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Cobra : Cyberwar Series Two | Interview with Robert Carlyle (Robert Sunderland)

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What are the big themes for series two of COBRA: CYBERWAR?

The first thing Sutherland has to deal with is his majority being reduced. Archie has resigned, so he’s holding on by his fingernails until he realises he needs Archie back, which causes real problems with Anna, but Robert decides Archie is worth having around in times of trouble. There’s an attack on a Ukrainian oligarch on British soil near a school, and Robert’s under pressure to respond. Then a Chinese company drilling in the North Sea destabilises the sea bed and causes on old warship off the Kent coast to explode, taking out half the Kent coastline. As the government is trying to cope with this, it comes under a cyberattack affecting critical infrastructure – water, emergency services, nuclear capabilities. So, one problem after another.

He’s fantastically unlucky, isn’t he?

I love that! Personally, I think every politician is unlucky.

Was the solar storm the making of him, or the breaking?

At heart he’s a good man, trying to be the best PM he can be. In Series one he’s only been in the job 18 months, so he sees his handling of it as a victory, something he can be proud of.

He called an election at the end of the first series. How did that work out for him?

It was effectively a referendum on his leadership and popularity: did he handle this situation correctly? The public think he did, but only just: he’s only in power by eight seats, having lost the big overall majority they had. And then the public start to lose faith in the people they should trust most – the beginnings of that would be in the solar storm, and in this next disaster it’s difficult to persuade the public to come with them once again.

Robert has a new Home Secretary after Archie’s departure. How does he feel about Joseph Obasi?

We spoke more about their first scene together than maybe any other I was in this series. Obasi is a Christian and hits him with religious stuff, but Anna and Sutherland’s replies suggest they don’t take that too seriously. He’s wary from the off, because everyone poses some sort of threat to him from his perspective this series. He doesn’t quite understand what Obasi is all about, but Obasi has as much ambition as anyone else.

Is his relationship with Anna as strong as ever?

She’s his rock, so when things start to go wrong it’s very sad. An incident happens that she cannot believe and causes her to really doubt him.

How is Robert’s personal life after the traumas of the last series?

Difficult, because of his wife and daughter being involved with him potentially having had to lie to parliament. That’s hanging over him, although his daughter is in Chile now – there was a decision that it was best for her to get out of the way because she was getting a lot of grief on social media. The marriage with Rachel is shaky, though, because Robert finds out something about Rachel that causes him to point the finger even at her. Their relationship is under tremendous pressure.

What new sides of Robert do we see brought out by these new crises?

The solar storm is nothing compared to what happens to him this time! He’s under threat from so many potential enemies, politically and internationally – he almost goes toe to toe with the US, China and Russia. I’ve always thought that if you push him too far, he’ll snap. He is ruthless, that’s for sure.

How would Sutherland have faced this Covid crisis?

I don’t know, although it was a topic of discussion leading up to shooting: do we mention Covid? If we mentioned it, you’d need to spend the whole show on it. If we even referred to it, would we need to have the odd person in the mask in the background? In the end we just didn’t go there, the subject was too big.

What has it been like working on a large production during the covid pandemic?

It was very tough, very stressful – I didn’t leave my apartment in Manchester for four months, apart from filming. When Covid was at its peak, we wore masks and visors if we weren’t filming, which made it very difficult to connect with your fellow cast at times and very hard for the camera department to figure out focus points. But we were grateful to have each other, it would have been harder had we not been pals. COBRA was maybe one of two or three productions that didn’t shut down over the past year, which is incredible.

What’s been the best thing about working on this series?

Lots of things. I love the character, I’m fortunate to play him. Not many people would have seen me in that role so I’ll be eternally grateful that they took a chance on me. And to work with Victoria, David, Richard, these are top class actors. I’ve been away in American TV land for ten, 12 years and over that time the quality can vary, but it’s constant on a show like COBRA.