ITV’s Grace: Interview with John Simm

ITV's Grace Interview with John Simm

In the new season of the ITV crime thriller Grace, John Simm will be seen again in the role of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Brighton Police Department. Here he tells us about what to expect from the three new stories.

Series two ended with Grace preparing to declare his wife Sandy legally dead. As he sits down for a meal with current partner Cleo, he gets a phone call of a possible sighting. How do things progress this series from that cliff-hanger?
He’s still hiding it from Cleo a little bit. He doesn’t speak to her about it because he is still not sure. He says to Glenn at one point during the first episode, ‘I didn’t want to say anything just in case it was a false alarm that could cause a lot of worry about nothing, and I was right.’ They are still on the search. Sandy’s spectre, if you will, is always hanging over them a bit. Roy and Cleo do decide to move in together. They have a date on the bandstand, which was a lovely day filming with Zoë. It was a bit windy, but we had to pretend it wasn’t. Those scenes are lovely because it’s great to see Grace out of his job mode. He can be quite intense and very serious, but you actually get to see him smile.

Fans of the novel will know that Dead Like You has a dual timeline and flashes back to when Roy and Sandy were married. What do those scenes with Clare Calbraith reveal about their marriage?
Those scenes are interesting because you can see that it wasn’t actually a perfect marriage. There were problems there. She finds it very difficult to deal with his work and to live in that environment where she sort of plays second fiddle to his job. That always must be the case. There is nothing really you can do about that. There is a very telling moment when it’s her birthday and he is in the middle of looking for a missing girl and the phone rings. Sandy says, ‘Don’t take it. Choose me.’ He looks at her like she’s crazy. ‘What do you think I’m going to do? Just ignore this phone call?’ He picks up the call. There is no dialogue in that moment, but I think it says a lot about where they are and what happened with her. It’s quite telling.

Sandy asks him, “Why are you more interested in a dead woman than me?” What do you think the answer is?
Yeah, it’s quite an unfair question really because she knows it’s his job and he is super-dedicated to his job. He’s Roy Grace. He’s not going to start saying, ‘Ok, fine, darling, I’ll just turn the phone off and ignore it.’ You can see where their clash came and where it all started. It’s left to the audience to try and work out what might have happened. It is drip fed into each episode. You get a little clue.

Do you think both Sandy and Cleo are right for Roy but just at different times in his life?
Yeah of course. We all change as people as we get older. It highlights how unsuitable he and Sandy were when she is so jealous of his job. She is nothing to do with that world, so she doesn’t really understand. Whilst Cleo is different because she is in that world. I think he finds a kindred spirit with Cleo and doesn’t really have any of those problems. There is one scene with her where his phone rings and he says, ‘Sorry, I’ve got to get this’ and Cleo says, ‘Fine, get the phone.’ She realises.

We see Grace packing up his stuff to move in with Cleo. He has a substantial vinyl collection. How about yourself?
Yeah, I’ve got a big old vinyl collection. All the stuff that I had when I was young. I’ve got a really good turntable and we’ve got it all set up in the kitchen with a Bluetooth speaker. I’ve got shelves filled with all my records. You get back into it and start going out and buying stuff you haven’t got. I’ve got well into them again. It’s been fantastic. Roy’s collection is not that impressive if you look deeply into it. I don’t think you ever see anything because we’re not allowed to show any artists onscreen. They are all pretend record covers. You’re left in the dark about what they are, probably jazz.

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Glenn has his own relationships complications this series. What’s Roy’s reaction when Branson tells him about Ari’s infidelity?
He is really sad for them. Glenn is going through his own personal hell. Roy is just happy to help his friend. He’s got a big house all to himself. He is more than happy to help him out. Glenn and Ari are good friends of his and they were friends of Sandy’s as well so it’s quite upsetting for him to see that happening. He just backs him. He backs Glenn there and he backs him at work. He wants Branson to be promoted so he is on his side all the way through. It’s good because it shows their relationship and shows them as friends not just as work colleagues.

