BBC’s Blue Lights: Interview with Richard Dormer

Upcoming BBC crime drama Blue Lights was conceived and written by Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson, and it follows three inexperienced police officers as they navigate the dangerous streets of Belfast. The police have a difficult time keeping the peace in this city. Richard Dormer plays veteran copper Gerry, here he tells us about working in his native Northern Ireland and why he got a Better Call Saul vibe from the scripts.

What is the story behind Blue Lights?

Blue Lights is about normal people, they aren’t heroes and they are our neighbours and, like all police forces do, they try and hold society together. It’s a slice of life of these absolutely normal people doing extraordinary things.

What was your initial reaction when reading the scripts?

It reminded me of Better Call Saul, which I adored for the very reason that it felt like nothing much is happening here – we are just seeing a slice of life but it’s these wonderful characters that are driving the story. The drama is in those moments and the silences for example, in some of the car sequences the silences speak volumes. It’s the back life to those characters that we see in the moments where nothing really happens and they’re thinking. Sometimes we don’t even get to know what they are thinking about but that’s ok because it makes it real and I don’t feel like I’ve seen that before apart from Better Call Saul. I was intrigued when I read it.

How did Declan and Adam manage to convey the spirit and culture of Northern Ireland in their writing?

There’s a real warmth to our language that is pure Belfast; we take the mick out of each other and that comes from having to have a survival technique. Blue Lights is most definitely Belfast and there’s nowhere else in the world it could be other than Belfast. There’s a tangible sense of hope in all of the characters – even the ones that aren’t necessarily likeable. Maybe because I like the accent and recognise the environment there’s a sense of homeliness in the show.

RELATED:   EastEnders Welcomes Back Michael French as David Wicks for the Show's 40th Anniversary

Can you explain Gerry’s role in Blue Lights?

Gerry is a veteran of the job. He’s been around a long time and watched all of these guys arrive and watched a lot of people go as well. He’s seen it all, he’s been there and he’s done it. At first, you may think he’s jaded and a bit maverick because he does things a little differently. He’s a realist who knows how to survive. Gerry is the joker in the pack and provides the humour that threads through the station. He doesn’t always play by the rules but he does play by his own moral compass and for him that moral compass is the most important.

To what extent do Gerry and Tommy become partners?

My backstory is that Gerry is married again to Sandra, who also works at the station. They don’t have children and because of that he basically ‘adopts’ Tommy. We see a lot of jousting and ribbing going on between them – mainly Gerry taking the mick out of Tommy – but he genuinely cares for him as if he was his own. We see Gerry starting to fret about Tommy’s firearm skills and the upcoming tests he has to do in order to stay in the force. Tommy also reminds him of himself when he was a probationer which takes Gerry by surprise at points throughout the series. He doesn’t want Tommy to make the same mistakes that he made or lose those kind and good qualities inherent in Tommy’s nature. The funny thing is that Nathan is actually Tommy. Our cultural references to comedians and music are identical to Gerry and Tommy’s. I’d mention Steve Coogan or Oasis and he wouldn’t know them. He has none of the cultural references that I have so that element of the script is entirely authentic.

RELATED:   Panorama: Labour in Power: Inside the New Government (BBC One, 22 July 2024)

How helpful was it to having an ex-cop in the crew?

He gave me a very useful piece of advice which was to always stand like a boxer stands with your feet at five to two and always at arm’s length when talking to someone. If someone comes towards you raise your left hand up and your right hand lower which is near your gun, baton, pepper spray. He also said that in the police car in between call-outs you would fill time by telling jokes to one another, talking about what you last saw at the cinema, discuss music etc. The mundanity of the day is filled with the same chit chat that everyone talks when they spend time with a colleague.

Why is Northern Irish humour so special?

People from Northern Ireland tend to take the mick out of themselves because for so long we have regarded ourselves as second-class citizens. It’s only in the last 20 years or so that we’ve come into our own as a nation really. Writers, artists, actors, musicians all have this indomitable sense of humour and that can also be said for people from the south of Ireland too. We have survived a lot and I believe Declan and Adam really captured that in some of the characters – Gerry being one of those. As a nation we survived all that we went through with a sense of humour, strength and fortitude. Everyone over a certain age from Northern Ireland has suffered some form of PTSD because we will all have experienced a bomb or a shooting or know someone who has died or been injured as a result of the Troubles.

I didn’t take television roles for 20 years because I didn’t want to play a terrorist and then I made Good Vibrations where the character of Terri Hooley rises above the Troubles. I don’t want to play characters that remind people of the Troubles which is why Blue Lights is a big step forward.

Blue Lights premieres soon on the BBC.

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.