Tag Archives: Vicky McClure

Easy Rider

Anthony Horowitz’s teen super spy Alex Rider is coming to television in an eight-part series drawn from the writer’s hit novel series. DQ went back to school to visit the set.

In a hazy, smoke-filled school corridor, a blond-haired teenager is hurtling down a passageway. Shadows dance on the dimly lit walls as he charges along, his jacket lifting behind him, while a camera positioned on a moving platform captures him in full flight.

It’s not clear what he’s running from – or to – but the arrival on set of a group of ‘agents’ carrying guns suggest this isn’t your average school day. But then, since he was recruited by a shadowy government agency to work as a spy, no day has quite been the same in the life of Alex Rider.

Fifteen years after Anthony Horowitz’s literary character made the leap to the big screen in 2006’s Stormbreaker, Alex Rider will land on the small screen in an eight-part adventure of the same name produced by Eleventh Hour Films (EHF) and Sony Pictures Television (SPT).

Taking its lead from Horowitz’s second Rider novel, Point Blanc, the series sees the teenager learn that his recently deceased uncle, who unbeknown to him was a secret agent, had been surreptitiously training him his whole life to follow in his footsteps.

Anthony Horowitz

Then when clandestine MI6 offshoot The Department calls Alex up, the reluctant spy is sent undercover to the Point Blanc Academy, deep in the French Alps. Here he must uncover the sinister truth behind this exclusive boarding school, which is home to the troubled children of parents who run successful global businesses.

Otto Farrant stars as Rider, with Brenock O’Connor as his best friend Tom. At The Department, Stephen Dillane plays Alan Blunt, while Vicky McClure is his second-in-command, Mrs Jones, and Ace Bhatti is John Crawley.

Unusually, the series has been financed and produced without a commissioning broadcaster, with distributor SPT now shopping the coming-of-age drama worldwide for a 2020 broadcast. Horowitz previously partnered with EHF – where his wife, Jill Green, is CEO – on crime dramas Foyle’s War and New Blood, and exec producer Eve Gutierrez says she had been tracking the availability of his Alex Rider novels for some time.

“The world has changed so much since Stormbreaker that we realised there is now this huge TV landscape opening up and a desire for things that are more ambitious,” Gutierrez explains on the school set where Alex and Tom both attend lessons.

“That coincided with the rights situation clarifying itself and us being able to then start conversations more seriously with Anthony about what we might do with it and how it might evolve for the screen.”

As well as admiring the books’ story of an ordinary person becoming a hero, Gutierrez noted the popularity of series such as Stranger Things, in which children and teenagers are forced into adult situations, and saw an opportunity to bring the young spy to TV.

Whereas the books are predominantly aimed at a young-adult audience, however, writer Guy Burt has endeavoured to broaden Alex Rider’s appeal to viewers beyond that demographic. To emphasise the point that this isn’t a kids’ series, Austrian director Andreas Prochaska (Das Boot) was brought in to lead the show’s visual style alongside second-block director Christopher Smith.

“The books are written very much from Alex’s point of view, while the other characters are very peripheral in his world,” Gutierrez notes.

“So we have opened up all the other characters that exist in his world, particularly the characters who work at The Department, played by Vicky and Stephen, and also Jack, the girl who shares Alex and his uncle’s home and was a nanny when she originally joined them. She’s more a housekeeper to them now and provides a 20-something point of view of the world.”

Otto Farrant (left) and Brenock O’Connor as Alex Rider and his best friend Tom

The intensive six-month shoot began in March 2019 on location in the Romanian mountains, which doubled for the French Alps and the location of the Point Blanc academy.

The site was so remote that cast and crew had to use skidoos to reach the set, while the first few weeks of shooting involved several action-packed stunts, including a sequence from the book where Alex snowboards down the mountain on an ironing board.

“I was seriously intimidated by the prospect of bringing this sequence to life in Romania, a country I’d never shot in before,” admits series producer Matt Chaplin. “This iconic sequence was first up in the entire shoot, the first thing Otto had to do.

“We very quickly identified Romania as the place to do it. They have a film-friendly infrastructure, the right climate and topography, and had the right location to use as the basis for Point Blanc, which we are enhancing with effects.

