Vinette Robinson on her "fascinating" Six Four character and Boiling Point return
Vinette Robinson chats exclusively to RadioTimes.com about her new role in Six Four, looking for thought-provoking roles and returning to the "big family" unit of Boiling Point.
There's no escaping the fact that when you tune into ITVX's latest crime thriller, Six Four, you're likely to be left slightly confused by the first interactions with Vinette Robinson's character, Michelle O'Neill.
Within the first 10 minutes of the premiere, we see Michelle dash from a heart-wrenching body identification scene to running through the streets of Glasgow, intent on returning back to London and leaving husband Chris (Kevin McKidd) confused in her wake.
It's a hell of a way to start a series, but it's something we laugh about when chatting about Six Four. Robinson says it's an interesting way to introduce her character to audiences, but will obviously leave viewers with questions: "What is she doing? Her daughter's gone missing and she's on a train to London, what is she looking for?"
It's a series that Robinson is "excited for people to see", but what first struck Robinson about the script for the thriller was the fact that it explores those archetypal thriller tropes through a more unconventional route. "It has got all your classic elements of a thriller but you enter it through the lens of a relationship. So, it gives you a more human in," she explains.
"It's not just about all the car chases and all that stuff. All that stuff is there and all the political intrigue, but you enter it through the eyes of this couple. They're a very relatable couple, at that stage of their lives – I really liked that route into it and so hopefully, people will really connect to that as well."
Robinson explains that the thing she liked most about her character Michelle is that when you first meet her, you could be left thinking "her responses are a bit cold or not what you would expect from the traditional 'mom of a missing daughter' role". But she says that in the later half of the series, you'll start to understand "why she is the way she is, and why her responses are the way they are".
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The series follows serving police detective, Chris (McKidd), who is presented with a startling revelation about an unsolved disappearance case of a missing girl, but also has to contend with the fact that his own daughter has gone missing. Michelle takes a more hands-on approach to matters, though, following a trail of clues related to their daughter. It leads her back to London, a place she swore she wouldn't return to because it's the place of the criminal underworld she had previously escaped from as a former undercover officer.
Robinson says that while the news of their daughter going missing is tragic, it also coincides with a "really tricky" time in Michelle and Chris's own relationship, which is something viewers will likely be able to relate to. There are elements of "empty nest syndrome" with the pair, as well as questions of "do they still love each other?" and "is there a path forward for them?", Robinson explains.
"She has to navigate that and through looking for her daughter, a past life – that she has sort of suppressed, moved on from, compartmentalised – has to be dealt with. That was what was interesting about the character for me, someone who's completely shut off a part of their life and what happens when you can't do that anymore, when it comes knocking," Robinsons says.
The actress explains that Michelle's "closed book quality at the beginning" was an interesting line to navigate, but found it a "challenge I wanted to take on". "I'm just so different," Robinson explains. "I'm someone who wears my emotions on my sleeve so to take that out, to reduce that to someone who approaches the world in a much more pragmatic and practical way, was interesting."
Working with Grey's Anatomy star McKidd was also great, with Robinson adding: "We worked really well together but actually, for a lot of it, we're not together at all. It's only in the latter episodes that we come together."
But Robinson says that Six Four was "a very collaborative process in terms of developing Michelle's character", evolving as they were shooting, with Gregory Burke writing as they were going along.
"We formed a really great working relationship early on so that allowed us to then go off and shoot completely separately, and then come back together," she says.
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Speaking about how the thriller differs from other crime dramas, Robinson appreciates the fact that "it's very specific to Scotland". BAFTA Scotland award-winning screenwriter Burke created the series and Robinson says that because Burke is Scottish, you feel the presence of the place strongly in his writing.
"It's got all the political ramifications of Scotland – independence, collectivity and what that does. You have that on a macro level politically and a micro level within their relationships, so they sort of mirror each other," she says.
But the Scottish landscapes especially, Robinson explains, are so particular that they almost become another character in themselves within Six Four. "There's various layers to it, which I think make it different from your average crime drama," Robinson states.
When we chat, Robinson is taking a lunch break from filming anticipated new drama Boiling Point, adapted from the hit 2021 film. Aside from what is already out there in the public realm, details of the upcoming series are being kept firmly under wraps. The new BBC series sees Robinson reprise her role as Carly, who was the sous chef to Stephen Graham's Andy and is a role for which Robinson received vast critical acclaim, as well as the BIFA for Best Supporting Actress.
The series picks up six months after the events of the film and follows Carly in her new position of Head Chef at her own restaurant. When I ask Robinson about how she felt when learning of the details of this new series, she says it's been "so thrilling".
While Carly is a focal point of the new five-parter, Robinson says that she's "the head of an ensemble" and the series is still very much a collective in the same way that the film was. She explains that she was "very much part of that conversation" when developing Carly for the TV series, which she adds was "wonderful".
When speaking about whether she'd expected Boiling Point to be commissioned as a series, Robinson says that it was an idea that was "floating around in the air" but admits: "I think it happened much quicker than everyone thought it might."
There are many things to get excited about in this new production but what's very exciting for Robinson, she says, is to "concentrate on Carly's emotional journey and the psyche of the character". The Boiling Point series will see Carly working alongside many of Andy's original team, beginning to feel the magnitude of responsibility that comes with running her own place.
