Sanjeev Bhaskar and Sinéad Keenan on new grief-stricken Unforgotten
The leading stars of Unforgotten sit down with Radio Times magazine to talk about navigating new territory in this fifth season.
Replacing her as the new DCI is Sinéad Keenan's Jessica James but the new run doesn't promise the smoothest of starts for the character, as she has to navigate leading a grieving team alongside her own personal drama.
Speaking to Radio Times magazine, Keenan and Sanjeev Bhaskar, who returns as fan-favourite DI Sunny Khan, talk about what viewers can expect from the new episodes, moving forward without Walker's Cassie Stuart and what goes into playing the role of a police detective.
Sanjeev, were you responsible, along with Nicola and show creator Chris Lang, for killing Cassie at the end of season 4?
Sanjeev: "I was not. People say they were shocked; I was shocked four times: when I was told, when I read it, when we shot the scenes and when I watched it. Nicola and Cassie are both iconic, but I was still surprised by the outpouring of grief.
"A few people messaged me on social media saying they would never watch Unforgotten again… 'Why couldn’t Cassie retire [rather than being killed in a car crash]?' Because, I said, life is not like that. Nicola and I still chat every few weeks or send texts. We have this weird thing of sending random emojis. The more ridiculous, the better."
Sinéad, how did you feel about replacing such a character who was so popular?
Sinéad: "I watched season 4 with everyone else. When my agent asked if I’d consider reading the script for season 5, I said, 'No, don’t be ridiculous! Only a fool would follow Nicola Walker!' But I was curious, so I read it and the rest is history."
Had your paths crossed before Unforgotten?
Sinéad: "Very briefly, but our characters barely met. Sanjeev sent me a lovely message saying, 'Look, it might be daunting, do you want to Zoom before you meet the team?' I was so nervous that I couldn’t stop talking."
Sanjeev, were you able to offer any help?
Sanjeev: "I was aware that Sinéad was going through what her character, DCI Jessica 'Jessie' James, was going through – turning up to work with a team of people who already know each other really well. I’ve been very lucky to mostly work on happy sets – part of which is down to the presence of strong women, from Meera [Syal, Bhaskar’s wife] to Nicola to Sinéad."
This season is, among other things, a meditation on grief.
Sanjeev: "It was really weird when Sunny goes back to Cassie’s grave in the first episode. It was hard enough the first time."
And Jessie comes with her own problems…
Sinéad: "Sunny and his team are making their own painful adjustments to life without Cassie. Then Jessie turns up and you can see them thinking, 'Why aren’t you Cassie?' Plus Jessie’s world implodes minutes before she starts her new job; she intends to make a good impression, but she’s not on point and makes a funny remark that comes out wrong. Let’s just say Jessie doesn’t make it easy for herself."
Does playing a cop in 2023 present its challenges?
Sanjeev: "When I got sent the first few episodes of season 1, I didn’t think I’d be cast. Who was going to cast me as a detective? Mainly because I’d never seen anyone who looks like me playing a detective. And I’m about to play another TV cop, Inspector Singh [for a BritBox series], adapted from Shamini Flint’s books.
"In terms of the real police, I’ve met perfectly nice, reasonable police officers who are aghast at the terrible things that happen within their institution."
How do you research playing a police detective?
Sinéad: "I watched a few episodes of 24 Hours in Police Custody ahead of playing a detective inspector in [BBC One’s] Showtrial. Oh my God, really grim. Why would you want to be a cop? Fair play, we need them, but it wouldn’t be for me.
"This is completely off topic, but when I was doing Little Boy Blue for ITV, I met Detective Superintendent David Kelly [played by Stephen Graham] a few times. He was the first policeman on the scene of Jamie Bulger’s murder. That’s going to leave a mark on someone. No thanks. I’ll just pretend."
Will you be watching Unforgotten go out live?
Sanjeev: "I don’t like watching myself. The beauty of stage is that you don’t have to see yourself doing it. It’s really hard to be objective about something you’re in. But what does set Unforgotten apart from other cop shows I’ve seen, apart from Chris Lang’s writing, is the fact that the cops are unassuming. They don’t see themselves as heroic or tragic. I’ve had messages from detectives saying, 'This is how it should be done. We would have you on our team.'"
Sinéad: "I’m looking forward to watching Sanjeev. He is so good in it. He won’t hear of it, but he’s so contained and compelling. The last scene of the first episode is incredible. Again, it’s all about grief."
What other police dramas do you enjoy?
Sanjeev: "Like everyone else, I love Happy Valley. Sarah Lancashire and I were both in the film Yesterday. There’s a picture of us together that I posted on Instagram with the caption 'Happy Unforgotten Valley'."
Sinéad: "I haven’t even watched all of this season of Unforgotten yet!"
Unforgotten season 5 will air on ITV1 and ITVX on Monday 27th February 2023, and all four previous seasons are currently available to stream on ITVX.