“Then we set about figuring out how we would get 100 people up to the top of the mountain, shoot safely and then get them down again. The Romanian people we were working with were just brilliant. I’d go back there in a heartbeat.”

Filming then resumed in London for five months, in locations including Bermondsey, Crouch End, the South Bank and the Shard. Hornsey Town Hall was used for interiors of Point Blanc.

To find the right actor to play Alex, the production team embarked on an extensive search across the UK, scouring schools, drama groups and theatre schools. All the leading candidates were seen at least twice by the casting team, with the role open to candidates from anywhere and of any ethnicity. “We even had a girl turn up to the open casting demanding to know why Alex Rider couldn’t be a girl,” says Chaplin. “It’s a valid question.”

Ronke Adekoluejo (right) plays Jack, the Rider family’s housekeeper

Eventually, Farrant (Mrs Wilson, The White Queen) was selected for the role, with the producers convinced he could convey the emotional depth required to take Alex from an ordinary boy to an extraordinary hero across the series.

Speaking during a break in production, Farrant describes a vigorous week filming stunts at the West London school location for the climactic eighth episode. A demanding training regime before shooting started, incorporating running, Tae Kwon-do and Israeli martial art Krav Maga, has kept him in good stead for the gruelling schedule.

“It’s been a real test of endurance,” Farrant admits. “It’s a big job; it’s not something I’ve done before so it’s been really useful to take that [training] experience and put that into the work. I hope that reflects on screen.”

Farrant puts Alex’s literary popularity down to his relatability. “He’s a normal kid – he goes to parties, he has trouble with girls. He’s just a typical teenager,” he says.

“Then you throw in this world of espionage he has to navigate and he’s out of his depth. He really has to dig deep to essentially save the world. That is such a cool and epic story. I don’t think we’re telling a story of someone who has it easy, we’re telling a story of someone who really has to fight to save himself and save his friends.”

Part of Farrant’s task has been the aforementioned emotional journey, as Alex confronts the loss of his uncle, as well as lying to his friends and seeing his two worlds collide. “So you do see the struggle he goes through as a kid, becoming a man throughout all this turmoil,” he continues.

“He has to dig deep to find out who he is and how he fits into this world and the world of spies. He has to readjust throughout the series. That’s why it’s interesting to watch.”

British Olympic snowboarder Billy Morgan doubled for Farrant in some of the iron-boarding scenes, though the actor says he has tried to do as many stunts as the production team would let him. However, insurance practicalities prevented him from later joining Morgan on the slopes.

Farrant was keen to do stunts himself where possible

“I’m happy to do them and I love doing them. It’s a welcome relief from some of the more intense emotional sides of the character,” Farrant explains. “It’s actually quite cathartic doing those stunts. Mostly, I’ve done my own stunts bar some big hits and the snowboarding, because there’s some big hits in the snowboarding. Those guys were insane!”

Meanwhile, Alex’s best friend Tom has been given a beefed-up role in comparison to the books, where he doesn’t feature until further down the line. “There wasn’t a great deal on the page, so one of Guy’s fantastic contributions to this is that Tom is essentially his character,” says Gutierrez. “The relationship between Tom and Alex is one of my favourite things in the show.”

Tom is one of the few people to know about Alex’s double life, providing someone to whom the title character can reveal his worries about his covert activities.

“He’s definitely there to support Alex going through whatever it is he’s going through,” says O’Connor, best known for playing Olly in Game of Thrones. “From a human standpoint, Tom’s best mate loses an uncle very early on in the story. If your best mate at 16 loses his parental guardian, it’s a horrendous trauma, so that’s what Tom’s role is in the early part, to be the support to that, and then there happens to be some spy stuff along the way.”

It’s not all deep and meaningful, however. “For the first couple of episodes, all I do is pop up occasionally, say something sarcastic and then disappear again,” he jokes.

“It’s been such an easy ride for me. It gets messy – you don’t get to be friends with a super spy and get away with it. But I really love Tom, he’s exactly like I was at 16. He thinks he’s cool as hell and really isn’t. Tom’s very relatable to me; there’s very little acting required.”

