Oliver Chris plays Captain Nick Medhurst – the bomb disposal team’s Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) and leader, who mixes extreme bravery and intellect with sarcastic humour and woman-chasing antics.
Describe your character in three words…
He is a skilled, professional child.
That’s an interesting combination?
He’s a highly professional expert in rendering safe explosives and ammunition under fire and in extreme circumstances, but he’s also a bit of a womanising, childish corner-cutter. When he’s out in the field you’ll see that he really knows what he’s doing and that he commands huge respect among his team, but when he’s back in the base he’s also trying to chase down the hot female padre, Mary.
The padre? Surely he doesn’t stand a chance with her…
You’ll definitely see Nick go to ridiculous lengths for some sign of hope that she may one day sleep with him! I sincerely hope for Nick and Mary’s sake that they get together because I think they would have an amazing time. I can’t think why I’m rooting for Nick but I definitely am!
Are you similar to Nick?
I definitely find it quite hard to take things seriously most of the time and I like chasing women and drinking single malt whiskey so, as far as I’m concerned, I pretty much am my character. I’m about as Nick as it’s possible to be.
Who did you speak to when you researched the role?
I had face-to-face contact with at least six guys, two of whom were ex-ATOs. One in particular was this incredible guy who has won the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for an act of ridiculous bravery in the field. He would actually rig up all the IEDs and take me through what I needed to do. If you showed me an IED now I’d probably tell you how to defuse it, but I’m certainly not going to do it myself!
When the series was first commissioned it had a fair bit of backlash from viewers who felt the subject matter was too sensitive to make a joke out of – did you have any reservations about being part of it?
No I wasn’t worried at all. I ran towards it. When you read the BBC are making a comedy about people serving in Afghanistan, your mind immediately jumps to the wrong conclusions and you think it’s jokes about fighting and dying but it just isn’t that. It’s a representation of people working in those extreme conditions and the means with which they cope. We have comedies, dramas and comedy dramas about doctors, firemen, nurses and people who work in offices – why are our soldiers denied that recognition? If it sparks debate that’s a brilliant thing and I’m proud to be involved in it.
Because Bluestone 42 presents a different side of army life, doesn’t it?
I think what the writers, Richard Hurst and James Cary, have managed to do is represent that world of ongoing conflict in Afghanistan with such huge respect afor the pressures they’re under, alongside the camaraderie with which they cope with everything. They get by with humour and jokes and bonding with their team-mates. There’s got to be a place for irreverence. It’s really important for people who are not in the armed forces to watch it and realise it’s not just about politics and shooting people and sacrifice – it’s about human beings having a great time and getting by.
But there are serious moments too…
We don’t make jokes about people fighting and dying – what we do is represent the very real danger. Someone gets killed in the opening episode – that’s it for them and that has the weight and seriousness you’d expect. We don’t joke about it. The danger is very real and the only way you can represent it is by showing how serious those moments of contact with the enemy really are.
Stephen Wight plays Lance Corporal Simon Lansley – the sensible grandad of the team, with a fiancée back home and a penchant for wearing slippers.
Did you have any worries about doing a series that creates humour from such a serious life-and-death situation?
Because of the subject matter you would be foolish and disrespectful not to have your concerns. But there was a definite want and will to deal with it in the right way.
What research did you do?
I know someone who’s served in Afghanistan – a friend of a friend – so I asked him. It’s more what they are like as people – they do an exceptional job yet they are quite humble about it. The documentary Our War – I watched that regardless of this job. I also watched various documentaries and movies like Hell and Back, just trying to get a sense of the extraordinary job they do in quite horrible circumstances a lot of the time. With the subject matter you feel more of a responsibility than you usually would to get it right and be respectful.
Simon has a scene pretty early on in the series where he has to kill an enemy fighter – how was it to film that?
When you shoot that guy the one thing that Ian [the director] and I talked about was the honesty of what it would be like. I’ve never killed anyone but you imagine. In that particular scene Simon is doing his job, he’s protecting his team and the unfortunate thing is that he has to kill an enemy – there’s no beating around the bush with that. It’s going to be terrifying for both the group and him but that, essentially, is what he’s been trained to do.
Simon’s old before his time – are there any elements of his character that you can relate to?
Slippers. I love slippers and when he gets sent those slippers in the post there’s nothing wrong with that, apart from the design of them. I do love my slippers. I became more like Simon to the rest of the cast than I wanted to…
He’s the subject of a number of jokes from the team – did you ever feel sorry for him?
