As the dead girl in new BBC1 drama What Remains, Jessica Gunning shouldn't have much to do. But Tony Basgallop's unnerving new crime drama works in flashback, piecing back together the story of the young woman who nobody noticed was missing for over two years. After Melissa Young is eventually found dead in the attic of the house she shared, DI Len Harper (played by Shameless actor David Threlfall) sets out on a mission to unmask her killer.
RadioTimes.com caught up with Jessica Gunning on set to hear all about extreme loneliness and being made up as a dead body...
Melissa fell through the cracks of society - a woman who nobody noticed was missing until her remains were accidentally discovered. What can you tell us about her?
Melissa’s an interesting character. It’s quite hard to picture what she was like when she was alive, because it’s kind of mysterious that nobody’s been in touch or nobody’s felt the lack of her. So I think it’s important that we see a little bit of sadness in her, but at the same time there’s hope - when she’s alive, obviously - and you can see she has many layers. She’s quite complicated and really nice as well. Not strange or too sad or anything.
Can we draw parallels between her and David's character, Len?
I think that’s why he’s so drawn to Melissa and to her case. There was a really nice scene the other day actually - we did a transition where it was from me to him. It was really nice to see because it shows their parallels - and there’s still a presence of me in the flat and he kind of feels close to my character.
What was it that attracted you to the project?
Even though I’m big, I’ve never played a part that it’s such an issue. I’ve got an issue with my size in it - I’ve not got the best relationship with food in the show - so I thought it would be a challenge to make it not stereotypical and also not just one colour of this person that’s fat and depressed. I thought it would be a nice challenge to show all of her and all of her sides.
Because she’s not found for two years, Melissa is quite lonely figure. What does that say about London and people being cut off from one another?
It made me really think about that because I live in a block of flats. I probably wouldn’t know if something was wrong with the person upstairs, especially in London. I’m from up north and up north everyone knows everyone’s business so to go from there to now where you can go for months without seeing any of your neighbours... It’s very easy I think to be forgotten, and through no fault from anybody. And I think if you’re shy and maybe a little bit insecure and you don’t make an effort to step out of your way and go to a pub or go and join a book group, you can very easily disappear into the background of it.
Did you have to film any scenes as a dead body?
One scene, yes. I had to be made up to look dead - I was in make-up for about four hours. The research on this is amazing. They had a guy come in and show the stages of decomposition. You kind of explode a bit and things seep out. I sent it to my mum as well and she was like “Thanks Jess.” That’s not the kind of thing you want to see...
What Remains begins on Sunday at 9:00pm on BBC1