David Threlfall’s starring role in What Remains, BBC1’s creepy new crime drama, is certainly a departure from Frank Gallagher and one he had to make fairly swiftly, finishing Shameless on a Saturday and heading straight into his next job the following Monday. But playing DI Len Harper was a role he didn’t want to pass up as Tony Basgallop’s grisly new drama explores the isolation prevalent in modern-day society.
The four-part series is set inside number 8 Coulthard Street, a city house made up of five flats, one of which belonged to Melissa Young (Jessica Gunning). The only problem is she was murdered in the attic over two years ago and no one’s noticed. Each of the flats’ inhabitants have their own motives for wishing her harm, but who did it? Len Harper is on a mission to find out.
RadioTimes.com caught up with David Threlfall during filming to hear all about the transition from Frank Gallagher, loneliness and why being typecast isn’t his problem. Here’s what he had to say…
What can you tell us about your character, Len?
He’s a man on the lip of retirement from the police force. He’s a detective inspector, a good man, a quiet man. Someone who’s very keen in the electronic age to maintain human contact and make sure other people are aware of making human contact with each other. All the characters in it have got a sense of being what you do when you’re on your own. Whether you retire or whether you’re linked with somebody. It’s about how we look after each other, particularly in a metropolis like London. A year ago [Len’s] wife died and he’s always had a clear, purposeful sense of duty with his job. There’s a great psychology to it all is what I’m trying to say – the underbelly that pins what’s possibly on the surface a whodunit. I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I think the writing is deep and graded and layered. It reflects itself in the quality of the people who attach themselves to it in all departments.
What kind of parallels can be drawn between Len and Melissa?
In the word alone. Being alone.
Len forms a partnership with Vidya (played by Amber Rose Revah) – the pregnant resident of flat number four and one of the first people to discover Melissa’s body. What sort of relationship do they have?
It’s something we’re developing as we’re going. It’s not necessarily always about police procedure and she has time on her own because she’s pregnant and at home and her partner is out of work.
This is your first role since Shameless ended – how much time did you have to prepare for it?
I finished Shameless Saturday night and hit this Monday. Well, actually I hit the hairdressers first. Coky [Giedroyc, the director] and I had met before and talked about it so I had some time to mull that over the last couple of weeks of directing and being in the last episode of Shameless. You make the time, you’re lucky enough to land a job—you’ve got one following from the other, you just have to make that time. That’s just the nature of the beast.
You mentioned the quality of the writing – what else attracted you to the script? The character?
I couldn’t see how I was going to do it. So much these days when you audition for the part, you have to go in fully rounded or at least giving people an idea about what it is you’re going to do. I didn’t really – that was the challenge of it and it’s still a challenge. It’s just putting the jigsaw together as we’re going, so if I seem a little reticent that’s probably what it is. But basically, the antithesis of somebody, say, who lives on a Manchester estate and who’s an alcoholic.
Do you ever worry you’ve been typecast?
David: It’s not my problem – it’s probably somebody else’s perception of me. I hope not. I did a few years of work before I did that. One job lasted the time it did and this job will last me the time it does. I always have that mentality being a working actor, just plodding along doing what I do.
Has being a part of What Remains made you think about communities and how we often stay distant from our neighbours?
I thought about that before anyway. It highlights it or even heightens it. I think it’s the nature of the world we live in, the electronic age, It’s what you hide behind in trying to communicate, or pretending to communicate and not really communicating. I think [Len] represents someone who just cares. Plus I suspect it gives him something to do when he’s retired other than taking up a sport. You’ve got some purpose, whatever it may be. I think all the characters sit in a certain kind of isolation whether they’re paired up, on their own, pretending to be on their own.
Does this feel more like a crime drama than a whodunit?
Absolutely. I think there’s a certain psychology that for me threads all the characters together and the more I’m doing it, the more I’m believing that to be the case. I just feel that there’s this sense of how you ask how isolated we can be as people. The old cliché about how you can be alone in a crowd, that kind of thing. It’s not the run of the mill whodunit. That’s I think what’s drawn a lot of people to it.
Do you think your character could have a future beyond the four-part series?
No, I haven’t thought about that. Let me call my agent…
What Remains begins on Sunday at 9:00pm on BBC1