Vicky McClure on finding authenticity in Trigger Point's Lana: “I enjoy making characters I can relate to"
Rosie Millard talks to Vicky McClure ahead of ITV's Trigger Point starting.
In terms of on-screen tension, television drama probably doesn’t get much tighter than Trigger Point, which is set in the world of the Metropolitan Police Bomb Disposal Squad. Just imagine being called out to a home-made bomb. Your job is to defuse it. You’re holding your “lucky” wire clippers. Your life could go either way; and this isn’t a wartime situation. This is your day job. This is what Trigger Point is all about, and it’s gripping.
“I didn’t know anything about bomb disposal before,” says Vicky McClure, who plays explosives officer Lana 'Wash' Washington in the six-part ITV drama.
“I knew there were people who dealt with bombs, but I had no understanding of their role. It’s a fascinating job, because it seems like nothing to them. There is a calmness to them, which I wanted to take on.”
Her character is a straightforward team leader, casually listening to hardcore grime in her car before masterfully striding forth and coping with various hurdles, including a bomb linked up to a light switch, a possible suicide bomber and a terrified child hidden under a bed. She looks as if she has never done anything else.
Obviously an in-depth study of how explosives officers do their job helped, she says. Apparently they don’t wear their helmets when defusing a bomb because the tiniest nudge from the rim of a hard hat could set it off. It has also given her insight into recent atrocities: the bomb detonated last November outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital, for example.
More like this
“Whenever you see any kind of terrorism so close to home, it sends a ripple of fear into everyone,” says McClure. “What I know now allows me to understand more about the device. Knowing how they are put together. Some of them are made from a jar of nails and other stuff… you wouldn’t think it would make so much damage. It’s very scary.”
It’s a prime role for 38-year-old McClure, who was last seen as DI Kate Fleming in Line of Duty and as spy handler Mrs Jones in teen drama Alex Rider, and not just because she is in every scene and every storyline.
The role combines a streetwise toughness and matter-of-factness that she delivers very smoothly, with great authenticity. There is nothing of the drama queen about McClure, on- or off-screen. This is what might have led Trigger Point executive producer Jed Mercurio, who wrote Line of Duty, to say, “She’s the top of every casting wish list in British TV.”
McClure laughs. “That is incredible and… I don’t know – it’s a funny industry and such a strange world. To hear that from Jed is really flattering. We have been working together for over 10 years and I’m fully aware of his talents. The fact that we’ve been on the journey together is really special. I’m always pinching myself.”
McClure’s present position at the head of every casting wish list in British TV drama is perhaps thanks to her untraditional route in, a route that is perhaps key to how she manages to seem utterly normal and not stagey on screen. Born in Nottingham, she attended free after-school drama classes at the Television Workshop from the age of 11, for 10 years. No special treatment or privileges for McClure; no private school doing Shakespeare, and no RADA, but loads and loads of improv, and company work, everyone bouncing off one another and making it look normal.
Shane Meadows auditioned her at the age of 15 and cast her in his 1999 film A Room for Romeo Brass, but the notion of acting being the day job didn’t happen for another few years until she was cast as Lol in Meadows’s 2006 film This Is England and the subsequent 2010 Channel 4 mini-series This Is England 86, written by Meadows and Jack Thorne. Her performance in that won her both RTS and BAFTA awards for best actress.
On Trigger Point, written by Daniel Brierley, much of her role is improvised. “The people I’m working with know what kind of actor I am. There is a particular scene in which I asked for a whole take being improvised. It might never see the light of day, but it helped me with the character. In Line of Duty, I couldn’t improvise because it was a police procedural, but having that freedom in Trigger Point, allowing you to be able to react, was great. I think sometimes if the writer will allow you to loosen the script, it’s good. It’s tough in terms of continuity, but they were up for it and it’s what we learnt all those years back at the TV Workshop. We didn’t study Shakespeare. We improvised!”
She’s also firm in her praise for co-star Adrian Lester, who plays fellow explosives officer Joel Nutkins. “Adrian Lester, he has done it all, seen it all, he is a pro. And a gentleman and a great laugh. We all had a really great time.”
Viewing Trigger Point, it’s obvious that these years of workshopping paid off; McClure is simply so normal, so believable and so embedded in character that you can’t look away. “I was lucky to have spent 10 years there,” she says. “It wasn’t in London so it was never a first stop on casting directors’ lists. My upbringing made me feel I wasn’t entitled to anything that comes my way, and I had to manage rejection.”
But how did she cope between that first film and This Is England? “I worked in retail. H Samuel, Boots, Dorothy Perkins. Then an office for eight years.” She says it was grounding but also enabling. “You do have to have some funds and that’s why I worked, so I could afford to get to London. I would have to take a day unpaid off work and go to London for auditions.”
She’s resolutely realistic, however, and if it hadn’t worked out for her, McClure says there was no question; she would have done something else. “It’s not about having a back-up plan. It’s about not putting acting on too much of a pedestal. I adore my job, but I adore life and there are a lot of other things out there.”
Loved this Big RT Interview? Check out these…
- Eternals director Chloe Zhao reveals moment she's proudest of in MCU film
- Richard Armitage talks Stay Close, Netflix and his ‘untapped fantasy’
- Mackenzie Crook on the future of Worzel Gummidge and why playing the scarecrow is like “therapy”
She also did the whole series without any make-up. “Yep. And I wore a crop top instead of an actual bra. I didn’t want the character to make a big deal about the way she looks. She is real and human.” Was there any other reason for this? “Well, I do feel a slight sense of responsibility. There is so much pressure on people, especially via social media. I would like to put some kind of message out there, showing people that you don’t really need make-up. I think it’s important to strip things back and be comfortable. I mean, my body isn’t fully toned; people will see the real Vicky, as well as Lana. I’m not hiding anything.”
Authenticity. Realism. This is the way McClure rolls. “I enjoy making characters I can relate to, and which I can bring authenticity to. My favourite way of acting is reacting. So playing around with dialogue is important, making sure it’s authentic; if I’m working with writers who are collaborative they will help me feel it is. Actors are creatives, and artists, with their own methods.”
She also has a life outside acting. And that life isn’t about being an influencer, or spending time on reality shows. Hoorah! “When I’m working and I have my schedule, that’s all I care about. I go into my job and I’m never late, I always learn my lines, I’m a professional actor and work hard. But then the job has to come to an end and I don’t want to miss out. On being with the family, going to the shops or going for a walk.”
She still lives in Nottingham, always has, with her Welsh partner Jonny Owen. “The hardest part of my job is being away from home. I live very close to my mum and dad and sister and nephews. When I’m not working I don’t want to be anywhere other than home.”
She’s currently on location for a new ITV drama, Without Sin, which sees her working with This Is England 86 co-star Johnny Harris. “It’s set in Nottingham, we’re shooting in Nottingham. I’m living the dream.” What, not taking the plunge to live in London or LA? “It’s not about not wanting to make the plunge, we are very happy and this is how it is.”
She’s the chair of Our Dementia Choir, a charity she founded and about which she filmed a documentary in 2020. The choir is still going strong. Does she see herself as a role model? She hopes so. “In terms of inspiring people from a working-class background, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have the same opportunities as everyone else. And that is part of the battle.”
Making it up as she goes along, as it were, has given her enormous confidence to not only depart from the script quite a bit, but also go out there and make sure she gets those starring roles. “I have now got to an age to think that if something is right for me, it will not pass me by,” says Vicky McClure, the woman every British director wants to have starring in their show.