'Screw' star Nina Sosanya delighted to show 'real' humour and hope inside prisons
Surrounded by walls, bars, locks and criminals in prison, the location of new Channel 4 drama Screw is not your usual workplace.
But the unique nature and mystery of prisons is exactly the reason Killing Eve and Good Omens star Nina Sosanya was so keen to sign up for it.
The London-born actor spent last summer shooting the revolutionary new drama, from The Victim writer Rob Williams, in a newly built Glasgow studio and said she loved taking on the role of a female prison boss inside an all-male prison.
Sosanya and Derry Girls actress Jamie-Lee O’Donnell lead the cast of the new drama which focuses on the lives of the guards and staff of a fictional prison.
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She said: “I didn’t have any kind of experience or knowledge first, second or third hand of this world that coexists alongside every community in the world."
And added: “People don’t just go into these buildings and stop existing, and in fact everything is heightened and the mundane things become much more intense."
As well as focusing on the staff, unlike previous prisoner focused shows like Oz or Orange is the new Black, another element which sets the series apart from most jailhouse shows or films is the humour.
While it’s a serious drama, full of heavy and thrilling storylines, it’s also got great workplace banter and craic.
The show is inspired by writer Rob Williams’ years working as an art teacher inside various prisons across the Midlands, and reflects the spirit and atmosphere he encountered.
It also shows plenty — not all — caring and compassionate guards and an unusually positive outlook on rehabilitation.
Sosanya said: “The drama is really interesting and the humour can be more sudden, more out of nowhere. It’s a whole world that was really fascinating to discover, and it’s important to communicate in an entertaining way.”
She continued: “One of the things I found surprising when we were doing research was their optimism.
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“I feel like some people would not want to make a prison programme or watch a prison programme because they think it would be so utterly depressing and actually, from the people we met anyway, there is an optimism and a compassion.
“I don’t know why I was surprised, it’s just ignorance of not knowing anything about that world. You don’t expect optimism and compassion.”
Writer Williams added: “It’s a world that I know and have wanted to write about for a long time, I’ve always wanted to bring to screen my experience of prison.
“If you speak to people who have been officers and also a few people I know who have been in prison, they talk about that a lot and how when they leave, the thing they miss is the banter, and the closeness that you can’t quite replicate anywhere else.
“What makes it so unique is you can be laughing and joking and slapping each other on the back one minute and the next minute someone’s been smacked in the back of the head for no discernible reason, and they absolutely coexist.”
Sosanya loved getting inside the head of head guard Leigh Henry for the series.
“She’s the queen of the hive, she is very comfortable, this is her space, and she’s owning it.
“She knows she has the power, but she’s not gonna use it. She has a chain with keys to 180 doors and that reflects her power.
“She loves that space, you don’t see someone who can’t wait to get out the door and get home – that’s where she exists and that just gives you a natural authority, it’s like someone walking round their own home. You have the power but you don’t have to show it.”
Screw is on Channel 4, Thursdays, 9pm.
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