BBC Crime Drama Better – Interview with Ceallach Spellman

Five Part BBC Crime Drama Better premieres soon and here Ceallach Spellman, who plays Donal McHugh, tells us about the series.

What was your initial reaction when you read the scripts?

The thing that struck me most about the scripts was the detail in it, and that comes from the two writers, Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley. I really enjoyed Humans and similarly with this drama, you could see that they’d leant into focusing on the characters. I found it gripping straightaway. For me, if I start a script, and I finish it in one sitting, it’s a good sign…and I finished it in one sitting!

Could you tell me about Donal’s journey throughout this series?

When we meet Donal, he’s this lad that’s trying to find his way in the world. You meet him at quite an interesting point where he’s still in a state of grief because he’s lost someone close to him and that is coupled with existing and being brought up in his dad’s world. Not many people get brought up with their dad running an illegal empire, which adds to the pressure of him trying to live up to his dad’s expectations. Is he cut out for this world? He knows, and the audience will see it too, that he’s probably not like his dad deep down, but he doesn’t know anything else.

Interestingly, it’s his relationship with Owen (Zak Ford Williams), Lou’s son, that brings up all these parts of him. I don’t think he’s had many friends because he’s only ever existed in the world that his dad built, and his dad’s got to where he is by being very private, very secretive and as a result Donal has been very isolated. Owen allows him to just exist in the real world for the first time. There’s also a little bit of a question in there about his sexuality. For me personally, that was just something that I found, while sitting with Donal.

What’s Donal’s relationship with his dad like?

Quite fractured. He spent most of his time growing up with his dad, so he looks up to him. But ultimately, he wants a relationship with his dad, but Col could never give him that. I don’t think they’ve ever had a heart to heart. They’ve never shown any form of love to one another. And he’s constantly been put down and just been told that he’s not great by his dad. So, it’s a very fragile relationship.

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What was that like to build this fractured relationship with Andrew? Had you met or worked with him before?

I can’t speak highly enough about Andy. I really love Andy and I really enjoyed getting to share a space with him. I am a young actor so when you get to work with actors like Andy, it’s a joy because you just step back, open your eyes, listen and learn, he was brilliant. On and off set! The character he created in Col was class. Andy’s effortless and he’s got such a gift with his ear and his voice. He’s got this quiet power and control. I really, really loved getting to work with him and explore that relationship with him.

What was it like filming in Leeds?

My mum’s from Dewsbury which isn’t too far from Leeds. So, I had spent time in Leeds, I’ve got a couple of friends up there, but I hadn’t been back for a while. It was amazing to see how Leeds had changed. There was there such a vibrancy to it, so much going on. It had these distinct, cool areas, so to spend time there was mint. Filming there was class and I just love the north in general. Being from Manchester, it’s a home away from home. It’s great to see more series being made up north.

There are more characters being written for working class people, northern working-class people and whilst more can be done, it’s so great to have these dramas that are set in these places and set in that world. I just hope that we’ve done Leeds justice and that people from Leeds and Yorkshire are happy with that as well.

What do you think makes Better stand apart?

What’s so interesting and different about Better is that it focuses on the human element of the drama. A lot of crime dramas are about catching the perpetrator, or watching the gangster do all this dark and dirty stuff, whereas this is set in a real world of truth and reality and you’re with the people, and you’re asking questions of the people. It makes you ask questions of your own morality, and your own feelings, your own sense of justice, what’s right and what’s wrong. It feels like a family drama set in the crime world, rather than a usual crime drama.

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What journey would you like the audience to go on when they watch Better?

I hope that they stick with us and feel compelled to watch the next episode! When the audience watch the first two episodes and they form their thoughts and feelings on someone or something, I’m quite interested to see if those opinions change as people watch the series. Does it make people question themselves? I hope people enjoy it and it takes them on a journey that they haven’t been on when watching a crime drama. The journey I want them to go on is that Donal is their favourite character!

Do you think people are binary; good or bad? Or do you think people can truly change and has working on this drama made you re-evaluate the way that you think?

Personally, I do believe people can change. I think it would be a very sad, bleak, and depressing world if people can’t change. Secondly, I personally must believe people can change because, outside of acting, I do a lot of work around the environment and to see the system change that the world needs, not just for the planet, but for people, we need to change. It’s about changing habits, changing your opinions, and changing your feelings.

I think people can change and people can grow. But that comes through learning, listening and through experiences. If you allow people to educate themselves, if you allow people to sit, think and learn, then people can change. Absolutely. Not everyone. Sometimes people are made up, but the majority of the time, you definitely can change, and the series has just solidified that belief.

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.