The other person to learn about Alex’s secret spy games is Jack Starbright, played by Ronke Adekoluejo (Been So Long). Arriving in the UK from the US to study, she becomes a housekeeper in the Rider household, growing up alongside Alex.

Scenes set in the Alps were filmed in the mountains of Romania

In the beginning, Alex lies to Jack about his new role, struggling with the deception that comes with his secret life. She puts their changing relationship down to his growing pains as a teenager, until she learns there’s something bigger behind it.

“Obviously, discovering he’s a spy is a bit much to handle,” Adekoluejo says. “It doesn’t quite make sense. There was a child before and now there’s a spy. She definitely doesn’t approve. It’s a very dangerous profession!”

Keeping her role in the series quiet proved to be her own secret mission, particularly when she began borrowing the novels from her younger brother. But Adekoluejo says his excitement, and that of her younger, female cousins, means she is now even more thrilled to be a part of the show.

“We all have the desire to be the best version of ourselves and to save the day, whether it’s our own day, our family day or the world,” she says of the reasons for title character’s popularity. “So because Alex is so ordinary and very much a representation of us in our day-to-day lives, when you see him go on to become a super spy and save all these people, even though you might not admit it, you think you could do it too.”

With a dozen Alex Rider novels to draw from – the 13th will be published in 2020 – Gutierrez says there’s hope the series can run for several seasons. And as superhero films and series continue to dominate the screen, there’s something refreshing about watching Alex Rider save the world. “It’s so normal,” O’Connor adds.

“He’s just a normal kid in a normal school – and then he fights a supervillain!”


Have you met Mrs Jones?
Best known for starring roles in Shane Meadows’ gritty This is England franchise and Jed Mercurio’s hard-hitting police corruption series Line of Duty, Vicky McClure doesn’t often get to introduce younger members of her family to her work.

Clockwise from left: Vicky McClure in Alex Rider, Mother’s Day, Line of Duty and This is England ’86

So when the opportunity to star in Alex Rider came along, she immediately sought the advice of her 11-year-old nephew.

“I wasn’t familiar with the books, just because I’m not the demographic to have read them. But I asked my nephew and he knew exactly what they were,” McClure tells DQ on set, her hair in rollers ahead of the day’s shoot. “He’s been on a school trip while I’m shooting this where the theme was Alex Rider, so he was a big reason for doing this. I don’t think he’s really ever been able to watch anything I’m in because the majority of what I do is fairly dark. And the success of the books and the writers and the involvement of everyone in it – it seemed really exciting.”

McClure plays Mrs Jones, second-in-command of The Department, the shady organisation that recruits Alex. The actor describes her character as “very headstrong and probably slightly frustrated with certain decisions that get made.” Her relationship with Alex, however, is less business and more personal, with Mrs Jones adopting a nurturing role towards the teen spy.

“She does have this concern for him,” McClure says. “If it was an adult they were putting in that position, I don’t think she’d feel quite the same, but there’s a history there as to why she’s concerned for Alex’s welfare. He’s a child and he’s being put into situations and scenarios that are really dangerous, and part of the reason he’s in those positions is because of her part in The Department. There’s that element of responsibility.”

McClure says she always likes to push her characters’ hairstyles and costumes to the extreme, hence the rollers, so that she can change her appearance between series while remaining believable.

“[Line of Duty’s] Kate Fleming has got quite a distinct look, Lol [in This is England] has quite a distinct look, and it was the same for my character in [fact-based single drama] Mother’s Day,” she explains. “All these different roles I’ve done all have quite distinctive looks, so I’m always up for making sure there’s something to play with. Mrs Jones is very suited so I’m in predominantly in suits, which is fine by me.”

But why does she think Anthony Horowitz’s young hero appeals to so many readers, particularly youngsters? McClure points to the chance to escape reality within the pages of the novels, which also offer adventure, excitement and some humour.

“The scripts and the writing are brilliant – it’s a page-turner – and you could see there’s something we can all play with,” she says. “It doesn’t have to have blood and guts everywhere to make it exciting. It can still be exciting without those elements in it, so it’s quite safe but, in the same breath, there is violence, there are fights. There’s a lot at stake.”

