Crossfire: Why the BBC drama was 'incredibly stressful' for star Keeley Hawes

What would you do if, while on a family holiday, the beautiful, sunny resort you are staying in was stormed by a gunman?

Would you fight? Would you freeze in terror? Hide under a sunbed? Grab your children and run?

“We all like to think that we’d be really brave, but I just don’t know – I’m not great in any sort of crisis like that,” says Keeley Hawes, whose character in new BBC drama Crossfire has to make those exact split-second decisions.

“I think when it comes to you, or your family, and the idea of your family in danger … I have no idea. Pure panic.”

Abhi (Anneika Rose), Jo (Keeley Hawes) and Miriam (Josette Simon) in BBC drama Crossfire. Picture: BBC/Dancing Ledge Productions

Crossfire, a nail-biting three-part thriller from the makers of The Responder and The Salisbury Poisonings, sees a luxurious Canary Islands resort turn into hell on earth as gunmen, out for revenge, open fire on the complex.

Hawes plays Jo, a former police officer who stepped away from the job after she had children, who is forced to make instantaneous, life-or-death decisions as her holiday with family and friends becomes a fight for their lives.

“She’s a very messy individual, she seemed very real to me – I could relate to her,” the 46-year-old actor says of Jo.

“I read the script, and I just came away with the feeling that Jo was written so beautifully by Louise, that it was just all there on the page. And the thing that I was left with was questions.

“The script wasn’t a comfortable read, it’s not a comfortable watch. I mean, it’s thrilling, but at its heart it’s about these families and these relationships.

“And Jo is something unusual in that she is a woman at the centre of a story which usually would have had a man.”

Despite being part of thrilling action television programmes such as Bodyguard in the past, Crossfire is the first time Hawes has played the character in the middle of the action.

It was a deliberate choice by writer and creator Louise Doughty to put a woman in the front seat of the series, because, she says, “I think it’s easy for us to think that women are in action things, but when you actually drill down and look at their roles, they’re quite often a relatively passive role within an action thriller”.

“The whole point of Crossfire is that that character is not the passive one being rescued by other people,” Doughty continues.

“She’s not the one cowering in a cupboard, or having things done to her.

“We really wanted to do something different with Crossfire, and it was very important that Jo and Keeley were right at the centre of the action, and the driver of the action as well.”

The action in Crossfire really is “relentless”, its star says, “and that’s what makes it special”.

“It sort of hits a level and it just doesn’t let you off, it doesn’t ease off,” Hawes says, adding the role was “the most physically taxing thing I’ve ever had to do”.

“The constant running in the heat, and the adrenaline … the whole thing was incredibly stressful, as you can probably imagine,” she says.

“The whole thing is heightened emotionally and physically, it was just non-stop, Jo is always on the move.

“Until, of course, we get to episode three, which tonally feels very different, and really interesting I think. It’s that sudden pause and the slowing down.”

Given the fact that incidents like this have happened in real life – for example, in 2015 when a mass shooting at a Tunisian holiday resort left 38 people dead – the writer and creators of Crossfire were very careful to handle the subject sensitively.

“I wanted this to be an entirely fictional story, because I just wouldn’t have been comfortable basing it on a real life event – I would have found that too difficult to do,” Doughty says.

“But obviously I watched a lot of documentaries, I read a lot of survivor accounts, I researched very carefully what has actually happened in these incidents.

“And the thing that I felt really, really passionately about is that this story was going to be from the point of view of the victims.”

Crossfire starts on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday, September 20.

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