ITV’s Redemption: Interview with Paula Malcolmson




Redemption is a six-part drama co-commissioned by ITV and Virgin Media Television, Ireland, starring the esteemed actress Paula Malcomson. Pauls plays DI Colette Cunningham, a no-nonsense, straight-talking police officer who has gained the respect of her peers on the Merseyside Police Serious Crime Squad. But when her grown up daughter is found murdered in Ireland Cunningham moves there to look after her grandchildren, join the Irish police and try and get to the bottom of what happened to her daughter.

Here Paula tells us more about the series and what drew her to the role.

How would you describe Colette?
Colette is a Detective Inspector, who clearly has a gift for the job. She’s plain-speaking, she’s relatable and empathetic, and she’s got a great team, which she leads by example. But there’s an unorthodox side to her, and a persistence. I love the first few scenes of this series, because you really get the measure of Colette – she’s on a stake out, she collars the suspect pretty swiftly and takes them through an effective interrogation; it really sets her up very well. She’s enjoying her job, she gets a lot of satisfaction from it and I really welcomed the opportunity to play her. It was important for me to play her as a very feminine character, and very much a woman, as opposed to a woman in a man’s world or a woman playing male cop tropes. I really wanted her feminine attributes to be the reason why she’s so good at what she does.

What was most attractive to you about this role?
She’s such an interesting and strong character with her own agency, and she’s in every scene, which was a lovely challenge for me. She’s great at what she does and I thought it would be fun to pour what I have into that performance. I’ve actually wanted to play a cop for ages and I’ve fantasised about writing my own cop show too. I worked with my beloved mentor David Milch on Deadwood, who created Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, and he always told me I should really play a cop, so it’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. I just think that there’s so much that we can bring to these roles as women that we haven’t seen before on TV, so I’ve been looking for that opportunity to subvert the expectations of the audience.

I also really love that this a story about a woman in her 50s who has been there and done it, she’s the boss and she can lean on her experience. I hope the audience will think it’s nice to see a woman in her 50s, who’s not a movie star, being afforded the opportunity to play a role like this.

How much do we learn about Colette’s estrangement from her daughter?
That story slowly gets revealed. Colette hasn’t seen or heard from her daughter in 20 years and there’s this sense that Colette has spent that time dedicated to the pursuit of being the best cop she can be. But there’s this kind of boxed off part of her and that’s the story, it’s this unveiling of her feelings. She’s a survivor, but there’s a great deal of regret and recrimination, and I think that plays into who she is now. So we learn more about the breakdown of their relationship as we go, and Colette is essentially investigating not just her daughter’s death, but her life as well, a life that is completely unknown to her. She’s getting to know somebody who isn’t there, and that was really fascinating to me.

Colette walks into her daughter’s home and looks at all the wee things that define her taste, where she may have travelled, what she was reading. The things that are left behind when someone dies are so beautiful, and it’s all the more poignant because this is someone she didn’t ever discuss these things with – she didn’t know her as a fully formed adult. It’s so beautiful, the opportunity to dwell on this kind of grief and regret.

Colette becomes a grandmother overnight – how does she react to finding this family she never knew she had?
Well, I became a grandmother overnight as well on this job – it’s the first time I’ve played a granny and I was like, “Wait when did this happen? I’m not ready!” So in some ways I brought my own feelings about that with me. But as a granny, Colette does her best. I think there’s an easier, freer relationship with these kids than there was with her own daughter. She’s constantly being reminded of the missed opportunities and there’s a tenderness, a softening and a thawing that takes place. One of the things I love is that this is so hard won for her, it has come at such a cost.

We’ll see her take the law into her own hands – is she a maverick cop?
I think by her nature, she’s doggedly persistent and that’s one of the reasons she’s a really good cop. Her style is unorthodox and there’s both a naivety and a kind of fearlessness. She has an absolute need to find the answers, which I think is a very female quality, digging deeper and deeper to go down this rabbit hole. She’s not stupid, she knows she is messing with the wrong people and she’s up to her neck in danger, but she can’t help herself. She needs to solve her daughter’s murder and do the right thing by her, it becomes everything to Colette and she goes out on her gut and instinct a lot.