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Acting out

Dominic Savage gives DQ an insight into the making of I Am, a trio of honest, distinctive dramas created and developed alongside the three actresses who star in them – Vicky McClure, Gemma Chan and Samantha Morton.

Sitting in the bar of Bafta’s iconic headquarters in central London, filmmaker Dominic Savage admits screening his work for the first time can be a nervous and stressful affair.

That’s not because he’s worried about whether the audience will like what he has made; his films and series are often challenging and uncomfortable watches about subjects unlikely to be described as entertaining. Instead, he focuses on whether the viewers in the auditorium – or at home – will find an emotional connection to the drama that will provoke them to look at their own lives in a new way.

“It’s not necessarily about ‘like’ because they’re quite challenging watches. They’re hard to like and you’re affected by them,” Savage says, noting the fact there’s rarely any cheering when the credits roll on one of his works. “They’re quite a disturbing, unsettling watch. It’s often very emotional after watching my stuff.

“The power and beauty of TV is that these ideas are connecting with a massive audience and what they should do is move, provoke and challenge and make them think about their life and other people’s lives. That’s the beauty of it.”

Savage is speaking to DQ before a screening of his latest project, three-part anthology I Am for the UK’s Channel 4. It’s a more nerve-shredding occasion than usual for the filmmaker because the drama is particularly personal and poignant for both Savage and the three leading actresses who worked alongside him to develop and create each hour-long film. “They’re very personal for me and the actors, so it’s a big deal because there’s such a lot of us in it,” he notes. “It’s a very different experience.”

Dominic Savage on set for I Am Nicola, which stars Vicky McClure (right)

Each episode is named after its leading character, with Vicky McClure (Line of Duty) starring in I Am Nicola, Samantha Morton (Minority Report, Harlots) in I Am Kirsty and Gemma Chan (Humans) in I Am Hannah. The actors worked with Savage to develop the emotionally raw, thought-provoking and personal stories, with improvised dialogue used during filming that meant the actors and Savage were able to change the direction of the stories as shooting took place.

“It’s a very fragile process. It feels like a process where I know there’s risk involved because you never quite know what it is you’re going to get and how you’re going to get it,” Savage explains. “I don’t just want to create an interesting drama; I want to create something that’s powerful and difficult and that has emotions in it and a degree of originality. You want to feel what you’re doing isn’t repetitive and feel like it has a difference about it. But you don’t want to be too different either. There should be an organic effortlessness and originality. So there is a whole mix of very fragile feelings and sensitivities that goes into making it. It’s just different.”

In the beginning, Savage met each actor with an open mind and a blank page, with the ideas for each film formulating from their conversations. “But we don’t talk about ideas, we talk about life in general,” he says, which would lead to certain themes or topics that Savage would then take away and develop.

Morton and Savage talked very early on about the broad subject matter of women whose circumstances  force them into sex work. “I looked into it and there were elements for me that I felt very disturbed and moved by,” he says. “I thought this was an important thing to do. Then you formulate the story and I kept feeding these ideas back to Sam. That’s how it starts, with a broad territory that I then start to create the story from.”

Similarly, the topic of an emotionally abusive relationship spawned from the writer/director’s talks with McClure. Then once the subject was agreed, the challenge was finding the dramatic points in the story to make it a satisfying drama.

Samantha Morton in I Am Kirsty, which focuses on sex work

Chan’s film is about a woman in her mid-30s who is going through a crisis about what she really wants from her life and ultimately comes to relieve herself from the burden of others’ expectations. She plays Hannah, who is thinking about whether she should be getting married and having children and whether she really wants that kind of future. “It’s a fascinating territory,” Savage says. “A lot of women are finding they don’t necessarily meet someone they want to spend the rest of their life with and have children with. This is one of those women.”

Announced by Channel 4 in October 2018, the project precedes that date by more than a year, when Jay Hunt (now Apple’s European video boss) was still C4’s chief creative officer and was chatting to Savage about his film The Escape, which stars Gemma Arterton as a mother-of-two who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after leaving her husband and children.

