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.
The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai
Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.
What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.
It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.
Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.
Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.
One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.
Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.
What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.
Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!
What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.
I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.
Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small
Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.
What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].
How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.
How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.
Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.
What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!
What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.
Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.
What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.
How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.
Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.
How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!
Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.
Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!
What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!
Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!
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