BBC Crime Drama Better – Interview with Andrew Buchan

Five Part BBC Crime Drama Better premieres soon and here Andrew Buchan, who plays Col McHugh, tells us about the series.

Could you tell us about, Better?

Better is a character piece. It’s neither a cop show nor a whodunnit. It’s about a female detective, played by Leila Farzad, who, as a way of forwarding her career, becomes embroiled with this crime boss, played by myself. The two of them began giving each other tip offs and turning a blind eye to things as a way of forwarding their careers and ascending the ladder and that escalated over the years. The two characters are very intertwined. It makes the unravelling of their lives incredibly interesting.

It’s a role that is unlike anything you’ve done before. Was that a draw for you to play something different, someone who is a challenge?

Yeah, of course. Col McHugh is a very complex, flawed individual, who has had a childhood littered with deprivation and humiliation. He’s been raised by an alcoholic father which has thrown fuel on his fire and given him a drive in life, because he doesn’t want to become his dad. So that’s what propels him forward; this reluctance to emulate or become part of the circle of his family. So, with all that in mind, I found him brilliantly challenging to play, and complex and difficult.

Where and how is Col when we first meet him?

At the beginning of our story, we find him running on empty because of certain family trauma. But he’d never really confessed that to anyone, and he’s never faced up to that.

How did Col and Lou become to be so present in each other’s lives? And where do we find them when we kick off with the series?

They’ve been friends for nearly 20 years. Col grew up in Northern Ireland as part of a big crime family and one branch of that family existed in Leeds. So, he was sent to Leeds to handle that branch of things. Shortly after he arrived, he was brought in over a minor misdemeanour and had to deal with a young Lou Slack. He realised that if he volunteered a certain piece of information then maybe she could do something for him down the line. So, this relationship flourished and helped forward their lives and careers. So, we join them 20 years on and they’re very good friends and involved in each other’s lives. Then something happens to a member of Lou’s family which makes her question her own conscience and whether she should be professionally involved with this man. But the roots of their lives are so twisted and wrapped around each other, it’s hard to untangle and break free.

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What was it like working with Leila Farzad and building this on-screen, symbiotic relationship?

Leila was terrific. She’s just effortless. She was a complete professional and a joy to work with. She brought something new and interesting to every scene. She gives the role brilliant weight and intensity. All her scenes were exciting and brilliant.

How does Col’s family trauma effect the decisions he makes through the series?

Col is sitting on a secret that he hasn’t quite faced up to, and doesn’t want to talk to anyone about, so he’s buried it down. But he is aware that the fire that was once there, to build his business, has died a little. He doesn’t know what to do about that. So, when Lou has her moment in the middle of episode one and begins questioning everything, we join Col as he’s starting to question everything too. So, you get these two uncertain forces colliding which gives them some interesting material.

Could you tell me about the relationship Col has with his wife, Alma (Carolin Stoltz)?

Like any partnership that has to deal with loss or trauma, they’re two very fractured individuals. In many ways, they’re just existing. She’s aware that he’s reluctant to talk about it and that causes more anger and pain. As a result, he’s actively chosen not to give any attention to his son (played by Ceallach Spellman), which is heart-breaking. So, there’s a huge ripple effect from the storm. They’re living in this big palatial house, but it’s filled with a sadness.

What was it like filming in Leeds?

I’ve worked there once before when I did the ABC murders with John Malkovich and Rupert Grint. So, I was back there in the same hotel, I thought, ‘This is where I used to have pints with Rupert!” It was surreal! Leeds is a brilliant place, it’s such an amazing city. It’s so vibrant and full of life with brilliant people and the banter’s class!

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Do you have any specifically memorable moments from your time shooting this drama?

The big 11 pager scene in episode four was huge challenge and it was good to get through that day. It was a long day, and there were all kinds of complications. It became a bit like a piece of theatre where you could relax and experiment. So that’s when it became challenging but in a fun way. I remember when the actors playing Col’s henchmen first walked towards me. Bulgy played by Gary Cooper and Lord Roy played by Mark Monero and I remember thinking at the time; “I know who you guys are playing!” Their faces were kind of terrifying but as soon as they started speaking, they were so giggly. We’d often have days in the back of that Land Rover just laughing our faces off.

What are you most looking forward to audiences seeing, why should people watch Better?

You’ve got to watch it for Leila. She carries the show and she’s brilliant in it, very complex and unpredictable. So as each episode goes on it’s fascinating to see her character’s flaws, weaknesses, and strengths develop. She’s brilliant in it.

What journey do you want the audience to go on?

It’s someone questioning their own conscience and the decisions they’ve made possibly for the good of their family? Were they the right decisions, were the wrong decisions? Who are we to say? Does she redeem herself? Can she redeem herself? Are people redeemable? It’s fascinating the way that it’s written as it poses all of these moral questions.

In this series you’re dealing with flawed individuals, as there are in all aspects of life, regardless of profession. It’s interesting to see how they deal with particular circumstances and situations, but I don’t think you arrive at the end with a clear idea of what is good or bad. Hopefully, you will be able to empathise with their journeys and decisions in some way or another.

Better premieres soon on BBC One.


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.