The drama introduces the staff of C Wing in a busy men’s prison, a place that’s bursting at the seams with humour, emotional high stakes and danger for prisoners and officers alike.
Jamie-Lee plays Rose, a 21 year old trainee officer and joins fellow screws Ali (Faraz Ayub - Line of Duty, Bodyguard), Gary (Stephen Wight - I May Destroy You, Manhunt), Don (Ron Donachie - Titanic, Game of Thrones), and Jackie (Laura Checkley- King Gary, Detectorists).
In an interview ahead of the broadcast, Jamie-Lee, who also plays Michelle in Derry Girls, said she wanted to get involved in Screw ‘first and foremost, because of the characters, who were so real and well written.’
“ Rose seemed like a really complex and interesting character and there are a lot of twists and turns to the show. After I’d read the first couple of episodes, I was desperate to find out what happened in episode three, which is always exciting.”
Asked if she found Rose an easy character to relate to, she replied: “In some ways. Our journeys are quite different, but how she handles things and her attitude towards things feels quite familiar. Because of where she comes from, she has these really positive attributes about herself and she’s quite adaptable. I could definitely relate to that.”
Jamie-Lee added that when viewers first meet Rose ‘I don’t think prison is what she’s expecting.’
“I don’t think she’s intimidated by it either, but she builds different relationships with different people, including some people she never would really speak to on the outside – people who remind her of home. There are a lot of interesting dynamics within the prison that allow her to open up a little and express herself in different ways.”
Asked to describe the tone of ‘Screw’ she said ‘there’s quite heavy stuff in there, but they’re trying to keep it as true to life as possible because not everything is doom and gloom – even in dramatic times, there’s some sort of a silver lining.’
“It’s a survival instinct to find the lighter side of things, especially when the reality you’re faced with is quite dark.”
The cast, she added, were ‘fantastic and really funn’ to work with.
“We had really good craic on set because some of the scenes are quite heavy and dramatic, so we kept it light where we could. It ended up feeling a bit like a 9 to 5 where you come into the same place every morning, wearing the same uniform, so we had a routine we got comfortable with. I think we’ve all achieved something really special.”
She added: “Every single time someone walked onto the set for the first time, you could see their jaw drop as they took in the vastness of it. You forget that it’s not a real building because it’s so well made and authentic – even the doors are really heavy. I slammed my finger in one of them on the last scene of the last day, which was pretty painful!”
The producers also in some professional prison officers so the cast could find out what it’s like to work in a prison, and Michelle said they were ‘very honest’ with them.
“Two of the officers we spoke to were women and that was a big surprise, learning how many women work in men’s prisons. Although these were small women, they were obviously really confident and very powerful. It wasn’t the obvious image whenever you think of a prison officer. We learnt some basic techniques about how to defuse a physical situation, and also the respect that they have for the job, the compassion they show for their colleagues and the prisoners. It added a lot of layers for me.”
She added how she would ‘like to think’ she has the skills and tools to do the job.
“I’d like to think I’m just as strong and compassionate.”
The biggest challenge of working on for Jamie-Lee was ‘doing a northern English accent.’
“I tried my best! I really enjoy doing accents and although I was nervous, putting my heart and soul into it, thankfully people on set responded really well.”
Screw is now available to watch on ALL4 and on Channel 4 tonight, Thursday, January 6 at 9pm.