Cops and rockers

Cops and rockers

By Michael Pickard
June 11, 2024


Lucie Shorthouse is currently starring in two primetime series, but they couldn’t be more different. She discusses becoming a detective for Rebus and returning to the beat of music comedy We Are Lady Parts for its second season.

With the launch of crime drama Rebus and the return of anarchic music comedy We Are Lady Parts, there’s no shortage of Lucie Shorthouse on screens right now.

In Rebus, a reimagining of Ian Rankin’s detective novels about John Rebus, she plays Detective Constable Siobhan Clarke, a newly promoted officer who is paired up with the title character (played by Outlander’s Richard Rankin) as he faces personal and professional crises.

And as band manager Momtaz in We Are Lady Parts, the anarchic Channel 4 and Peacock music comedy, Shorthouse’s character is responsible for guiding the titular Muslim female punk group to glory.

“It’s exciting, [particularly] because they’re both such different roles and different shows as well, tonally,” she tells DQ about having two series airing concurrently. “I’m excited to diversify what I’ve been able to do before, and show a different side maybe, but it’s exciting. It’s almost a bit overwhelming, though.”

The actor’s fledging career has included parts in Line of Duty, Doctors, Cleaning Up, Ten Percent and The Long Shadow, with lead roles in action drama Bulletproof and end-of-the-world comedy Henpocalypse. She has also appeared on stage, most notably in coming-of-age musical Everbody’s Talking About Jamie and its subsequent big-screen adaptation.

“Mainly I have had the opportunity to do comedy, and even in Bulletproof there was a lot of comedy. It’s kind of Bad Boys-esque, so there’s a lot of comedy involved in that,” she notes. But the opportunity to star in a “darker, grittier” crime drama like Rebus was a chance to take up a role where she was trusted not just to rely on her “comedy chops.”

Lucie Shorthouse in comedy series Henpocalypse

“There are some lighter moments in that, and me and Richard were very eager to tease those out because there’s humour as well,” she continues. “In the darkest of times, we always try to seek humour. It’s just human nature. But I was excited to do something that was slightly more still and a bit more solemn.”

The Scottish detective drama, which is now airing in the UK on BBC One, is set in Edinburgh and written by Gregory Burke (Six Four), with Eleventh Hour Films producing. It focuses on Rebus as a younger detective sergeant who is drawn into a violent criminal conflict when his brother crosses the line.

A big fan of crime series, particularly true crime and dramas like Happy Valley and Line of Duty, Shorthouse had long held an ambition to play a TV detective and says it was an “honour” to be cast in a show based on a series of novels with a legacy such as Rankin’s Rebus franchise.

“I remember getting the audition and the first two episodes to read, just for context. I was really tired and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just read like 20 minutes of one,’ and I just blitzed through them,” the actor recalls. “You don’t always get that as an actor. You get given scripts and you think, ‘Oh, God.’ This was a joy to read, and I remember being really annoyed that I didn’t have another episode to carry on.”

Shorthouse was aware of the source material and the high regard in which it is held by fans of the literary detective, and read a few extracts from the novels to better understand the world and the language before her audition. After she got the role, she started to immerse herself in it more, though she recognised the danger of becoming overawed by the 24 Rebus novels.

The actor is now starring alongside Richard Rankin in detective series Rebus

“At a certain point, you have to put them down and trust your instincts because you can be overwhelmed, actually. And the characters evolve so much across the series of books that the version of characters we have within the series might differ from certain portrayals in certain books,” she says. “Since I’ve wrapped, I’ve actually got way more into reading them. But I definitely wanted to appreciate the legacy of them and understand what I was being asked to be a part of. I just drip-fed them to myself so at the end I could binge the books. I’m reading The Falls at the moment.”

As Siobhan is one the main characters in the novels, Shorthouse would have not been lacking in preparation material had she wanted to delve further into them. Viewers also get to meet her early on, with Siobhan and Rebus partnering up in the first episode of the six-part series.

“She’s a young upstart. She’s not from Scotland, so she’s got that barrier, not being native, and also being a woman in what’s still a very male-dominated profession,” she says of her character, who has quickly risen through the policing ranks thanks to an ‘accelerated leadership pathway.’ “People like Rebus would certainly think she’s not quite earned her place, that she’s had it the easy way. She’s definitely got to earn the respect of her colleagues.

“Paired with Rebus, she’s a lot more by the book and toes the line, and he’s a lot more outlandish in his ways, so there’s definitely a balance they have to achieve. But I think they complement each other well.”

The new partners certainly clash through the series, with Siobhan refusing to be intimidated by Rebus as the job threatens to consume them both. She also becomes close to another colleague, bringing her judgement into question.

“It’s just understanding where she fits in her job and her life at that moment, and how she navigates them both,” she says. “She finds her groove by the end. But obviously she has to go through all the hurdles first, because otherwise it’s not entertaining, is it?”

