Ashley Walters on BBC crime drama series Cuffs


Ashley Walters has the lead role of PC Ryan Draper in the BBC’s new crime drama series Cuffs, which starts this week on BBC-1. Here Ashley talks about the series and why filming in Brighton was so nostalgic for him.

‘Cuffs’ is a police drama: It’s action packed, dealing with the lives of a police response team. It’s set in Brighton. It’s about what the characters have to deal with at work, and what they deal with within their own personal lives. I think a lot of people forget that police officers are human beings, and they have lives; they make mistakes, they’ve got kids, they’re married. They’ve got stuff to deal with other than criminals every day. I think there’s a lot of pressure on the police being role models, and protecting people.

What attracted me to the project? I love to work. I love acting. I love challenging myself, and playing a police officer for me would be a challenge because it’s completely outside of what I know. For everyone that has supported me in my career so far, it’s something that they wouldn’t expect me to do. As an actor, if you want to keep your career going you have to keep on reinventing yourself. This was a huge chance for me to do that. It’s an amazing show. Reading the first script, it jumped off the page. It was something that I definitely wanted to be involved in.

I’d say Cuffs is different to other cop shows that have been on before, because it deals with both sides of the fence – Police officers dealing with criminals in their everyday jobs, but at the same time, how their personal lives affect how they do their jobs. Cuffs helps the audience understand that these people are human beings. They’re not just robots that go out there, catch criminals and put them in jail. They also have personal lives, and their personal lives affect how they are on a day to day basis, and how they deal with their jobs.

The character I play in Cuffs is a guy called Ryan Draper. He’s a single dad, a father of two. He’s got a daughter and a son. He has an army background, and he’s a very regimented guy. He’s very focused, very above board. He tries to do everything by the book. Anyone that puts so much energy into that sort of lifestyle has some cracks somewhere. Gradually over the series you get to understand what those cracks are, and what makes him tick. He’s one of those guys that finds it really hard to have fun, and to let himself go. Through meeting Jake, played by Jacob, he has to open up eventually because he’s put through some situations that I don’t think he’d usually find himself in.

This character is different to other characters I’ve played in the past. I’ve had the chance to playing some really cool, diverse characters, but mainly found myself playing a gangster or the bad boy. Being so above board with Ryan and sticking to the book all the time has been quite difficult for me, and very different. It’s something that I’m not used to. It’s been difficult at times staying on one side of the fence, and not having that freedom to be a bit more risky with him. But it’s been enjoyable, having to maintain it and be sensible.

The relationship between Ryan and Jake is not a weird one. Ryan is the police officer whom every new police officer that comes into the force goes under his wing for a certain period of time. He trains them when it comes to protocol, and what they should be doing. When he meets Jake, he meets someone that is quite laid back. Jake has come from a background of being quite privileged, and not having to have worked as hard as Ryan did. He resents that initially, but eventually finds that he’s a good person. As much as he wants to hate him for how fast he’s come through the system because of who his dad is, he has to respect him for his honour, his loyalty and how he gets the job done.

Having had a music career, and acting at the same time, I get asked a lot to pick the one that I love the most. I love them both for different reasons. I think they go hand in hand in a strange way. A lot of people won’t understand, but the reality is when I was doing music I was playing a character. I was acting. I wasn’t the person that people thought I was when they were watching my music videos, or listening to my music. It’s definitely similar to what I do when it comes to being in TV shows or film. On the other hand, I think that there’s much more longevity in acting. You can reinvent yourself a lot more in acting. A music career is quite short lived. You have your moment, and things move on. Music changes and people become more popular than you were. Acting is a job that I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I love the process. I love being involved in teamwork. A lot of people never get to see that behind the camera. There’s so many different departments that make you look good, and make the whole show look good. Being able to work together as a team is a rewarding factor, and something that I enjoy.

I love working in Brighton. I’ve always had a relationship with Brighton. It’s always been a place that my mum took me, at least twice a year when I was younger, and definitely always in the summer. I’ve carried on that tradition. I always bring my kids here every summer. To have the opportunity to work here has been brilliant. The weirdest thing about it for me has been how people have reacted to us being here. In London when you’re filming, you get a lot of stick for filming because people are so used to it. You spend a lot of your time getting kicked out of locations, or people telling you to leave. In Brighton, we’re being embraced in a way that I haven’t really experienced before.

