showing on ITV. 

In BBC1’s new four-part thriller Rules of the Game, the versatile actor portrays blunt businesswoman Sam Thompson, a chief operating officer at sportswear company Fly Dynamic, which is on the verge of going public on the stock exchange. 

However, Sam’s world is threatened by the arrival of aspirational new HR manager Maya Benshaw (Sex Education and The Girl Before star Rakhee Thakrar), who uncovers a disturbingly toxic working environment. 

As Maya digs into the tragic death of young employee Amy Dixon 10 years earlier, owners Owen and Gareth Jenkins, their domineering mother Anita (Alison Steadman), and Sam are all keen to keep company secrets filed away.

But when Sam turns up at the office one morning and discovers a female colleague has plunged to her death, she’s questioned by suspicious DI Eve Preston (Susan Wokoma) and forced to confront painful truths.

Here, Maxine Peake, 47, tells us more about the series…

Maxine Peake interview: What appealed to you about 'Rules of the Game'?

Maxine Peake: "Sam and Maya are really well drawn female characters. I sometimes find [with] dramas, it'll be female led, but you can't quite work out the character. With this I felt I knew all these people from the first episode. They are complex and witty, and there's a seam of dark humour, which appeals to my sense of humour! Even though it is a thriller, it’s got some lighter moments. It’s a really great script with something to say."

How would you describe Sam?

MP: "She’s very much a representative of some women of her generation. She's worked at the company since she was 16 and toughened her way up. She’s of the belief that you suck it up and get on with it if you want to be successful, and she relays that onto other people. Sam’s got a hard shell but she's not callous. She doesn't know any other way. Her work is her life. She's complex, like we all are."

What kind of boss is she?

MP: "I think because she's a woman in that position people expect more from her. Like she says, ‘I'm not your mother.’ That’s her way of managing it. There are a lot of people who have got issues within the workplace that - in her mind - shouldn't be her responsibility. She just does what she has to do to protect her family and herself."

Is that why she’s hostile towards Maya?

MP: "Yes, it’s the whole thing of what women have to do to get up the ladder and why more protection isn’t in place. That’s what Maya comes along to try and sort out. Sam and Maya lock horns a lot. Sam can see that Maya is the new guard coming in to make big changes to protect the staff and it's going to start unravelling. Sam can’t handle that, because if the workplace unravels, she unravels."

Is she very different at home?

MP: "Sam loves her kids, Adam and Gemma, but they have a very, I would say, modern relationship! She's not your run-of-the-mill mum, but it doesn't mean she doesn't care. She’s independent and wants her children to be independent. She does encourage them, but she's not always there for them. They have a nanny that she relies on very heavily. But I don't think that makes her a bad mum. She's just trying to do it all, which is really hard for women, whether you're working or not."

Is that something you can relate to?

MP: "I don’t have kids. Hats off, really. I don't know how women do it. It looks like the hardest job in the world to me. I grew up in a single parent family and my mum was brilliant. I don't think I suffered - maybe financially - from not having another person around."

Did you do any special preparation for the role?

MP: "I have a friend of a friend who is a COO [chief operating officer] in a large, famous sports outfitters company who I spoke to. The script felt quite self explanatory so it was tapping into that world and talking to her about how she navigated the office and dealt with the men in the firm. There was a lot of googling going on as well. I had to find out what a COO was and how to say it properly in a Northern accent!"

What challenges did the role present?

MP: "What I learned is I don't know how people work in offices! I was wearing a wig that was like a woolly hat - and heels! I don’t know if I could spend another summer locked in a big glass tower building, but we laughed a lot!"

Have you ever worked in an office?

MP: "No, I did lots of jobs but never an office. 

[Laughing] "I was a lifeguard with Paddy McGuinness at Horwich Leisure Centre. I’m just throwing that in there. He keeps it quiet. I don't know, maybe he's embarrassed by me!"

And finally, the ending is tightly under wraps, but what can you tease?

MP: "As it progresses, Sam realises that past events, which happened to her, correlate with what's happening to other members of the workforce. She believes that she was always in control. Now, whether that’s true or not, we’ll find out. There are incidents in her life that she's not dealt with…"

Who's who in 'Rules of the Game'?

Sam Thompson (Maxine Peake)

Wigging out. Maxine Peake in character as Sam in Rules of the Game.

Wigging out. Maxine Peake in character as Sam in 'Rules of the Game'. (Image credit: BBC)

Chief operating officer at sportswear company Fly Dynamic and single mum to Gemma and Andy, Sam has a dark past that she’d like to keep secret...

Maya Benshaw (Rakhee Thakrar)

In bad company. Rakhee Thakrar as Maya Benshaw in Rules of the Game.

In bad company. Rakhee Thakrar as Maya Benshaw in 'Rules of the Game'.  (Image credit: BBC)

Newly moved from London, the HR director suspects terrible crimes have taken place at her new workplace. Maya’s further shaken when her controlling husband, Luke, tracks her down…

Owen Jenkins (Ben Batt) 

Zoë Tapper and Ben Batt as Vanessa and Owen Jenkins.

Zoë Tapper and Ben Batt as Vanessa and Owen Jenkins. (Image credit: BBC)

The eldest son of Harry, founder of Fly Dynamic, Owen is married to Vanessa (The One star Zoë Tapper), who enjoys the trappings of wealth. Determined to protect the company’s reputation he goes on the charm offensive with Maya…

Gareth Jenkins (Kieran Bew) 

Katherine Pearce and Kieran Bew as Carys and Gareth Jenkins.

Katherine Pearce and Kieran Bew as Carys and Gareth Jenkins. (Image credit: BBC)

Owen’s brother and chief financial officer at the family firm, on the surface he’s a happily married father and husband. But wife Carys (Coronation Street's Katherine Pearce) discovers they have serious problems!

Tess Jones (Callie Cooke)

Callie Cooke as Tess - Fly Dynamic's damaged secret keeper...

Callie Cooke as Tess - Fly Dynamic's damaged secret keeper... (Image credit: BBC)

Traumatised by her friend Amy’s death she feels trapped and embarks on a path of self-destruction, marking her out as a liability by her bosses. Will Tess confide in concerned Maya?

Anita Jenkins (Alison Steadman) 

Mum's the word. Alison Steadman as Anita Jenkins.

Mum's the word. Alison Steadman as Anita Jenkins. (Image credit: BBC)

Harry’s widow is a formidable and domineering matriarch, who pulls the strings, intimidates her family, and keeps a close eye on everything that happens at Fly Dynamics.

DI Eve Preston (Susan Wokoma) 

Truth Seekers star Susan Wokoma seeks the truth in Rules of the Game as DI Eve Preston

Truth Seekers star Susan Wokoma seeks the truth as DI Eve Preston. (Image credit: BBC)

An experienced detective who’s seen her fair share of fatalities and murder, Eve immediately suspects foul play when there’s a death at Fly Dynamic, and takes Sam in for questioning…

Amy Dixon (Amy Leeson)

The ten-year anniversary of employee Amy’s tragic death brings back awful memories for everyone who knew her. Maya and Eve set out to find out why.

The first two episodes of Rules of the Game will air on BBC1 on Tuesday Jan. 11 and Wednesday Jan. 12 at 9pm. The final two episodes air the following week. 

Rules of the Game will also available on BBC iPlayer after transmission.