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Suspect | Interview with Joely Richardson (Jackie)

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The other actors in the series are able to build on your work, but you kick off the series with James Nesbitt. What was that like?It’s nice to start things off, because you don’t have to figure out how it fits with anyone else! Although I had an idea of the arc of it when I went in, I approached my episode as a complete story in itself. Intense is the only way I can describe it. But we were lucky with our director Dries Vos, because he knew exactly what he wanted at every moment, technically and from us as actors.

What were you expecting from the two-hander set-up?

I did a two-hander on stage in New York a few years ago and I do like them. The difference here was that there was very little rehearsal. When you’re doing theatre, you read the script over and over, working out all the moves. This was like theatre, but even more focused. I quite like all of that though, when the stakes are high and you have to deliver.

Did you have any reservations about getting involved?

My only hesitation was wondering, in dark times, what exactly do I want to be putting out into the world? But Jackie is a great character and it’s great drama, so that was the answer. I don’t often get roles where things are so full on and it requires everything of you.

Who is Jackie?

She is a bit of an enigma: tricky, not warm or full of humour, but focused and serious. She’s the perfect foil for Danny, because he’s full of emotion but she keeps her emotions incredibly close to her chest. The antagonism between them is such that, at first, I thought they must have some history. But actually they just don’t like each other.

Is there a level of professional respect?

No, not even that. She is incredibly focused on her work and the procedures are all important, so in the first few minutes, when his behaviour gets out of hand, that really freaks her out.

Did you put together a backstory of Jackie’s life outside the mortuary?

I didn’t do any of that when I was younger, but I do now because it helps me ground the person. People are my absolute fascination, and I need to know what’s driving them, what the stakes are. That’s my homework, just as you’d need to give the basic backstory of your life if you were in a therapist’s office.

How did you manage to get your head around all the medical jargon?

It was so tough. I had to look it all up so I knew what I was talking about, then learn each one phonetically. One of my best friends is a nurse, and it turned out that this stuff was in the exam she was doing that week. She gave me a great gift, because I could see it from her point of view – each job has its own slightly different language. Women over a certain age often get the parts that have very difficult language, which can mean extra hours of homework so you can know what it actually means and own it.

And Jackie is very experienced and authoritative.

Exactly – she’s not a flake so there couldn’t be any dithering in these very long takes. But the more prep you do, the more it pays off because the freer you can be.

Have you worked with James Nesbitt before?

No, a couple of projects had come up for us in the past, but the timing wasn’t right. He’s a fantastic actor, but it’s only when you see someone on the floor that you get to see the real them. He’s such a funny mix: so intelligent, and he’s obviously mastered the art of screen acting, but then he’ll go and sit on this chair and suck his thumb, like a little kid! But he’s a giving actor, flexible and able to make every take a bit different, so it was a pleasure.

What’s next for you?

During the first lockdown. I didn’t know if any of us would ever work again. But then I got offered a film, then Sandman for Netflix, then this, then another thing for Netflix, then a bit of my recurring character on The Blacklist, then another independent movie. It’s an interesting time and I’m playing quite a range of characters, which really excites me because I suppose I am a character actress.

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