What drew you to the role in Southcliffe?
I wanted to be involved in Southcliffe before I even read the script; the caliber and pedigree of the people involved was so exciting. It’s an amazing combination of people to work with, from Tony Grisoni, who’s an award winning screenwriter to Sean Durkin, a fantastic director. Also the casting director Shaheen [Baig], has worked on so many incredible films and TV shows, and then the production company, Warp Films, who are known for brave, unflinching drama. When I did read the script, it didn't disappoint and I desperately wanted to be involved - which doesn't actually happen too often.
Your scenes, especially in the final episode, are very dark – where do you go to psychologically to do a scene like that?
It’s strange, because I don’t feel as though I have a process as such. I don’t particularly do anything to get me into a ‘place’ to be ready for a scene. It’s more a reaction I guess, created by the words on the page, the cast you are surrounded by, and sometimes a feeling or atmosphere on set. It all contributes and helps me get in the right mindset for emotionally charged scenes like that.
The drama has been likened to real-life events such as the 1987 shooting in Hungerford. Were you at all worried about how people might react to it?
I was more intrigued than worried I think. Part of what drew me to Southcliffe was that it was such challenging material, and I like doing work that creates a reaction - whether positive or negative. The subject matter was always going to cause a bit of controversy, but I think everyone involved knew that it was in safe hands and was going to be dealt with tastefully and delicately. I don't think there was anything exploitative or sensationalist about Southcliffe - which actually made it harder to watch. It was, I think, brutally honest.
Have you paid attention to the reaction from viewers and critics?
Yeah, it is still something that I’m interested in. I know a lot of actors who don't read reviews but curiosity always seems to get the better of me - I think because you invest so much in each job you really want to see if those efforts have paid off. The critical reaction to Southcliffe has been great, as has the public's on the whole. I knew it wasn't going to be to everyone's taste and I knew some would find it heavy going - but I'm really pleased that for the most part people have realised what an astonishing job Sean Durkin has done.
Do you have any experience of living that kind of claustrophobic small-town community?
I've actually lived in cities all of my life; I enjoy the hustle and bustle, so I’ve never really had that small-town country community experience.
There seems to be a trend for dramas set in small towns at the moment. Have you watched Broadchurch or Top of the Lake?
Unfortunately I was away filming 'Monsters' when Broadchurch was on, and I haven't had a chance to catch Top Of The Lake yet either. I really should've seen them both to be honest, because Vicky [McClure] is a good friend of mine, and I’m currently working with Alice Englert [Jane Campion’s daughter] on New Worlds. I heard so many great things about them though - I think it's a really exciting time for television.
Are you a fan of gritty, dark drama?
It's all a question of taste but personally, yes - I think as a viewer and an actor I'm drawn to the darker stuff - but I think that's mainly because they tend to find interesting and original ways to tell a story. And that's the main thing, not morbidity for morbidity's sake. I don't think it's necessarily important for TV to deal with anything, but I do think it's important for drama as a whole to keep searching for bold new approaches to storytelling and ever deeper examinations of the human condition - otherwise the genre becomes pretty stagnant.
What was the atmosphere like on set during filming for Southclife? Was it hard to detach and relax between scenes?
Considering the subject matter was fairly weighty, it was actually a very relaxed shoot. Sean [Durkin]'s approach to film-making is very actor-friendly. Where possible, each scene is done in one shot - which is great for us because you're not re-doing the same scene for hours on end and it keeps everything really fresh.
It can be quite daunting working with a director who's work you really admire, but Sean's a calming presence and puts everyone at ease instantly. Since taking on more challenging material I've realised just how important it is to have a director you can trust - and I think we all trusted Sean implicitly. He knows what he wants, he has good taste, and he won't let you give a bad performance. All of this actually added up to a really fun shoot - even though the work was dark, the mood was light.
How does filming something like Southcliffe compare to Game of Thrones?
They're similar in the sense that they're both great fun to work on, but for very different reasons. Obviously on Game Of Thrones you're part of this vast world, an equally vast cast, telling an incredibly complex, detailed and grandiose story. You're a small but significant cog in a massive machine - and that can actually be quite liberating, in some ways the pressure's off. But then on the other hand you only get to explore your character very gradually... Something like Southcliffe is a much more intense filming experience. You're working with a more compact crew, closely analysing the script, the character, and it's far more focussed on your performance. Which is pretty nerve-wracking to begin with, but massively rewarding by the end. Again, I'm very fortunate to be able to work on such varied productions which all have their own little ways and their own vibe - but are all massively enjoyable.
Your next role in Monsters: Dark Continent looks pretty dark too. Do you fancy something a bit lighter for your next role? A rom-com maybe...?
We'll see! As I said earlier, I think I'm naturally drawn to the heavier material and it was a conscious decision to focus on drama post-'Skins', but you only really have so much control...In truth I've just been very fortunate to get such interesting parts in recent years. I'd love to do something lighter again, but to be honest I'd like to try my hand at all sorts. I'm shooting a period drama at the moment so there's another one off the list...
Southcliffe is available to own on DVD now.