There are a lot of tourists that come here on a yearly basis, but it seems untouched, and there’s a lot to explore here. When we’re not filming there’s so much for us to do, so everyday we’re like, ‘ah we’re going to do that, and we should do this, and we should do whatever’. We never really get the time to because we work so much, but I love it. When the sun comes up, it’s ten times more amazing than it already is. Big up to Brighton!

I don’t know whether I’ve had one specific scene that I’ve loved over others, but I’d say that I’m enjoying the action. Between me and Jacob, I’m the only one that gets to drive the police car. As soon as I get in that police car and I’m allowed to floor it, it becomes a completely different world to me. I feel like a kid with a new toy. When it gets to the action – to the full force of playing that policeman who is out to get his criminal, it becomes a bit of a game. You forget about the acting and just enjoy the fun of it all. When it comes to the chase scenes, being in the pod car that’s driven by a guy on the roof but you’re pretending to drive, and watching Ben Essex (stunt driver) pretend to be me, that’s when the fun starts.

Working with Jacob has been amazing. When he came into the room for a ‘chemistry read’ when we were casting, he had this iconic look. I don’t know who, but he looked like someone I already knew. For his age, he’s very mature, so he took to this whole thing like it was water off a duck’s back. It was amazing to see. He’s a very natural actor. I’d go as far to say he could be the white Ashley Walters! He’s fun to work with. I’m constantly in stitches working with this guy. I think we’ve bonded, which has been brilliant for the show. He’s amazing at what he does, and inspires me. He helps me to remember what I got into this whole thing for, and helps me to step up my game. He has rawness to his talent, which I hope he never loses.

There are a lot of scenes that I don’t talk in, and a lot the other characters don’t talk in, but you’re still heavily involved in what’s actually going on. I think that sums up how Julie Gearey does her thing. Cuffs is very action packed, it’s very quick, it’s very snippet like. There’s not a lot of hanging about or wasting time trying to explain what’s happening. It’s about the acting, it’s about the characters. It’s about us living the part. Julie gives you the freedom to do that. I’ve been trying to work with her for ages. I think there’s a few other things back in the day that I went up for of hers, that I wasn’t good enough for at the time. I’m privileged to be involved in this situation where she’s at the helm of what’s going on. She makes us look amazing, and gives us the opportunity to act, rather than just speak.

I think Cuffs is going to appeal to everyone. I’ve been describing it as, and I hate to make comparisons but sometimes you have to, like Top Boy but just the police. It’s current, and it’s dealing with situations that are real. Sometimes the situations are so real that they’re funny. You think, ‘this would never happen’, but they actually do. This is what the police force go through. We have got a brilliant cast, who are across the board when it comes to demographics. I hope that people that watch Top Boy can watch this. I hope that people who go to watch Shakespeare at the Globe can get into it as well, and so on. It’s on at the right time. I think young people will be able to get involved. There are a lot of elements that will relate to them as well. I think everyone has got a piece of Cuffs, it’s not just for one set of people.
I think the set design is amazing. We’ve got some amazing people creating our sets, and taking care of our location choices. This is not us trying to be anything other than what it really is. I don’t think anyone would expect the upper levels of a police station to look like this, but this is predominantly what they do look like. The set designers have done a lot of research. They’ve gone into a lot of detail when it comes to how it looks, down to the minutest things; posters on the walls, and what they say, files, paperwork on the tables have been carefully thought about. Without people like that we wouldn’t really look that great. I’ve been really happy with how everything is, and I hope it comes across as authentic to the audience.

I love working with everyone on Cuffs. Everyone’s very different. It’s quite a diverse cast. Working as long as I have in TV, you find that it’s very difficult to get a cast that on the whole get along. On this job it’s been completely the opposite and we’ve all really jelled. I’m not going to go through names, but I love working with everyone. We are a team, we are the actors department, and we support each other on a daily basis. This is quite a stressful job. It’s not as glamorous as people think. We work very long hours, and we do a lot of challenging things on a daily basis. To have loving, caring, supportive people around you is rare, but it’s an amazing thing, and it gets you through the day.
Cuffs is real, it’s action packed, it’s fast paced, but it also has some beautiful moments of real drama. It’s emotional. I want to cry just talking about it. I love the show, and I hope you guys do too. This is an amazing show, and I hope it goes on forever whether I’m in it or not. It’s a must-watch for everyone.