Sally Lindsay’s out for revenge in psychological drama Cold Call, in which she plays the unwitting victim of telephone fraudsters who is pushed to increasing extremes in her pursuit of justice.
When the telephone rings in the opening minutes of Channel 5’s psychological drama Cold Call, your stomach immediately weighs heavy with dread, fear and apprehension. June Clarke is already having a bad time, having lost her carer’s job, and that phone call is about to make things much worse.
Because when she answers the call, supposedly from a representative of her bank, it leads her to losing thousands of pounds in a fraudulent cold call scam. The four-part miniseries then follows June, charged up by a bubbling rage, as she attempts to hunt down those responsible and seek her revenge.
What adds fuel to the sickening fire is that this is a crime that could, and does, happen to anyone and everyone, with the reality of how June was conned by the scammers revealed early on in a heartbreaking pullback shot by director Gareth Tunley.
“June is based on a lot of women I know who have literally done the right thing all their life,” star Sally Lindsay tells DQ. “They stick to the law, pay their bills on time, never go overdrawn, love their family, have a sense of social responsibility, try and do their best all the time and still this crap happens to them. Then it’s the rage that fuels her revenge. The overriding thing about this drama is everybody underestimates her because she’s just a carer and that’s where everyone gets it wrong. This is for everyone – it’s one for the little people.”
Over the course of four hours, viewers will see June slowly become stronger and increasingly willing to break the rules. “It’s almost like she’s putting her armour on throughout the drama until the end where she’s this warrior. It’s really interesting to watch,” Lindsay says. “We’ve only got four episodes and there’s so much in this drama, we could have had a three-season Netflix deal!”
Starring opposite Lindsay is Daniel Ryan as Des Grigsby, who went to school with June and then bumps into her at a support group for victims of fraud. Cheated out of thousands of pounds himself, he has devoted his time to tracking down fraudsters ever since and now pushes June to pursue her thoughts of revenge – but is he truly being selfless?
Lindsay thought of Ryan for the part as they played husband and wife in Sky comedy Mount Pleasant for six seasons. He got the call, read the treatment and signed on to the show before reading a script.
He describes Des as a bit of a tech geek and a loner, who becomes obsessed with following the trail of the money he himself lost to fraudsters, which leads him to encourage an initially reluctant June to join his cause.
“We’re not quite sure whether it’s a moral crusade or whether there’s something else going on with him,” Ryan says. “Like all the characters, he’s maybe not what it says on the tin. There are possibly other motives.”
Lindsay likens June and Des’s relationship to that of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, with June playing the role of Shakespeare’s tragic king, pushed by the other to follow a certain path. “She gets engulfed by this idea of revenge that she never thought she would be. Her age and years of not being given a chance and just trying to survive just comes out.”
Best known to British viewers for her roles in Coronation Street and comedies such as Still Open All Hours, Lindsay joined the project from the beginning of its development several years ago. She was given a 30-page treatment by writers Karyn Dogan-Buckland and Mark Buckland that outlined how June was an ‘everywoman’ taken in by a scam that affects people every day.
“I had a cold call the week before the meeting. I didn’t fall for it – I nearly did,” she admits. “It was supposedly from the gas board, threatening fees and legal action and all sorts. What was so fascinating about the show is it is also like an education in the fact we’re hoping to show the viewer how they do it and how not to fall for it.
“The weirdest thing was I didn’t really have to do any research because the minute I started talking about it, everybody had a story – my neighbours, random people I was meeting with. These stories came at me thick and fast. It’s almost like it’s just under the skin of society. Half the population it’s not happened to know about it and feel very vulnerable because they don’t know what to do, while the other half of the population have experienced it and they’re angry and feel June’s rage. So hopefully we’ve got a balance in that way. That’s why I find it so exciting.”
For producer Rebecca Davies, who has worked on series such as Victoria, The Syndicate and Creeped Out, coming from a background of high-end, big-budget drama meant she had to “reset my brain” to the more modest budgets afforded by Channel 5. This meant her early work with the writers involved removing superfluous characters or locations to ensure every penny was used in the most efficient way.
“It was about the story and what’s happening to June,” she explains. “That’s what we used the money for so when we went to locations, we could get the most out of the money and put it on screen. That’s where the money goes – on actors, locations and their design – so we’re not compromising, we’re just clear on how many we’re having and how that would work with the story and how we would shoot it.”
