Collateral star Nicola Walker on her role as a vicar and why now is a great time for women in TV

"I was interested in how you work in that institution as a woman and a liberal thinker"

Nicola Walker, Collateral (BBC, EH)

Nicola Walker is well-versed in playing police officers. She has starred as a copper in Prisoners’ Wives, Babylon, River and Unforgotten, to name a few. But her latest role as a lesbian vicar in new crime drama Collateral sees the actress swapping her badge for a dog collar.

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Collateral revolves around the mystery that unfolds after a pizza delivery man is shot dead in a seemingly random act of violence. It transpires that the victim is a Syrian asylum seeker, which raises questions about whether it was a hate crime.

Written by David Hare, it’s a political thriller which looks at the wider implications that this crime has in numerous strands of society.

Joining Walker’s vicar is Carey Mulligan as the lead detective on the case, Billie Piper as a mother on whose doorstep the shooting happens and John Simm as a Labour MP.

We had a chat with Walker to find out a bit more about her part and why it’s great to be a woman on television today…

What attracted you to Collateral?

I was really excited to get to read a David Hare script. I’d worked with David in 2008 on a play at the National Theatre, Gethsemane, which was about the dark side of party political funding. I really wanted to work with him again.

This script is modern and relevant, but it’s a political thriller. It’s set in a very urban environment but it moves between every single strata of society and takes you right to the very, very top.

What drew you to the role of Jane Oliver?

I was really interested in playing a vicar. I’ve never done that before. It’s only quite recently that as an actress you are able to play one – I think it was in 1994 that women were first ordained in the Church of England.

Jane Oliver is forward-thinking and liberal and I was interested in how you work in that institution as a woman and a liberal thinker.

What was it like working with Carey Mulligan?

My character doesn’t meet Carey’s in the story, but I sat next to her at the read-through. I was about an hour and a half late because of trains in London so that was quite mortifying. Really embarrassing. You walk into the room and there’s this collection of individuals who you’ve watched on television and really respect and you’re the sweating late one.

It was definitely a wish-list job, because it was David Hare, [director] SJ Clarkson who I’d always wanted to work with and John Simm. It was really fantastic to finally get on set with him.

John Simm and Nicola Walker, Collateral (BBC, EH)
John Simm and Nicola Walker, Collateral (BBC)

You’ve been cast as a police officer many times, why do you think that is?

It’s a really great way of getting a dramatic story on camera. A vicar? Very different. Not a part I ever imagined I would play. You couldn’t really get more different to be honest.

What criteria do you have when choosing which roles to take on?

The choice is often about what you choose not to do. Whether you can say to yourself ‘I’m not completely drawn to that’ and put yourself out of work, hoping something will come along that you really click with. That’s the scary bit.

It doesn’t sit well with any actor because we’re wired to think that if you’re fortunate enough to get a job, you take the job.

There’s a discussion at the moment in television about there not being enough interesting roles for women in their 40s, do you feel this has affected you?

I think that the producers I’ve been working with in the last five or six years – Nicola Shindler, Jane Featherstone, Sally Haynes and Laura Mackie – I’ve been incredibly fortunate that those women are interested in making really good dramas that involve great parts for women.

In terms of writers, I’ve been working with Sally Wainwright and Abi Morgan, and there are a lot of female directors I’ve been working with in the last five years as well.

I think that gives one a slight hope that the change is coming, because the culture around us is changing. There are beginning to be more women visible in positions of power, behind the scenes, and that has a trickle down effect.

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Collateral begins on Monday 12th February at 9pm on BBC2