Savage told Hunt about the film’s female-centric perspective and how, having completed the feature, he was interested to explore more women-led stories. “I like the ‘collaborativeness’ of it. I like empowerment of the actors in it. I like the fact it’s very distinctive and the way of working is very real and very personal and very powerful and emotional for all of us,” he explains. “It matters to us.”

The next stage was identifying the actors. Savage had previously worked with both McClure and Chan on 2012 BBC miniseries True Love, which similarly employed a semi-improvised style. And while he hadn’t worked with Morton before, Savage hugely admired her as an actor.

Each actor faced an uncompromising task fronting their episode, which was not only deeply personal to them through their involvement in the creative process but placed further demands on them during filming. Savage’s camera movements mean McClure, Morton and Chan are a near-constant presence on screen, often in close-up, to ensure the stories are presented entirely from their perspectives.

Gemma Chan leads I Am Hannah, about a woman who feels uncertain over her future

“You can’t hide,” Savage says of his filmmaking process. “Because you have to be in the moment, you have to be truthful and real, you have to present something of yourself, so there are personal truths that come out. But what’s important is, as you’re making it, you evolve. You’ll do a scene where it then transforms into something else. It’s not just the scene in the script. We know what we’re trying to do but then something else comes from it they didn’t expect and I didn’t expect, and then I say, ‘Let’s do that a bit more.’ There are so many ways in which you can keep going with it, and I love the fact there’s this energy to it.”

The authenticity of the characters is amplified by their surroundings, with Savage keen to film in real locations that married up to the characters’ circumstances. So Morton’s I Am Kirsty was filmed in the home of a real single mother, while McClure’s I Am Nicola was shot in a real couple’s home. “There’s an authenticity of feeling. It’s a real, live place,” Savage notes.

While each film has a very different style and tone, on account of the stories they tell and the unique creative relationships Savage had with each of the actors, the filmmaker says the process behind each instalment was largely the same. “We worked very closely from the word go, kept talking about ideas, having meetings, sending [the stars] the script and getting their feelings about any changes,” he recalls. “But when I write script suggestions, that could just be a starting point or an end point. How we get there, we didn’t know, and that’s exciting.

“I’ve done many a drama that I actually wrote the whole thing. It’s just different. You know what you’re going to get and you don’t change it so much. Sometimes you’ll change a line, but you know what the scene is. What you don’t know is the way in which it will happen, but you know what is intended. With improv, you’re much more open to other things happening and ideas and not really knowing what’s going to happen.”

Savage sums up his experience on I Am – produced by Me + You Productions and co-funded and distributed by Sky Vision – as arguably the most intense and powerful work he has ever done, as each episode focuses on a single character, built on a relationship with a single actor. “Normally it’s a much more shared experience, but all the attention here is on that female character,” he adds. “It’s much more about them. I want to make more like that. I don’t see a problem making every film I make like this, not just with women but men as well. I’d like to do a series of male stories, so stay tuned.”

Vicky McClure and Perry Fitzpatrick in I Am Nicola

With that, Savage heads into the Bafta auditorium for a screening of I Am Nicola, which turns out to be every bit as raw, intense and moving as Savage hoped. McClure’s titular character is stuck in a stale and emotionally abusive relationship with the controlling, untrusting Adam (Perry Fitzpatrick). It’s an affecting, thought-provoking hour of television that sets the mood for the following two films.

Speaking on stage after the screening, McClure admits it’s rare for an actor to have control over the story. “I love improvising anyway; I’ve done it for many years and it’s just a joy because it doesn’t come about very often,” she says. “It’s a subject I really wanted to put on screen because it’s quite simple but, to that person at that time, her life is falling apart. Nothing can make her pain worse. It doesn’t need a murder or an affair or something to make it any worse than it is.”

She says the drama is a mash-up of the collaborators’ feelings about relationships and the mundane. “I love watching that,” the actor says. “I like watching people just taking the shopping out of the boot. I enjoy watching something that feels like I can relate to it, yet it’s building up towards something. If every scene has to have massive purpose, that’s not real, and what we needed to do was make sure everything felt as relatable as it is.”

In a world of television drama where every storyline is more extreme than the last, it is this relatability and authenticity, shining a light on the relationships and circumstances of three ordinary women, that makes I Am stand out.

