This is the ‘Doctor Who’ part from a great and quite lengty interview with Louise Jameson, in which she discusses her feelings about Leela, about acting in general, about the various writers who she feels were best at writing for Leela, and about the time John Nathan-Turner asked her to return to the show for a season.
Q: What were your preparations for Leela? I know you had a story that you watched your dog, or something?
A: Although Leela was uneducated, I didn’t want to make her stupid so I looked around for creatures that were uneducated but intelligent. One was my dog, who’s sadly no longer with us, and one was the little girl who lived upstairs, Sally, highly intelligent but of course hadn’t gone through any education, so there were my role models. I only used little things, like a twist of the head when I heard something, holding the breath, animal instinctive qualities. I also wanted her to not have an accent but to have slightly careful speech, and I took out all the apostrophes so instead of wasn’t, was not, instead of couldn’t, could not, just slightly studied, slightly archaic.
Q: And I know people say Tom Baker was difficult to work with, and he didn’t like Leela at first, but you’ve said you admired his professionalism and the fact that both Tom and you are are top of things, playing it totally straight.
A: It’s a very Stanislavsky approach I have to all my work, be it Shakespeare or Noel Coward or indeed ‘Doctor Who’, it’s something that… what would this character want out of this moment, what is my objective? It’s like life, you always want something. Like I want to talk to you, but there’s an obstacle, perhaps I’m not explaining myself very well so I try to do it very clearly. There’s a very direct desire in everything you do, and Leela’s desire was for knowledge, she was like a sponge, like a piece of blotting paper, she was thirty for knowledge, and I think one of the exciting things, when the writer had that in mind, like Bob Holmes was my favourite, when he had that knowledge that’s what Leela wanted, and that desire was fed into the adventure, that was terrific. When I was just written as ‘an assistant’, when the speeches become interchangeable…
Q: That’s something they often do in ‘Doctor Who’. The motivation for Leela really made sense, she was used to mystical concepts, things weren’t so mind-blowing for her.
A: That’s a lovely scene, where he tries to explain it, takes it away, it’s perspective. I wish there’d been more of that.
Q: Even the bit where you’re playing with the yo-yo is great too. How much of the character did you have input into?
A: Well it depended very much on the director. Because my knowledge of Leela was greater than anyone else’s, usually what I said went. But as an assistant you had to be pretty accommodating, it’s not like you were the driving force, making the decisions.
Q: On shows like ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, people like Michael Dorn have said they had input and they’d be doing things they didn’t think the character would do and they’d not be listened to and they’d give up and let it go.
A: It was a pretty lengthy process if you wanted a line change. You told the director, who told the producer, who’d get the executive producer, who’d phone the writer, who’d phone back…
Q: It wasn’t just the director?
A: Not really. You kind of learned to play the system, so you might go in one day and say ‘I’ve just had a thought about this line’, sidestep the paraphernalia. If it was a request that you thought might be rejected, you just had to be careful who you asked.
Q: Or you might ask for ten different things, and the one thing you wanted the most…
A: I was very emphatic, I really didn’t want to scream.
Q: David Jansen, who starred in ‘The Fugitive’, said ask for everything you can think of, and you’ll get half.
A: Did he? I thought he was a wonderful actor.
Q: Writers from your era like Bob Holmes and Chris Boucher did the best for your character. She had witty comebacks and so on, like in ‘The Robots of Death’ kicking Uvanov. In their stories, there was more focus on the actual character of Leela, someone who just used straight head-on logic.
A: No manipulation, just who she was. I really liked that. I loved being her, and I loved Blanche in ‘Tenko’ and Rosa Di Marco in ‘Eastenders’ for the same reasons.
Q: How did you feel about the way she was written out?
A: It was a way of getting rid of a woman, have her fall in love. I had taken a very deliberate career decision to leave the series, I didn’t want to stay in it too long, and I’d been offered ‘The Merchant of Venice’ at Bristol Old Vic, which was a marvellous opportunity that I grabbed with both hands, with very little experience. I think in retrospect John Nathan-Turner asked me to go back in for a season and I said that I’d go back for maybe two or three stories but I didn’t want to do a whole season, and I think in retrospect that was a mistake.