Jack Davenport, who plays the good-looking, unreconstructed Miles, went for seven auditions before he got the role. "It was my first really big role, and the auditions were a very exhaustive process, but because of the quality of scripts I was desperate to do it. It was written like people talk and touched on a lot of contemporary subjects without being patronizing."
Finding the actress to play Anna, a tough flirt with a quick tongue who despises and lusts after Miles, was a real challenge. Daniela Nardini, who had worked primarily in theater, was about to quit acting to take up teaching when she was asked to meet the producers of "This Life."
"Anna was a gift," Nardini explains. "She was so naughty and was always up to some shenanigans." Though she plots courtroom machinations and wears skirts as short as Ally McBeal's, Nardini says that is where the comparison ends. "Anna is much tougher and more of a mess. She is an excessive person, drinks too much, smokes loads of cigarettes and does not look after herself." Anna is also as promiscuous as some of the male characters and struck a nerve with her sexuality. As one British newspaper observed: "Pamela Anderson is but a Kraft cheese slice to the ripe Stilton sensuality of Ms. Nardini."
Anna also swears as much as the other characters, which, like the sex and the drinking, was seen as part of a realistic portrayal of how young people live. Though the BBC did have some standards: "We did have a weekly phone call with someone in the [BBC broadcasting standards department]," recalls Garnett, who said they would debate the frequency of the harshest expletives in each episode. "Sometimes we were told there was rather a high count and asked to reduce it, though it was all very civilized."
32 Episodes Seemed Like Enough
After 32 episodes (long by British series standards) and at the peak of its success, it was Garnett who pulled the plug on the series. "I got bored. It was 32 episodes of a viewer's life and three years of mine and I had other shows playing in my head which I wanted to make."
For actors like Davenport and Nardini, the ending was hard, but both walked away with careers. True to its tone, the denouement of "This Life" is not happy. As Davenport explains: "The way we finished it, all of the characters are deeply unhappy--except one. I think that's very brave of the writers, not to go out on a feel-good note."
* "This Life" can be seen tonight at 7 and midnight on BBC America via some L.A.-area cable systems, DirecTV and Dish Network.