Actor James Nesbitt talks about his tense and emotional new crime drama, Suspect, which you can catch now on Channel 4…
This gritty new series features eight 30-minute episodes, and a stellar cast of James Nesbitt, Joely Richardson, Anne-Marie Duff, Richard E Grant, Antonia Thomas, Niamh Algar, Sam Heughan, Sacha Dhawan and Ben Miller.
When veteran detective, Danny Frater (Nesbitt), turns up at a mortuary for what he thinks is a routine ID check, he makes the most devastating discovery. The deceased young woman is his estranged daughter, Christina. According to pathologist, Jackie Sowden (Joely Richardson), all the evidence points towards suicide.
Danny refuses to accept her findings, and forces Jackie to take him through her forensic examination step-by-step. As their exchange becomes more heated and angry, Danny’s ex-boss, Richard, arrives to defuse the situation, and reluctantly leaves Danny alone for a couple of minutes to say a final goodbye to his daughter. When Danny inadvertently comes across a clue left sitting on the pathologist’s desk, it sets him on an agonising journey into Christina’s dark and complicated life, told through a series of intense exchanges between Danny and those who were closest to her.
Suspect is available on Channel 4 from June 19-22, with two 30-minute episodes each evening.
Q & A with James Nesbitt (Danny Frater, Suspect)
How would you describe your character, Danny?
He’s sort of beaten by life, but also beaten by the decisions he’s made. He’s certainly not a maverick! I’ve played a few of those in my time, but this show doesn’t have that agenda. I didn’t see him as a policeman, but as a person who has made some terrible decisions. His ex-wife Susanna (Anne-Marie Duff) talks about how he has been struggling all his life to see the good in himself, and therefore the good in other people. Danny finally had a way out through happiness with his wife and daughter Christina (Imogen King), but somehow messed it up. He has never really forgiven himself for that and has projected that lack of forgiveness onto his family.
Does he still have a sense of purpose?
I think he’s waiting to finish work. I don’t know if he’s waiting to die, but there’s just such an unhappiness in him. One of the tragedies is that his daughter’s death almost gives him a shot at redemption – it lights the fire in him again as he starts to question how and why she died. They were obviously very close at one time, and we get to see that relationship in his hallucinations. I hope we see the journey of a man who has a touch of Conrad about him, someone who has descended to the worst place he could be. Somehow it takes wading through the worst hell to get to some kind of self-respect or redemption.
Why does he think Christina has been murdered?
Well, the cop in him has switched back on and he’s piecing things together. Even if he’s still a rather unappealing, unattractive, untrustworthy, dangerous, violent character, he still has a brain. For him it’s a question of making sure justice is done, but it’s also about the desperation of a grieving father. When children die, parents will often do anything they can to maintain the presence of a lost one. A lot of it is him saying sorry to her and assuaging his notions of self-loathing and guilt, but also to say: I will not let this go away. If I wasn’t there for you in life, I’ll be there for you in death.
Despite his flaws, he’s obviously a good copper.
Yeah, although he’s treading water at this point. There was someone professional and good and loving in there… someone who prides themselves on doing the right thing.
What made Danny a particular challenge to play?
Apart from learning all the lines, it was about trusting myself and the other actors. I’m not an actor who can plan out their emotions and think: right, I’m going to cry here and shout there. And it was trying not to make Danny too sympathetic. I loved him by the end of it, but I also had that loathing for him that he had himself. The scenes I found most difficult were the ones where the other characters were telling me about their relationship with my daughter, because it made me feel that I didn’t have a relationship with her. This was a job where I could form a relationship with the person I was playing and not be scared by it, but embrace it.
Eight episodes shot in eight weeks, and you’re in every scene. It sounds pretty gruelling…
I’m not a method actor, but the real challenge for me was sustaining Danny, staying in the moment the whole time and being alert to what the other characters were saying to me, because we’re all getting so many different pieces of information and each character has their own agenda. You’re never sure what’s true, because so much is hidden. There wasn’t a lot of rehearsal. The week before the first episode we’d do a read-through and rehearse for a day, then shoot for four days. Then I’d have a couple of days off to learn the next episode, come in and spend a day talking about the script, and then shoot.
It was thrilling, demanding and an affirmation of why I still love the job – an opportunity to show myself what I could do. At the end of it, I was exhausted! But to work with so many great actors and getting each piece of the jigsaw to fit felt pretty special.
How did you enjoy working opposite a different actor in each episode?
Imagine having the opportunity to work with actors like Anne-Marie Duff or Niamh Algar (playing Nicola). Richard (E Grant, playing Harry) was going through a difficult stage in his life as it wasn’t long since he’d lost his wife, but he had one extraordinary speech towards the end of our episode and just nailed it in one take. To work with young Sam (Heughan, playing Ryan) was fantastic and Joely (Richardson, playing Jackie) was a brilliant playing partner. I worked with Sacha (Dhawan, playing Jaisal) and Antonia (Thomas, playing Maia) a long time ago on The Deep, so to see them thriving was wonderful. Anne-Marie had a spare week and came in quite late, and it was a thrill to watch her unlock Susanna’s grief and rage. Niamh has an incredible energy and an extraordinary truth which makes you up your game. Everyone brought such authenticity and preparation and threw themselves at it, which I love.
Was the tight shooting schedule helpful in a way?
It was useful. The calibre of the actors was amazing and they came so prepared. They were also incredibly supportive and protective of me, I think instinctively, because they knew I was taking on a fairly big responsibility. It was a beautifully collaborative experience. And Dries Vos at the helm was just a dream, honest about what he wanted and very trusting in what I would bring.
How would you describe Dries’s creative vision?
He was very interested in the notion of sound, so we’d often use ambient sound, wind and music. He also liked me to watch the monitor after I’d done a scene, which I tend not to do but he was quite insistent. I’d watch a take, then he would play music on headphones to give me an idea of the mood that he wanted to create. That helped me attain a degree of emotional clarity.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the middle of filming season two of Bloodlands for the BBC. Not exactly light relief…