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Crossing the Line

DQ hears from stars Thandie Newton and Vicky McClure and creator Jed Mercurio as Line of Duty returns for a fourth season.

Guest stars have a habit of getting a raw deal on BBC crime drama Line of Duty. Lennie James, Keeley Hawes and Daniel Mays have all suffered at the hands of creator and showrunner Jed Mercurio, whose series follows police officers under investigation by fictitious anti-corruption team AC-12.

That didn’t put off new cast member Thandie Newton (Westworld), however, who takes centre stage in the fourth season of the nail-biting series.

Newton (pictured above) plays DCI Roz Huntley, whose capture of a serial killer comes under AC-12 scrutiny when forensic co-ordinator Tim Ifield (Jason Watkins) believes there may have been a miscarriage of justice. A married mother-of-two, Huntley will do anything to stop her life unravelling.

Vicky McClure, Martin Compston and Adrian Dunbar return to play the trio at the heart of AC-12. Line of Duty is produced by Cait Collins and executive produced by Mercurio and Simon Heath for World Productions and Stephen Wright for BBC Northern Ireland. Content Media sells the show worldwide.

Jed Mercurio

Newton admits she hadn’t seen Line of Duty before her agent suggested that if she wanted work in British television, “this is the best thing you could ever do.” And after binge-watching season three, she signed on with just a few hints from Mercurio about what might be in store for her character.

“I wanted to be a part of this,” she says. “I’d seen the third season and I had a sense from Jed of what it was going to be about. And also, I must say, I’d never seen Vicky McClure before and I thought she was completely spellbinding. Martin Compston is fantastic and Adrian Dunbar’s a national treasure. Jed just told me the facts, very simply, and that it would be great. I said, ‘Yes, OK, let’s go’ – and I’m so glad I did.”

More specifically, Newton points to the tight balance between real life and fiction that drew her into Mercurio’s world.

“What happens in life, you just can’t believe some of the shit that goes down, some of the crap that people get up to, and you couldn’t put that on television as fiction,” she continues. “You just couldn’t. It would be ridiculous. But Jed just manages to push it further than fiction, to a place where it really feels possible and that ‘possible’ is just nuts. But it’s still in the context of fiction.”

Newton recalls offering Mercurio some advice on how her character might have a low-key dress style with “tracksuit bottoms with high-tops – she’s a working mum. Jed was like, ‘No, that’s not what you’re going to look like. You’re going to wear suits and bad shoes.’ And I just got it. I realised we were going to try to do something terribly, horribly, diabolically real. The truth is Line of Duty just takes you into a place of realism.”

For his part, Mercurio describes hiring Newton as “one of the best casting processes we’ve ever had.” He continues: “We had an initial conversation with the casting director, Kate Rhodes-James, and her name came up. Immediately, it was, ‘Really? Do you think she’d be interested? Do you think she’d do it?’ And she was. Then we had a meeting, Thandie was lovely and so enthusiastic and really obviously not nuts, so great! It was honestly as simple as that.”

(L-R) Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure form anti-corruption unit AC-12

Episode one, which airs on BBC1 this Sunday, opens with DCI Huntley about to crack a long-running case as she edges closer to capturing a serial killer. But viewers soon discover that after coming back to work after a period raising her family, she’s under huge pressure to close the investigation, leading to a decision that could make or break her career.

“Every woman recognises the frustrations here that in every role, every job, every line of work, you have to be twice as good [as men] – and then if you’re black, you have to be twice as good on top of that. So this woman is under a hell of a lot of pressure,” Newton says. “And the audience sees the pressure she’s under, so it allows the viewer to be judge and jury, which I think is fantastic because it’s forcing them to have an opinion about this. There’s sexism, of course there is, but one of the things that’s wonderful about these characters – both Vicky’s and mine – is that we manage to ride those waves and still do a brilliant job.”

McClure, who plays detective sergeant Kate Fleming, says of her role: “Playing undercover every time, I always get found out – so I’ve started to get the idea I’m not very good at it! It makes for great drama, though, so that’s good. People ask whether my character has ever tried to use her womanly ways to stay undercover, but it’s never been that kind of show. There’s definitely moments with the promotion [at the end of season three] and how that may play out, and there’s that competition with Martin [who plays DS Steve Arnott], but also the characters really care about each other, they’re hugely supportive.