It’s the group mentality and the camaraderie. Simon might seem put upon, but I’m always conscious that the guy makes himself the target. And they would all lay down their lives for him and he would do the same for every one of them.
Kelly Adams plays Mary – the unit’s attractive new padre, who swiftly becomes a target for womanising Nick but has a few secrets of her own she’s hiding.
What first attracted you to Bluestone 42?
It doesn’t seem censored and it’s amazing, hilarious characters in an extraordinary situation. And it’s the first thing I’ve seen about people in the army that doesn’t really bang on about the army and the tragedy. It’s not about that – it’s the people in the base and the daft stuff they get up to on a day-to-day basis. And for me, Mary is an amazing character because she’s half counsellor, half vicar, half soldier, and as the story goes on there are a lot of things revealed about her.
Are we going to see Mary eventually cave to Nick’s persistent wooing?
It’s always that will they/won’t they and I’m never quite sure if it works if they do, because where do you go from there? It builds up and builds up from the beginning when she thinks, “No, I know you’re just like every other ATO I’ve ever met” to then switching to, “I quite like him.” But then Nick finds out loads of flaws about her and they grow to like each other more… it’s always on the cards.
Has being on the show changed your opinion of the war in Afghanistan?
My husband laughs because every time there’s anything on the news about Afghanistan I’m like, “Ping!” My knowledge of everything military or Afghan was absolutely zero before – I was completely ignorant about the whole thing – but now I feel I know quite a bit about it.
Do you feel that the series depicts a side of day-to-day army life that we’re not used to seeing?
I spoke to so many people who are serving now, have been serving, military advisors and we had to tone down their sense of humour – you couldn’t put that stuff in there – the jokes they play, the stuff they get up to. And it’s so matter of fact. Liam [Fitzgerald-Finch – one of the show’s military advisors] is a perfect example of doing something absolutely extraordinary for a living but being totally matter of fact about it which is the exact opposite to actors. We make a big deal out of not doing very much!
Jamie Quinn plays Mac – one of the two young Scottish privates who regularly share their vast array of filthy jokes with the team.
The military world was already familiar to you before you played Mac, wasn’t it?
I’ve played soldiers for years and I’ve got mates who are soldiers so obviously I’m friends with their families. Scotland’s got a particularly military background, so it’s always been a world I’ve been immersed in.
Weren’t you worried about making jokes of the serious situation they put themselves in on a daily basis?
I tend not to bog myself down too much with politics. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a political world we live in, but I tend as an actor to just take a job as it comes along and play the character. The creators were doing it for the right reasons as well – they wanted to portray it and do it honestly without sentimentality, so it felt safe in their hands. It seemed like something different that hadn’t really been done before. Military has been portrayed in different genres, drama particularly, but I’d never seen really straight comedy that’s quite modern. And you find that soldiers are really open and want to tell you about it because they’re excited about their world being portrayed.
There is a lot of comedy in the show, but also moments when the mood switches to sudden drama and everything becomes serious – did you enjoy portraying that?
Absolutely. That’s a gift for an actor, having that opportunity to create a three-dimensional character and make them authentic and believable. A lot of soldiers we spoke to chatted about that, how it’s two different extremes: a lot of boredom and then the next minute you’re put into this scene of extreme drama and danger.
Mac and Rocket (your fellow private) are the jokers of the group – did you find yourselves falling into that role even when you weren’t filming?
I’m definitely not as funny as Mac – I wish I was. But it was an in-joke – somebody would do something and you’d say, “That’s like your character, you are your character.” Because you’re so used to acting like that all day, it’s hard not to just carry it into the pub at night.
Gary Carr plays Corporal Christian “Millsy” Mills, Nick’s eager deputy, whose organisation and keenness for training exercises often exasperates his reluctant colleagues.
What was it about Bluestone 42 that appealed to you?
The fact that it was a show about people in the army and their relationships, their personalities, their characters. For the first time I felt like I was seeing human beings – and it was respectful. The writers Richard and James have a lot of respect for people in the army and a lot of sensitivity, but at the same time we’re seeing a really light, positive side because they are in situations that are very serious but they do laugh and joke – that’s what I love about it.
Millsy’s a bit of a super-soldier with his efficient reports and thorough training exercises – are you anything like him in real life?