How does Colette cope with joining a new force and working with new colleagues?
Well in Siobhan she has a mentee and she’s pretty motherly and patient with her, there’s a lot of compassion there. That’s dead easy to play when you’ve got someone like Thaddea Graham playing that role! It’s a relationship that shows she’s better with these young people than she was with her own daughter.

Then there’s Patrick, and there’s a real sense of connection between them, they’re both people with experience, and there’s a level of respect and simpatico in that relationship. We didn’t go down the avenue of a romantic relationship, but there’s a definite connection.

How did the reality of playing a police officer compare to your expectations?
Well, I’ve known cops my whole life and I’ve been on ride-alongs with them and had plenty of conversations, but I wanted Colette to be her own person, I didn’t want to model her on anyone. Yes, she’s a cop and she’s very defined by her job, but she’s a woman first. I really wanted to get under the skin of this interesting character and make her flesh and blood.

It was an interesting time to shoot because we were in the height of a pandemic, everything was closed off and it was all-encompassing work, so I had no distractions, I’d just go into work every day and it was completely immersive. I really enjoyed it, playing her authority and the agency of this woman. Of course, her family is very important in the story, but I loved the fact that she’s not tied to a man in this series, in terms of her identity. I’ve spent too many years playing someone’s wife on TV.

Is it still rare to find these kinds of leading roles for women?
It often feels like one step forward, two steps back – there are television dramas about women, with powerful tour de force female leads, but the stories themselves can still be disappointing and quite gratuitous. I think we’re in an interesting time where there’s an appetite for other kinds of tales to be told, but we still have the hangover of the male gaze. Redemption isn’t like that – Colette is unencumbered and this is very much her story. It’s commendable that we didn’t even have to go down the road of giving her a love interest.

How did you tap into Colette’s complex emotional journey?
I’ve got plenty of regret I can draw on, I think we all do if you get to the age of 50-something, and this is a story of missed opportunities. It’s also a really valuable story of estrangement and second chances though, and I love this message about the ability to heal, to learn from your mistakes and not be defined by one’s past. I love that positive aspect of this series and I love roles that are complicated. Maybe that’s another reason why I haven’t played a cop before, because there wasn’t enough complexity of story, but Redemption really provided that for me.

What I’d love audiences to get from this series is the idea of your past self getting the chance to speak to your present self, and that healing can take place from that. Being able to go back and speak to that younger person, and to forgive them, We’re all flawed and complicated people, and I love how that comes out in the drama.

Do you get involved in many action scenes?
There was one scene where I had to jump through a window and I was so pleased with myself, because it was high up, I was busting through it and I was really quite agile. But they cut the scene! It wasn’t to be. I’d have liked to have had a big fight scene, but I’m not brilliant at that stuff, it’s not really my bailiwick.

Did you enjoy filming closer to home?
It’s always so nice. We filmed in Dublin, but I managed to go home some weekends and it was nice to be close by. Dublin became such an amazing place for me to be, it’s just a marvellous city and lockdown was interesting because it took away all the distraction and chaos of the place. It was great to be Irish in Ireland without the clanging of sectarian bells – I’m a very proud Belfast girl, but it gets a bit old sometimes, because there’s still such a hangover from the troubles. This experience was totally free of that for me and that was such a relief.

How did you get through such an intense schedule with deeply emotional scenes?
The crew I was working with were a delight and I can’t say enough good things about our director John Hayes, he was very supportive. It was intense and I spent the first month of the shoot building stamina, there was hardly even time to have a pee! But any chance I would get to pause for a second, I would just read poetry to the crew. I was reading Yeats and Heaney to the people working around me and it was lovely, I had a very receptive audience. It was idyllic, the most beautiful job. Importantly, it was collaborative, which was very healing for me, because that has not always been the case in my career. Sometimes you have to battle so hard for your corner and voice, but this was a lovely experience.

Working with Director John Hayes and Cinematographer Dirk Nel was a deeply faith restoring experience. I have enormous respect for both of them. John is wildly smart and has such integrity and elegance, and Dirk is just so skilled and has such easy artistry. I’m deeply grateful that the stars aligned in the way they did.

Redemption is airing Fridays at 9.00pm on ITV.

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