7 Questions with... Traces and Breaking Bad star Laura Fraser: 'The edges of human nature intrigue me'

Switching from Albuquerque to Dundee, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul star Laura Fraser joins Molly Windsor and Martin Compston in suspenseful forensic science drama Traces.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 5 January 2021 - 3.20pm
Albi/UKTV Laura Fraser in Alibi drama Traces

Traces is the perfect drama to get your teeth into.

Set in the world of forensic science, it follows the story of Emma Hedges (Molly Windsor) and her search for the truth about the death of her mother.

After taking a job as a lab technician, Emma's new colleagues Sarah Gordon (Laura Fraser) and Kathy Torrence (Jennifer Spence), a new love interest Daniel (Martin Compston) and her own faith in science help her hunt for the killer.

A whodunit, a suspenseful thriller, a love story and an exploration of the power of forensic science: if you didn't watch Traces the first time round on Alibi, it's a must-watch on the BBC this January.

BT TV caught up with Laura Fraser to ask her some burning questions about the series.

1. Do you feel like you've learnt a lot about forensic science on the show?

Laura Fraser in Traces Alibi/UKTV/Red

No, ha-ha. I feel like I know even less. Because now I know a little bit about what I don’t know. Everything I knew came from the telly. Luckily they were very good with helping us research and they sent a few of us to a lab in Preston, mocked up crime scenes, mocked up some burnt remains and they showed us how you can explore and work out how a fire started just from the remnants. 

2. What research did you do for the series?

I read forensics by Val McDermid and All That Remains by Sue Black. And then we had Niamh McDaid, who my character is loosely based on. To have that person available to speak to is great – but only if I knew what questions to ask.

It’s also only useful if I understand the response as well. It’s so interesting, but you need a couple of degrees to understand it all.

3. Viewers love shows around dead bodies like Waking the Dead and Silent Witness – what do you think is the attraction?

Traces on Alibi Alibi/UKTV/Red

I watch a lot of dark dramas and I think it’s quite cathartic. It’s like fairy tales as a kid. Fairy tales always have a dark element and it’s intriguing to explore those edges of human nature. The horrible things that we’re all capable of as humans – but to explore from a safe distance. I also heard an old thing about how people believed you had to engage with evil forces to keep them at bay. I think there’s a subconscious element of that which plays into it as well.

4. What can you tell us about your character Sarah?

Laura Fraser in Traces Alibi/UKTV/Red

She's a professor of forensic chemistry and a fire expert, but she's also the director a Scottish institute for forensic science. She's extremely dedicated, meticulous. And as the series goes on she has quite strong maternal urges towards Emma. She feels responsible for this student and this girl who has had such a tragic life with her mother being murdered. She feels quite connected to her and she becomes a mother figure to her.

She doesn't have a huge amount of emotional life going on outside the college. That all comes from Molly’s character and Martin's character. I thought, oh this will be really easy. I don't have to grieve. I don’t have to be tortured. But in reality it was harder than ever because I had to learn all the science and understand what I was saying. There was no emotional connection between these lines, it was just a challenge of learning scientific speech.

5. What was the biggest challenge on Traces?

Molly Windsor and Martin Compston in Traces Alibi/UKTV/Red

Attempting to grasp what I was saying. And then I would get a basic grasp of it, speaking to the experts and then just forget it all again. I'm really not a practical person so playing someone very practical was quite a struggle.

6. Have you used anything you've learnt in Traces to drop into discussions and show off your new knowledge?

The only thing that I've done is become a little bit obsessed with watching all these videos on YouTube about fires and combustions. I ended up going out and buying these really high-tech smoke alarms for the house. I was suddenly really worried about the amount of fuel sources in our house. My husband had to tell me to calm down. I was like, 'We've got cooking oil! What are we going to do'.

7. Did you know that El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie was coming and was there ever any talk about you making a cameo?

Laura Fraser as Lydia in Better Call Saul Rex/Shutterstock/AMC

I knew they were doing a film. I go to Albuquerque every year to do a few scenes for Better Call Saul and when I was there in July this year, they were talking about this film that was being worked on in secret. My dad kept asking, 'So, are you going to be in the film?’' I said, 'Dad, you know I was doing Better Call Saul and not El Camino'. And then he'd say, 'yeah, but really are you going to be in it?' 'Dad, I'm dead! I'm dead!' 'You might not be dead! You could come back!'. 'No dad, that's not going happen'.

Traces is airing on BBC One on Mondays and Tuesdays at 9pm. All six episodes are available on iPlayer.

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