I like his determination and the way he applies himself and – I don’t want to be arrogant – but I like to apply myself to things and when I’m doing it, I really do it and always stay on it. It’s a bit shallow but sometimes when you read a character, that’s why you fall in love with them – because you recognise something and then you end up liking them.
Poor old Millsy often seems professionally stunted – are we going to see him finally gain the responsibility he craves?
Yeah, kind of. We see different sides of him. I think the comedy with Millsy is he’s so frustrated in his role and position and we see that frustration come out.
Did you enjoy getting a chance to use your comedy and drama skills all in one?
I think the script is really well written in that sense. There’s a serious moment and we mark it and then we move it back into comedy, but not just for the sake of it – that’s actually just how the guys are. There’s a lot of fun and banter. You look forward to the comedy moments when they’re happening, but you also look forward to the dramatic moments when they come.
Katie Lyons plays Corporal Lynda Bird – the team’s Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) operator who competes with the boys by swearing, burping and bantering in her quest to be accepted as one of the lads.
What was your reaction when you first read the script?
I really enjoyed it. I thought it was very funny, gag-heavy, witty.
Was it fun to channel your inner bloke?
I loved that Bird was completely just one of the lads – she isn’t defined in any female way. And the writers have made her better and better. In terms of being a woman in a workplace and trying to be well-regarded and not defined as a woman, I can certainly relate to that. Before we went to film in South Africa I was going down to the gym and wanted to be as physical as possible, so I’m on par with these guys and can fight my own.
Who did you speak to when you were researching the part?
One of the the things about my job is that Electric Counter Measures (ECM) is top secret so it’s really hard to get information about what the character does. But one of the advisors had done that job, so I was able to speak to him. A big question that came up is how we would respond to [the death in the first episode] and speaking to soldiers and getting their opinions on that really informed me. Feeding that back to the group, everyone chipped in and script changes were made as a result.
Did you enjoy the moments when you switched from comedy to sudden drama?
I love that opening combat scene in episode one because you have the banter with Millsy and Bird fighting over the controls and then a bit of boredom, some locals milling around, and then all of a sudden we’re in a war situation. I was watching it thinking, this is really serious – the jeopardy is there – and that’s what is going to make this show great for the viewers. You’ve got this contained high-risk environment with characters who you want to survive.
What can we expect from Bird this series?
Bird gets promoted and it’s really great for her career, but she thinks no one gives a s**t and that’s really awful. She loves her team and you watch them gradually catch on to that and change their attitude towards her. It’s lovely because you see the warmth and that actually they look out for each other. It’s really nice in an episode when you get to play the genuine emotions of your character – it’s not just laughs. You get to see her vulnerable and a bit lost and rejected too.
Scott Hoatson plays Rocket – one of the team’s two young Scottish privates, who shares a close friendship with compatriot Mac but frequently ends up as the butt of his crude jokes.
Describe your character Rocket in three words…
Earnest, banterful and hungry.
Do you share a certain resemblance?
I like to think I’m slightly more up to speed than Rocket!
Did you have any reservations about taking on the part given the sensitivity of the subject matter?
You’re aware it could be sensitive, but it was really well researched and went out of its way to be authentic, which is key. They’d done their homework. And I suppose if you read a military rulebook, it’s not that stuff. It’s all the other stuff – the banter, the stuff you can’t be taught. You need to speak to someone in the army to actually find out about it.
Do you see Bluestone 42 as a show that’s relatable to everybody, not just a military audience?
A lot of the comedic things aren’t necessarily just army stuff. Our friendship could be any old friendship, Nick fancying the Padre, women chatting up guys – so hopefully you don’t have to be in the army to find it funny. But it would be great if they can watch it, find it funny and find it authentic.
Do you have a favourite scene?
There’s a scene when I’m asking Mac about various anatomies and it was a wee gem of a scene – it sums up our relationship. The group scenes were really good fun too. There’s a scene where we’re watching a movie in episode two which was a lot of fun to film because we all got on well and there was a good banter which you could get to grips with because there were five or six of you. There’s a fair few group scenes – they’re little golden nuggets where we were all together and could riff off each other.
Did you all start to resemble your characters when you weren’t filming?
There was no hierarchy as such, but Tony [Gardner] who plays the colonel, he sometimes led the way on a night out and we all followed him!
Bluestone 42 begins tonight at 10pm on BBC3