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Pete pours his heart into new TV role; Pete Postlethwaite tells ANDY WELCH why he's so excited about his latest TV venture in Criminal Justice.

Byline: ANDY WELCH

Thanks to his distinctive name and features, not to mention the hugely successful Dlms to his credit, Pete Postlethwaite is one of Britain's most recognisable actors.

The Warrington-born actor has appeared in a diverse range of movies and there are few people who haven't watched him in at least one.

Whether you saw his turn as Friar Lawrence in Baz Luhrmann's modernday retelling of Romeo and Juliet, as mysterious lawyer Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects, or as Giuseppe Conlon from In The Name Of The Father, the role that won him an Oscar nomination in 1994, Pete Postlethwaite is unforgettable.

His latest part is not destined for the silver screen, but is undoubtedly another star turn in his 30-year career.

Criminal Justice, which begins on Monday June 30 on BBC One, and continues for the following four nights, is an in-depth examination of the British justice system. It follows the case of Ben Coulter, played by Ben Whishaw (star of Perfume, Layer Cake and I'm Not There), from alleged crime to jury's verdict in Crown Court.

The story begins as Ben embarks on a hedonistic night after a chance meeting with a free-spirited young girl. When the girl is later found dead in bed, Ben is the one and only suspect - but he can't remember what happened.

With all the evidence pointing towards a drink-and-drug-fuelled murder, there's little hope for Ben. He's refused bail and gets sent to prison on remand awaiting trial. The naive 21-year-old thinks the jury will believe him if he gets the chance to tell the truth, but his legal team think otherwise and demand he stay silent.

In prison Ben meets Pete's character Hooch, a one-time violent criminal who now mentors his fellow inmates.

When the two become cellmates Hooch becomes Ben's only confidante, offering the newcomer valuable pieces of advice that will ultimately keep him alive.

Hooch is a complicated character and Pete says this was what drew him to the role.

"What's fantastic about Hooch is that he's unpredictable. What you see is not what you get, eventually, and I found that fascinating," he says, hinting that the character's placid nature could be hiding something darker.

"That moral dilemma was unbelievable to play. In a way, it doesn't matter to Hooch whether Ben did the crime or not.

Ben becomes a catalyst for Hooch, Ben is like the final straw on the camel's back.

"Eventually Hooch realises he has to stand up and be counted, because he's hated what he's been doing for the past 20 years."

The 63-year-old, who lives in Shropshire, took little time to accept the role, despite the fact that the Dnal two parts of the piece were still being written.

"Peter Moffat wrote it, and I'd seen some of his work before," Pete says. "I only read parts one, two and three but I just thought 'Blimey, that's good'.

"I said yes straight away. It was a lot like when Mark Herman sent me the script for (1996 British comedy) Brassed Off.

He said he'd leave it with me for a few hours, then ring me to talk about it.

"I suppose he was expecting all sorts of questions, but all I said was 'When do we start?' It's instinctive when something comes in that's so good.

"I think there are going to be a lot of questions raised after this," he adds.

"People will be asking whether Ben did or didn't do it, of course, but there'll also be questions about the criminal justice system. Do people behave like that?

Do barristers and lawyers behave like that? Is that what prisoners are like?

Who's actually running the justice system?

"TV can create a platform for debate better than any other media, and this piece raises all these issues, but it's not pedantic or preachy or saying one thing or another, particularly, it's just how Peter sees it.

"I just knew if we could realise it and get it right, then we would be on to something, and I really think we are."

Pete isn't the only seasoned thespian among the Criminal Justice cast.

Bill Paterson plays Harry Box, the steely detective investigating the case, hardened barrister Alison Slaughter is played by Lindsay Duncan, and David Harewood puts in a menacing turn as Freddy Graham, the intelligent and menacing crime lord who unofficially runs the prison.

Last but not least is Bafta-winning actress Juliet Aubrey, who plays Ben's anguished mum Mary.

"The cast are fantastic," Pete says.

"Young Ben Whishaw is excellent. He really had to work in that lead role, because of course, the whole thing would fall down if he wasn't so good, it would have imploded, but he's just brilliant."

Filming took place in an old Ministry Of Defence facility near Chertsey, Surrey, and the production team built the starklooking prison interior from scratch.

The jail in Criminal Justice had a strong affect on Pete, who, as he portrays a life prisoner in the series, spent all of his six-week filming time on the set, usually just sitting in one of the cells between takes.

"I think I got a little sense of what prison might be like," he says. "You can never truly understand what it's like, of course, but when those doors lock behind you and the lights go out, you can't help but shiver."

This is Pete's first TV work since 2000 when he starred in The Sins, a seven-part exploration of the biblical deadly sins.

Other acclaimed work for the small screen includes Lost For Words, in which he starred alongside Dame Thora Hird.

He maintains his small number of TV projects is not down to any decision on his part, it's just the way things have worked out.

"I don't mind where I work, film, TV or theatre, it's the script that counts and if something knocks you back when you read it, that's what you do," he explains.

"I'd welcome more TV, absolutely, and if casting people associate me with film, then it's foolish on their part.

"I really want to see to see more quality drama on television; it's something of a rarity these days, which is why I think I'm so excited about Criminal Justice. It's a stunning piece of work."

Criminal Justice will be shown on five consecutive nights on BBC One from Monday June 30.

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Pete Postlethwaite as Hooch and Ben Whishaw as Ben Coulter.; Peter Postlethwaite stars in Criminal Justice
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 28, 2008
Words:1081
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