Yet throughout the series, produced by Chalkboard TV and distributed by Kew Media Distribution, the action remains grounded to ensure the drama never becomes overly heightened, always pushing the audience to ask themselves, “What would I do?”
“It’s very centred in reality but it’s still a piece of drama. Hopefully it’s entertainment,” Lindsay says. “I sometimes feel with some dramas, you’re like, ‘Come on, give us a laugh,’ because people are funny. We need to see that other side of characters to make them whole.”
“We didn’t want it to be too heightened and have June running around town murdering people,” Davies continues. “With the brilliant scripts, the actors make it so real but it’s still grounded, even when we’re in the big house in Cheshire and you’re uncovering this underworld behind all the scamming. We try to keep it as real as possible, which is down to the performances, the scripts and our choice of locations. It’s simplicity as well. The decisions we made to keep stripping back really paid dividends as you go through the show.”
Davies joined the production at the same time as director Tunley (The Ghoul, Creeped Out), who worked closely with the writers and DOP Ben Pritchard to shape the script with a visual eye.
“We felt June’s world was going to be quite warm, filmed in handheld but not in a way that was jarring or alienating, just rough around the edges,” he explains. “We wanted to create a nice world that the viewer might recognize – the world of working people, not poverty and misery, just hardworking people living a relatively nice life.”
That would then be shown in contrast to affluent Kirk, the piece’s apparent villain, where classical and tracking shots would capture his world in a colder but more cinematic way.
“There’s always a point of view. It’s not always June’s but she is the heart of it,” Tunley continues. “So we’re always thinking what the scene is like from her vantage point. We’re discovering things for the most part as she discovers them. She’s an interesting character in this because she discovers darker sides to herself that will be quite shocking for the audience and possibly quite divisive. She’s not the straightforward character she seems to be in the first episode. Sally makes you sympathise with the character even when she’s taking ever more extreme choices.”
“Gareth has made a four-hour film noir,” Lindsay says, noting the edge-of-your-seat thrill ride viewers will be taken on as June is pushed into increasingly extreme situations. “The cold call is just the start of her story. It informs the rest of her existence but it’s a very small part of who she is. We in the audience see this literally change in this person – this strength come from seemingly nowhere.”
An associate producer on the series, Lindsay was behind the show’s choice to split filming between Manchester, where June lives, and upmarket Cheshire, the home of Kirk (Paul Higgins). She was also involved in script and casting decisions throughout.
“It was Sally who got it across the line for commission,” Davies says. “The fact it’s so different from the parts she does ordinarily, she’s a brilliant, very natural, instinctive drama actress and she was very collaborative throughout.”
Tunley concurs: “When it came to filming, I knew she was good but she was amazing. She knocked it out of the park every day and was just able to turn on a dime emotionally from scene to scene and within scenes and there was just such amazing nuance in her character and the same goes for the rest of the cast.”
With a seven-week shoot that demands June be in almost every scene, Lindsay was grateful for an extended rehearsal period that meant she and her co-stars were ready and prepared as soon as they arrived on set.
“It wasn’t a party show,” she jokes. “It was great though. What a joy and honour to take this mantle on and be asked to do this. It’s a real career high for me and I just hope I’ve done it justice. The crew were amazing. We worked against the clock but we were given a beautiful few weeks of rehearsal. It was just a joy to do.”
With several versions of the ending committed to film, Lindsay says she didn’t know which one would be chosen until the very last minute but admits: “I think they’ve gone with the right one – the one I wanted. It’s still really bloody interesting that we could do that. It was a living thing. Every day we were working on it. We were very open to shall we try this and that. You felt very alive doing it. It was great, I loved it.”
Ultimately, the power and horror of Cold Call, which debuts on Monday and will be stripped across four nights, is that the catalyst for June’s life to spiral out of control is something that could happen to anyone.
“She’s not targeted because she’s ‘June the carer.’ It’s just because she happens to be distracted on that day and she gives them the money,” Davies says. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a degree or you’re a lawyer or a doctor or work in a care home. It could happen to anybody.”
Tunley adds: “Hopefully it will make people be careful about who we’re letting into our lives. But mainly it’s a drama that goes to some very deep, dark, unexpected places. It’s June’s story but it’s also Des’s story and Kirk’s story – all these characters could have miniseries themselves and it goes into all their psychodramas. In a short run of four episodes, it covers a lot of ground. People will be surprised by how far it goes.”