ITV’s Six Four: Interview with Kevin McKidd

Six Four

Upcoming ITV crime drama Six Four is based on a Japanese novel by Hideo Yokoyama that focuses on a case involving a kidnapped girl. Writer Gregory Burke transplants the drama to Scotland with Kevin McKidd in the lead role as Detective Chris O’Neill. Here he tells us about being back in his native Scotland and what first attracted him to the role.

Tell us about your character?
I play Chris O’Neill. He’s a grey man in a sense. He lacks ambition. He’s in a rut in his personal life and in his professional life. He was obviously, in his younger years, much more passionate and I think something’s happened to him. It’s an interesting journey for him through this story because he becomes really ignited again and passionate, reconnecting with his passion for police work. And
he’s good at it, you know, ultimately. But when you first meet him, he’s going through a midlife crisis almost.

What first attracted you to ‘Six Four’?
You know, it’s funny, when I first read it, I was like, should I be the brother, Phillip, or Chris, you know? And I kind of went back and forth. I was a wee brother, in my family dynamic. I have a big brother who’s five years older than me and he was going to be
the hot shot, and I was kind of like the runner-up almost. Not in a bad way but that’s just what it looked like our lives were going to be.

And that dynamic of being the wee brother and kind of being in the shadow of your big brother and what that does, even as adults, how that dynamic just still exists. And there’s a tension there but there’s also that brotherly love. That’s when I realised I should probably play Chris because it’s basically similar to my own upbringing in life.

What do you think makes the story compelling?
I think it’s always compelling to find a character, and Chris kind of embodies that, of somebody who puts himself into jeopardy, into danger, into real threat, to try and get to the truth of the matter. Chris is kind of the small man, really, trying to fight a big system. A big system that’s built on lies and backhanders and payoffs and hush money and political pressure and all that kind of murky stuff that’s the glue to that sort of political world.

And then you have this man who’s just a man. He’s a family man who gets on a mission. It’s kind of a David and Goliath thing, which I think is very compelling. It’s an archetypal story for a reason because I think everybody likes the underdog and Chris O’Neil is very much the underdog in this.

Hopefully, the audience will be very invested in that and very invested in walking this path with Chris through this really murky world. And he tries to keep a hold of the torch of truth, the light of truth through it all. Will he make it? Will he be corrupted, too? These are all the questions that the drama deals with.

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What have been the standout locations?
Wanlockhead! No. (laughs) It was really fun going around the streets of Edinburgh. We did a lot of running about the cobbled streets of the Cowgate and up towards, the Scotsman steps and quite iconic landmarks in Edinburgh that many people know. So it was fun to use them as locations. Edinburgh is such a beautiful city. So those moments were really fun for me.

What did you like about the script?
I’ve always liked Gregory’s writing. I think his writing is quite deceptive sometimes. You know, you go “what’s going on…”, it can be hard. But once you crack it, there’s always quite a powerful simplicity to his writing, in a strange way. And it’s very theatrical, even though it’s quite realistic. There’s a lot of realism in Gregory’s writing but there’s also a theatricality because he understands theatre, you know? So I’ve always liked that about his writing.

I think it was also this family drama that I was really drawn to. Chris and his brother Philip, and that sort of tussling that they have. And this big brother, little brother, he’s almost this bully but they love each other. It all felt very real and well-observed, not generalised, it felt very specific and well-written. Because sometimes you watch these whodunits and you get lost in the minutiae of just the mystery. And I think what’s lovely about this is, well what I certainly got is that I’m really invested in this family and are they going to find a way to make it through this maze of lies with the family intact at the end of it?

Will ‘Six Four’ appeal to viewers searching for escapism?
I think everybody always likes a good whodunnit, you know? I’m a big fan of twists and turns. Is it a flight of fancy? No. It’s pointing at the power structures of the way the world is today. I think it has a great appeal because each act and each episode leads you inexorably on to the next kind of cliff-hanger, the next twist. And I think that’s really satisfying for audiences to watch.

Did you enjoy working with director, Ben A. Williams?
I’ve loved working with Ben. I think he’s great with actors. He’s great technically with the crew. I think a lot of times you find directors that are either great with the crew and then not so great with the actors or vice versa. And he seems to be able to do both really well. And he’s really open to your ideas, but he’s very firm on, when he knows tonally how he wants something to be, he’ll help get you there as the actor. So, you feel like he’s collaborating with you. We’ve laughed a lot too, he’s a real laugh to work with. You have to have a good time. We’re here for hours and hours and hours. He’s a mensch as they say in America. I consider him like a pal now, as opposed to just a work colleague.

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Why do you think we love detective dramas so much?
I’m in a hospital drama in America (Grey’s Anatomy) and I think there’s something about these hospital dramas… I think it’s all about human adversity; there’s something to be solved. In a medical drama, there’s an illness to cure, in a detective drama, there’s a mystery to solve. And just seeing people, seeing other people, humans struggle with a problem that they have to overcome. I think it’s pretty universal.

I think at the core, that’s why detective stories are always going to have an appeal, because people love the kind of ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ of the twists, of “I didn’t see that coming, I didn’t see that coming”. But I think fundamentally it’s about seeing somebody try and deal with adversity and to solve it and to turn it into a positive and into a good thing

How’s it been filming back in your native Scotland?
It’s been great. It really does feel like coming home, a real homecoming for me. And it’s been long overdue. I’ve really been homesick, especially the two and a half years of COVID, not being able to come home. And I just knew I wanted to do something here. So this came up and I just jumped at the chance. And the fact that I know Gregory’s writing, all the stars kind of aligned because, as you know, the window I have to do something is very specific. Everything happens for a reason, and it makes me want to just come home more and more and work here more and more. Because everybody’s so great and everybody is really passionate about what they do. It’s my homeland.

What do audiences have to look forward to when they watch ‘Six Four’?
Real twists and turns, real mystery, real suspense. Some pretty irreverent humour. There’s some beautiful acting by a great ensemble cast, some of the greatest Scottish actors that we have, are in this. I think, for people that aren’t from Scotland, they’re going to see some beautiful parts of this country and hopefully get a sense of the place, not just the kind of ‘shortbread tin Scotland’ but the more real, more urban Scotland.

It’s a really exciting ride. Once it gets going, it doesn’t stop. And it’s a thrilling drama that I think will really draw everyone in and people will become very invested in and be second-guessing what’s going to happen. They’re probably not going to get it right because Gregory has written a very taut and smart and surprising story that I think is going to really hook people.

Six-Four premieres soon on ITV1.

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.