"It's just really exciting," she says. "How often do you get the opportunity to dive deeper into a character you've already played? And that's for all of us. To develop all those relationships and to work with the team again."
Robinson continues: "It's amazing to be able to flesh it out. You do all your work, your backstory and all of that for a film and you only see a little bit of it. But with this, we're able to expand it more.
"One of the things that people said about the film was that all the characters or the little vignettes that you had, the windows into those characters, you wanted to know more. So we get the opportunity to do that with a TV series."
Returning to work, she explains, means picking up the shorthand the cast and crew had built with one another, and the series also sees some brilliant new cast "who slotted right in". Those of which include BAFTA-winning Help star Cathy Tyson as Robinson's on-screen mother Vivian, newcomer Missy Haysom, Stephen Odubola, Shaun Fagan, Joel MacCormack and Ahmed Malek.
Of course, Robinson is reunited with many of the original movie cast with the likes of Graham, Ray Panthaki, Gary Lamont, Áine Rose Daly, Izuka Hoyle and more reprising their roles. Talking about being reunited on set again, Robinson says: "We were all so excited, it's great. We talk about this job as a family and it really does feel like that.
"Even though we were only together for two weeks in the film and then when it took off, it's such a supportive group of people. It does feel like that, like we've all come back together and that there's this great big family. So we're all just really happy to get stuck into it and to work with each other, crew and cast – all of us."
When reminiscing about the 2021 film, Robinson states it was "a real adrenaline-fuelled process", so much so that the tension is one of the main palpable emotions viewers commented on upon its release. But it was "a really special job", she explains, saying: "I mean, we made it for no money over two weeks and we were all just really excited to be part of the process. Just the joy and the challenge was really up my street, to do a one-take film, where the dialogue was improvised.
"I started out in theatre so it's akin to theatre in some ways. The collective effort and love in that project was just like nothing I've ever known, really. It was really special. I think often what we do is kind of alchemy; you can have loads of brilliant ingredients but sometimes it doesn't hit. But sometimes it does and you don't know why.
"So it was a really, really special job. And then for it to take off and people to receive it the way they did was such a surprise, such a wonderful surprise. Obviously it's led to the TV show so it was completely unexpected, but wonderful."
The process itself, Robinson explains, was unique because it was the first time she, like many others, had ever done a one-take film before. "I just loved it. It was a crazy endeavour because we had such a short time to do it," she says.
But from start to finish, the process for the Boiling Point film was a whirlwind. Robinson explains: "The overall rehearsal period was 10 days, but the front of house staff did five days and then us kitchen staff came in for the second five days. Then, we shot for two nights and that was it. It's not like we had time to get really comfortable in rehearsals. No, we were right on, we were working from our wits.
"What was wonderful about that is you're forced to be present, because you're thinking on your feet, it makes you so sharp. You know, with a play – yes, it's essentially from beginning to end, but you get countless nights, however many nights a month for a run, you get to do it over and over and over again."
She recalls: "We were supposed to have eight takes and because of COVID, we ended up having four. So it's quite unlike anything that I've ever done."
When pressed as to whether the defining one-take style of the film will be replicated in the series, Robinson remains tight-lipped but does laugh about a memory of filming: when the kitchen staff actors flocked to the off-screen fridge to follow the order she'd outlined on her crib sheet, which was handily placed in the fridge.
On reflection, it's staggering to think that all the dialogue in the film was improvised with little more than a bullet point script but that loveable tension in the film was something Robinson didn't think about translating onto the big screen when filming it, until realising that people often said they couldn't take a breath when watching it.
When chatting about these roles, as well as her past appearances in Doctor Who, Sherlock, Black Mirror and countless performances on stage, Robinson says she's always intrigued by different things when selecting her roles. "It's the ideas within a piece, the creative vision of the writer and the director. Sometimes, it's a specific character who, like Michelle, [can explore] that facet of her psyche. That is what I found fascinating," she says.
"The dream is that you're always looking for some material that provokes thought, engagement and an emotional response, that's saying something about where we are in the world. It's always just looking for something that's thought-provoking, interesting and challenging."
As for now, Robinson continues filming Boiling Point and also reveals that she's finished filming the second season of The Lazarus Project, saying: "It was great, again, because it's just like another happy job where everyone really gets on and everyone's really good.
"We've got a brilliant work ethic and Joe [Barton's] scripts – Joe's such a great writer. So it's just really fun to be able to go back and again, expand my role."
Robinson continues: "Originally, I was only supposed to be in one episode of the first series, but then the character grew. Again, I really like the ideas that Joe's exploring about morality and love through this sort of prism of sci-fi, which is quite an unusual genre for me, it's not something I've done a lot of so far.
"He grounds it in relationships, which I think is what makes it so compelling. He takes this high-end genre world, but it's absolutely rooted in relationships. So that's what makes you connect to it. I loved the scripts for that, they're kind of bonkers and mad – there's lots of things going on. So I think people will enjoy the second series."
Six Four starts streaming on Thursday 30th March on ITVX, with all episodes made immediately available. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight
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