Shorthouse can also currently be seen in Channel 4’s We Are Lady Parts

As a fan of the genre, Shorthouse is well placed to explain why Rebus stands out among the plethora of other detective shows. She points to the series’ observations about the ongoing, real-world cost-of-living crisis, and a storyline about the way veterans are treated in the UK.

“It felt very current and urgent in terms of the circumstances that many families are finding themselves in, on the breadline, including people who have come from the military – but you don’t have to be part of the forces to have fallen victim to this crisis,” she says. “There’s so much neglect that it’s caused people to almost run out of options and choices, and then they have to go into that world of crime. It just felt very urgent in terms of the world we’re living in today.”

Starring in Rebus gave Shorthouse the chance to return to Edinburgh, where she once performed during the city’s famous Fringe Festival. It also gave her the opportunity to develop her stage combat skills as she rehearsed for a particular fight scene involving her character.

“It’s this bloody epic in a hospital and it’s all action, all go. It was Richard and this other lad there, and they were suggesting things they could do in the fight, and I haven’t got a clue. I can’t fight; I was there just going, ‘What do you need me to do?’” she says. “I just find it really challenging. There are some absolutely kick-ass women who would absolutely smash that action scene, and it’s just not in my DNA. That was a tough day.”

No sooner had filming for Rebus wrapped last July than Shorthouse was gearing up to shoot the second season of We Are Lady Parts, which landed on Channel 4 and Peacock at the end of May.

The story picks up after the titular group’s first UK tour, only to find a rival band is threatening their progress as they begin recording their first album. Meanwhile, questions arise about whether Shorthouse’s character Momtaz is the right person to lead them to stardom.

In Lady Parts, Shorthouse plays band manager Momtaz, who wears the niqab

Despite S2 coming along three years after season one aired, any worries about getting the team back together evaporated as soon as Shorthouse was reunited with series creator, writer and director Nida Manzoor and her co-stars Anjana Vasan (lead guitarist Amina), Sarah Kameela Impey (singer and guitarist Saira), Juliette Motamed (drummer Ayesha) and Faith Omole (bass player Bisma).

“You’re different people after three years and you think, ‘Can I still remember that armour I put on as this character?’ But as soon as we were all together, it just came back,” she says. That they connect daily on the Lady Parts group chat also meant they hadn’t lost the relationships that helped to make the show’s debut one of the best series of 2021.

“If anything, I feel like our chemistry has built so much since season one because we’ve just been brought so much closer through life, so we didn’t fake any of that,” the actor continues. “We almost have to calm it down. We’re all a bit feral on set. We do have rehearsals, and the band has their instrument rehearsals. People maybe think it’s a lot of TV magic going on and they’re not all playing all that stuff, but they’re playing their stuff. Once I’ve rehearsed, getting to watch them is just lovely.”

While music brings the five friends together, they are also aligned in their faith, though they follow their Islamic beliefs in different ways. For Momtaz, that is most visible in her decision to wear the niqab, a long garment that leaves only the eyes of the wearer visible.

It means Shorthouse becomes more “theatrical” as Momtaz in order to better dramatise the character’s thoughts and emotions through movement. “But then it’s so much better for the story if I never show my face, because Momtaz doesn’t owe the world her face,” the actor explains.

“There was talk about in season two, her potentially revealing her face in a scene. It was actually written in the script, but it wasn’t a massive reveal. I was coming home and I was going to take it off, but I was just like, ‘We don’t need to do a take where that happens. It doesn’t need it. We don’t need that to fit the story.’ We’d be doing that more I feel for my vanity as an actor, and I don’t need that. If someone needs to see my face, they can Google me.

The show’s second season debuted at the end of last month

“But it was definitely an adjustment because obviously I don’t wear a niqab in everyday life and I have a very Western lens. That’s just my world, so there was that sense of, particularly in season one, a real adjustment getting used to feeling less visible and realising what that meant for me as a person as well.”

That Bafta-winning costume designer PC Williams returned for season two also helped Shorthouse get back into character. “The costumes this season are so creative and sharp; they’re so good. I was so excited to put on these garments,” she adds. “They showed more of Momtaz’s character and what her life is like. I felt like I had less of a job to do as an actor because I felt like so much more was being helped with the garments.”

Momtaz is best described as Lady Parts’ wheeler-dealer manager who, in season two, is trying to find the band some more high-profile – and better paid – gigs, with the group resorting to playing weddings to raise money to make their album.

“But they’re still a very marginalised musical group, and as a manager, she’s a marginalised figure. How many managers wear a niqab?” Shorthouse says. “So she’s definitely dealing with those barriers and those no’s, and trying to protect the band from them as well. This season, there’s a sense of what’s best for the group and what’s best for Momtaz, and maybe those things don’t align anymore.”

Though We Are Lady Parts concludes with a satisfying ending, there’s every chance it and Rebus could both return to screens in the future. For now, however, Shorthouse just wants to continue to follow the path that has led to her starring in two very different series airing at the same time. “Every role has been different and every role has challenged me in a different way,” she says. “I just want to just keep learning and stretching myself.”

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