There is a real confidence in series three to delve more into the team’s lives and hang out with them more, isn’t there?
Yeah, and you can only get that from sticking with these characters and developing them over time. The main thread of each episode is the case, but you have to invest in these people to care about them. It’s good that you get to see more of their home lives. The main team will hopefully stay as the main team. In the books there are a few changes. A few people leave and new people come in but with the books because you wait a year between each one you have that length of time for it all to sink in. But with a TV show it is the very next week so if you change one of the characters and bring someone else in you have to start all over again and get the audience invested. It’s good that you see more of Norman and Bella and get to know them a little bit more.

In what ways have these three stories been updated from the novels?
A lot of the books were written quite a while ago so there have to be some changes but because they are all based on international bestselling books you know that they are tried and tested storylines. In Dead Like You which is the one about the guy who steals lipsticks from his victims the trophy was originally shoes in the book. Changing it to lipstick works really well. Tommy Coombs plays a cab driver, and he is such a brilliant actor. His character has a creepy relationship with his mum. That’s all I’m going to say about that. But I love the flashback scene in that episode about The Brighton Prowler because you get to see Roy in 2012 when he wasn’t the boss. And you see how attitudes have changed in 10 years. It’s almost like Life on Mars when you go back.

Can you tell us about your trip to the Met’s crime museum with Peter James?
Peter very kindly got us in to this secret museum, which my father-in-law who used to be a Met police officer, had told me about. Not a lot of people have been in there. It’s by invite only. It’s for police officers. It was brilliant. It was very macabre but incredibly interesting. I could have been there for many hours more. They had death masks of people who were hung and their ropes. They had guns that were artefacts from famous old crimes. The guy would explain where they came from and what they were used for. They talk you through how they solve the crime and all the work that goes on behind the scenes. For instance, if the police came under fire for an investigation and took a while to get their man, they pointed out the many people they did save that nobody knows about. It was invaluable to be invited there.

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ACC Cassian Pewe returns as Vosper’s successor. What does actor Sam Hoare who replaces James D’Arcy bring to the role of Roy’s old adversary?
We are hoping that the new Cassian will slip seamlessly into the fold. As an actor Sam absolutely did. From day one he was brilliant. He’s such a lovely guy. He’s perfect for Cassian. I would say that he is Roy’s main adversary. I can’t remember what happens to him in the books. I stopped reading them after about book 12 because when we were filming, I started getting really confused as to what case we were working on. I thought it would take a long time to get anywhere near where Roy is in the books but because we will be filming four in the next series we are catching up quite quickly.

Grace is also locking horns again with journalist Kevin Spinella? How does that develop this series?
That comes to a head in these three episodes, which is a shame for me because I really love Spinella in the stories and I love Alex Cobb who plays him. He’s a terrific actor. Grace believes there is a leak to the press from CID, which puts everyone on edge. It’s bad because it has to be one of the main team that is tipping off Spinella.

You’ve said that scenes with Craig Parkinson and Laura Elphinstone can be hard to get through with a straight face. What sets you all off?
Oh, with Craig and Laura it is almost every single time. Something we will have been talking about in the green room. With all the regular cast we’ve got such a great relationship but Craig and Laura together is murder sometimes. It’s very hard to concentrate but it’s fun. We always get it done in the end. When we notice the director is getting a bit hacked off with us all we will pull ourselves together, but they are both very, very funny people. It’s good because it lightens the mood, especially on something like this. This is heavy stuff. You need that release otherwise it would be a very depressing day at work. I mainly do grim things in my career, I don’t know why, but usually those are the most light-hearted sets to be on. You have to joke and smile about something.

Which days filming gave you the most pleasure?
Usually, most days I’ve got loads of lines to keep in my head so I am usually just concentrating non-stop all day. The days go quite quickly for me. The days I enjoy are the ones where I haven’t had to learn five pages of dialogue the night before so I can relax and just be a bit more present. But this is such a lovely place to go to work that the days kind of all meld into one. Luckily, we do one episode at a time. If we did the three of them together, I would be in real trouble, which we did with Life on Mars. We used to crossover the episodes. We had no idea what we were talking about or where we were. We do one at a time stand-alone films on Grace. My job is to just know exactly what we are talking about and where we are with the case and where I have just walked from. But in general, and I’m not just saying this, I enjoy every single day when we are at work. That really is the truth. It’s a great job to work on.

The new series of Grace premieres Sunday 19 March at 8.00pm on ITV.

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.