“It’s just real life. They both want to get on, they’re both fiercely ambitious. Kate does have a family, she’s not put it to one side, but she’s so passionate about her job and the good it brings to the people and the police that she’s not the main carer for her child. I’ve spoken to Jed a lot about that over the series because it’s a big part in my head for my character. It’s not seen very much, but it means a lot to me to play it.”

Line of Duty has built a reputation for the layers of police process and procedure contained in each episode that other dramas would prefer to rush past. So it’s fitting that season four’s focus falls on the role of forensics in criminal investigations, in terms of both the show’s fondness for minute details and also what Mercurio perceives as changing interpretations of truth and facts in a post-Brexit and Donald Trump world.

Thandie Newton describes co-star McClure’s performance as ‘absolutely spellbinding’

“The scripts were written a couple of years ago and the phenomenon we’re seeing now is probably an extension of things that I think had been creeping in for a long time,” Mercurio says. “There is sometimes a lack of respect for facts and objective reality. A lot of what we’re saying in this is where is objective reality and how do you test it? And the criminal justice system is obviously a very good way of exploring that.

“One of the higher aims of this season is to look at this theme of what is truth, what is objective reality? I feel very fortunate that something that was important to me is becoming important to other people. Over the years I’ve been getting more and more exasperated at the lack of respect for facts, proper research and accuracy in people arriving at an opinion, and being unable to tell the difference between opinion and fact. So that’s just something that, unfortunately for the world, has become a bigger issue now than it was.”

On the subject of the amount of police procedure in Line of Duty, Mercurio says he has to find a balance between authenticity and pace, particularly during the trademark interrogation scenes, which can account for up to 20 minutes of an hour-long episode.

“We’re so accustomed to watching police series that don’t delve into that, and it gives Line of Duty its identity,” the showrunner says. “If you want a firearm, you have to go through a whole process to sign one out. If you want to present a piece of evidence, it has to be logged, identified and presented in the right way. You can’t just bang the table and say, ‘You did it! Confess!’ I kind of got more and more into that. Obviously I’m very grateful to our police advisors for that as well.”

McClure jokes that she calls the show “Lines of Duty” due to the amount of dialogue the actors must remember during those tense interview scenes.

Lennie James (right) starred in the first season of Line of Duty

Newton picks up: “I have a 14-page scene with big chunks of dialogue on every page. Then I’d have a 25-page scene. I felt very old, I thought my memory was failing! It’s so frustrating because you want to be so good. There’s some characters sitting around the table and they’re so fantastically natural and I just want to be as good as them. Then you fluff [your lines] and fuck it all up! Then you come back in like a prizefighter and you do it and get through it and you just feel like the dopest actor in the world! It’s the most challenging but the most rewarding, it really is.

“That one 14-page scene is half an hour, and you’re nervous. It’s anxiety-making but it just adds to the drama and the tension. Apparently Lennie James [who played DCI Gates in season one] was the one who wanted to do them all in one take. Bastard! I’ll call him about that!”

The silences are just as important as the dialogue, however, with pauses specifically scripted to allow the actors the chance to speak with their body language instead of their words.

Mercurio says: “In a drama like Line of Duty, that moment when a character pauses after saying something creates a gap for the audience to think, ‘Did they mean that, or did they mean something else?’ That’s something we work on and a lot of it is in the script. If I put in a gap where someone thinks about something before or after, that’s something I learned a few years ago about how you show a character lying. You give an indication to the actor and you allow them to perform the lie in the most truthful way possible.”

Filming in Belfast since season two, Line of Duty will undergo another move this season when it switches from BBC2 to BBC1, having become the former channel’s best performing drama series ever. With several serial storylines wrapped up at the end of season three, now is also the perfect time for new viewers to join the series.

A fifth season is already confirmed for 2018, and the only question is whether Newton will be back as well. With he actor remaining tight-lipped on potential spoilers, viewers will have to watch to discover her character’s fate.

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