Spiral: meet the stylish star of BBC4’s grimy French cop drama

Caroline Proust plays tough police captain Laure Berthaud - and shares her fiery nature

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Caroline Proust bounces into a trendy Paris hotel and drops her bicycle helmet onto a table in a quiet spot, revealing the messiest hairstyle on television. Wearing jeans and a black down jacket, the French actress seems to have arrived in character as police detective Laure Berthaud.

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She’s in a buoyant mood, having achieved recognition and a certain kind of fame thanks to the hit police drama Spiral (in France it’s called Engrenages). Not the kind where she has to wear sunglasses around town, pursued by paparazzi. But the kind where people come up to her to say how much they enjoy Spiral, which returns for a fifth series on Saturday.

The British are the show’s biggest fans, she says. She was in Cambridge once and asked directions from a man withdrawing cash from an ATM. As he was walking away, he turned back and exclaimed, “It’s you! I can’t believe it!” She laughs at the memory.

Proust is grateful for the recognition. She’s opened a Facebook account so she can connect with her fans in the 70 countries where Spiral is shown. The latest season has had rave reviews in France. “The British keep asking when it’s coming back. It’s very flattering,” she says.

After a two-year pause, season five opens as though the previous season had only just ended. In its final moments, Samy, Berthaud’s detective lover, was killed by a bomb at police HQ. His colleagues’ grief, and how they subsequently mesh together with the lawyers and magistrates in the show – one of the English meanings of engrenage is “mesh” – is a feature of the new series, which focuses as usual on a single crime.

Chief Inspector Berthaud and her team, known for their casual attitude towards the law, will be seen in a different light. It’s clear from the outset that this time it’s personal: Berthaud is pregnant and doesn’t know whether the father was the late Samy or is crime squad boss Vincent Brémont. Berthaud’s freewheeling sex life provoked much comment in earlier seasons. 

Proust says that having two lovers at the same time shows that “even in love she’s like a man, it’s her profession. The men and women are equal, so there’s no problem with being up front about saying, ‘I want to have sex with you.’”

But, “Samy broke her heart.” He left the squad in season two “and she got together with Brémont to recover. It wasn’t a real love story. Samy was more of a passion, so now she’s in mourning for him.”

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Proust is often asked if she resembles the character. She admits to sharing Berthaud’s passionate nature, but the comparison ends there. “My boyfriend says I’m not like her at all. I’m not her, I’m not a cop. I’m an actress.”