5 Part BBC Crime Drama Better premiers soon and here Leila Farzad, who plays D.I. Lou Slack, tells us about the series.
Can you tell us about the premise of Better and what your initial reaction to the scripts was?
Better is a morality tale about a bent DI, Lou Slack played by myself, and her quest for redemption and I found the scripts utterly compelling. I found the character of Lou to be a brilliant, well-rounded woman, written with humour, wit, and humanity, which isn’t always the case.
Can you tell us a little more about your character, Lou?
Lou is incredibly complex because she has a completely ruthless, callous side to her. But she’s also a loving mother, a loving wife, and a loving friend, and is incredibly bright and good at her job. But she’s also a deceitful, manipulative, morally corrupt woman. So, she’s multi-layered, I would say!
Can you explain the interesting relationship between Lou and Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan)? Who is Col to Lou and how did their paths initially cross? How did they come to be so present in each other’s lives?
It’s a very complicated relationship. When we first meet them, it’s an intense relationship that has an element of friendship but there’s quite an intimate power play between these two people. Early on, something very triggering happens to Lou, and she finds herself having to let go of this person, Col, who was so integral to her life. The crux of the story is that Col goes from friend to foe, which is why the story gathers momentum.
Why has kept Lou working for Col after all these years, why do these two find it so difficult to let go of each other?
Lou has had a lot of positives come out of her relationship with Col. She’s risen in the ranks, she’s been able to do a lot of good stuff, as well as the bad stuff. As the years have gone on, he’s got her to do more and more dangerous favours, which she’s turned a blind eye to. I don’t know if you’d call it love but there’s something there that means that she’s not quite able to block him out of her life. He lives sort of dormant in her at all times.
What’s it been like working opposite Andrew, had you met or worked together before?
We never worked together before. He’s a dream to work with. He’s utterly open and generous and so highly skilled at what he does. I felt very lucky to be working with him on set every day.
What’s it been like working with the rest of the cast, specifically with the actors who play Lou’s son, Owen (Zak Ford Williams) and her husband, Ceri (Sam Edward Cook)?
They were also an absolute dream. Sam and I had an instant banter, we shared a sense of humour, which was great and really good at building the sense of the marriage that has been going on for years. Zak was a delight, so open and warm and easy to connect with. We went for some “family meals” in Leeds to try and build the sense of familial bonding between us. I must mention Anton Lesser as well, because working with him was a pinch me moment, because he’s just utterly brilliant and so welcoming and affable to spend time with.
Can you tell us about Lou and Ceri’s relationship? Does Lou’s involvement with Col put a strain on it?
Of course it puts a strain on it. You don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. That’s the kind of expression that comes to mind a lot with this show. Unfortunately, Col is the hand that feeds both Ceri and Lou and has helped Ceri set up his business as his business flows through Col. They’ve lived with the elephant in the room, which is Col, but the elephant has been getting bigger and bigger and is now squashing them and making it hard to breathe. There’s a claustrophobia when we first meet them. Maybe it started as an equal relationship, but Col has become a very stifling presence in their marriage.
Lou’s son, Owen, has a health scare early on in the series. How did you deal with this? And how does it change the lens in which she views her dealings with Col?
It’s a huge turning point for Lou, the ramifications of her son nearly dying means that she can’t quite face herself. It holds up a mirror to all her immoral history. All of the things she’s done that are wrong, that she’s turned a blind eye to suddenly flood to the surface of her conscience, and she can’t continue as she has been in the past. So, she deals with it, I’d say, pretty badly.
How has working on a drama encouraged you to rethink how we judge our own morality and traditional assumption that people are either good or bad?
Part of what drew me to this project in the first place was that I’ve always been anti-binary when looking at things. There is always grey, and no matter how terrible something appears to be, you must put things in context and understand why they’ve happened rather than just judge.
Especially with social media, we live in a world where people want to judge and immediately put things in boxes. We’ve also been fed television where there’s a baddie and a goodie. So, what is so interesting about this drama is that it’s all blurred. You get to understand the reasons for the immoral, ‘bad behaviour’, and you perhaps empathise with someone who is behaving in a grotesque manner, and that’s interesting because life is not black and white.
Do you believe everyone is worthy of a second chance, do you think people are truly able to change?
I’d like to hope that people can truly change, although I think some things are beyond redemption. There is a line, of course, of something that is utterly morally reproachable, and you cannot come back from it. But the willingness to change and to acknowledge your behaviour, is the first step towards redemption.
What was it like to film in Leeds? Can you tell us some of your favourite locations?
It was an absolute treat. It’s such a beautiful city. Being able to see the town hall every day, filming in places like the corn market exchange, there’s wonderful places to eat and being by the canal… it’s a real mixture of old and new. It was incredible to immerse myself in it for the time that I was shooting there. 90% of the crew were based in Manchester or Leeds so talking to them every day really helped fuel the motor of Lou Slack and imbued me with an extra something.
What are you most excited for audiences to see and why should they watch Better?
I’m excited for people to see a woman who is unapologetically grappling with big ugly issues and sometimes she’s pretty unpleasant and ruthless to watch. I’m hoping that the audience will question their idea of morality and ask where the line is drawn.
What makes this series different from all other crime dramas?
It’s not procedural, and it’s not black and white. The protagonist is neither fully good nor fully bad, none of the characters are. There’s not a straight line towards an antagonist or a protagonist.
What journey do you want the audience to go on when they watch this series?
I want them to question their own take on morality and on good and bad. I want them to empathise with everyone and understand that if a person behaves in a certain way, it’s the result of a series of things that have happened in their past rather than what’s happening at that very moment.
Better premieres soon on BBC One.