A 13-hour working day doesn’t sound like much of a break, but for actress and mum-of-two Tamzin Outhwaite, filming the latest series of New Tricks was “more of a rest” than being at home.
“Someone cooks you food and gives you lunch, people make you laugh, and then someone does your make-up, so really I only had to worry about myself,” the former EastEnders star says with a smile.
It’s been a tough year for the 43-year-old, who divorced Miranda actor Tom Ellis in April after seven years of marriage.
On top of the break-up, she’s had to balance looking after her two daughters with Ellis - Florence, six, and two-year-old Marnie Mae - with shooting series 11 of the popular BBC One police drama.
Essex-born Outhwaite was introduced at the end of the last series as DCI Sasha Miller, who heads up the crime-busting team of retired police officers, following the departure of DSI Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman).
In addition to the long working days, she and co-stars Denis Lawson, Dennis Waterman and Nicholas Lyndhurst were also required to film the occasional night-shoot.
“I’ve got a nanny, she lives in now. I wouldn’t be able to do it without her,” says the actress, whose younger daughter was not yet sleeping through the night during filming.
“A builder, who was doing my kitchen, came in at six in the morning and he went, ‘Tam, do you ever sleep?’. I think I got quite used to having a four-hour average.”
It’s easy to draw comparisons between Sasha and Sandra - both are blonde bosses with a no-nonsense approach. But Outhwaite was keen to make the new role her own.
“The key for me was to not watch too many episodes, because I think then you might fill your head with expectations that you don’t need,” she explains.
“When you’re taking over a role in anything, or playing a lovable character in the theatre, to try not to go and see another production of it or watch it on television is always a good thing, I think.”
Besides, DCI Miller and her much-loved predecessor have different styles when it comes to crime-solving - from Sasha’s collaborative approach to her use of technology (“I don’t think they’d even seen anyone using an iPad to look at photos,” Outhwaite notes). And, as evidenced in episode one of the new series, her suggestion that differences are resolved by “hugging it out”.
“At first, they didn’t understand why Sasha was saying, ‘What do you think?’, all the time, and giving them free rein to do what they wanted, as opposed to what Sandra Pullman used to do, which was tell them,” says Outhwaite, who found fame in the late Nineties as businesswoman Mel Owen on EastEnders.
“They feel like they’re a team, and they’re friends as well. She manages to cross into that friend thing, as well as being the boss, which is quite tricky.”
Despite the stellar cast and impressive audience figures - the first episode of series 10 attracted 7.5 million viewers - the show doesn’t receive as much attention as other high-rating programmes.
“You get a push at the beginning when something first comes out, and then it becomes part of the furniture, something that’s always on,” Outhwaite notes.
“I was in a show a long time ago that was constantly being beaten [in the ratings] by a New Tricks repeat. I thought, ‘There’s got to be something in this that has a secret ingredient’. When I really started watching it, it jumps out at you because there’s this camaraderie, as well as the whole police side of things.
“And also, the majority of the public that are watching it probably feel some kind of an affinity towards these people, because they’re not hotshot cops with guns. It’s ordinary people solving stuff.”
Since joining the cast, she’s bumped into plenty of unexpected New Tricks fans near her North London home.
“All the people I didn’t realise watched it - the man in the sweet shop I always see, and the lady in the hairdressers’ was like, ‘You really suit that programme’.”