Suspect | Interview with Sacha Dhawan (Jaisal)

What struck you about the script for Suspect?

The scripts were totally gripping from start to finish, and each character you meet along the way raises such intrigue and complexities. Matt Baker (writer) has done such a fantastic job in making the series so rich, and multi-layered, in a format, which we’ve not seen on British screens before.

Although the rehearsal time was short, I had a lot of time with the script ahead of filming, and Matt was great at letting me collaborate in creating Jaisal. The character wasn’t initially written as being British Indian, and I was keen to incorporate the cultural specificity of the character, without distracting from the main story and making it stereotypical or heavy-handed. I feel we achieved a really nice balance, which only enhanced the relationship between Jaisal and Danny.

How does Jaisal’s identity come out on screen?

He’s reclaimed his British Indian identity, but on his own terms. While Jaisal is very different to me, I can absolutely relate to trying to find your place: there are times when I don’t feel British enough and times when I don’t feel Indian enough. And like Jaisal, I’ve spent so long trying to fit into one space or the other, I’ve negated just how empowering it is to embrace the best of both, and carve out my own space. Not only does he own his space with immense confidence, he’s also unapologetic for doing so. Being able to weave this kind of cultural specificity into the character made Jaisal so much more dynamic.

It must be fulfilling to work through all that in character.

It’s great to be able to have the time to work through the character in advance with the writer. It’s a real privilege nowadays, as schedules move so fast. Its great to have pause for thought. It allows time for things to digest, so you don’t have to think too much on the day of filming. You’ve built the muscle memory to almost let go of it all, be in the moment and trust its all there. That’s when exciting and unpredictable things can happen in a scene, as it did with Jimmy (Nesbitt) and I. There were many unexpected surprises that made our interaction with one another feel even more dangerous. This really is a character driven story, and by having the time to work through each beat in detail is what makes the series so much more than just a ‘whodunnit’.

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How would you describe Jaisal?

Jaisal was working with Danny in the police force but was let go because of serious misconduct. Jaisal now owns a premises where he runs different aspects of his ‘business’. He’s become quite a successful entrepreneur, but on his own terms playing by his own rules. He’s actually quite selfish, but as a result he has the recognition, respect, and power that he’s always craved, and he relishes in that, perhaps a little too much. He may wear the mask of an egotistical ‘player’ but he shouldn’t be underestimated, which Danny very quickly learns.

Jaisal isn’t the most likeable character, but you have to be tough to survive in the police force.

There’s always a reason why a person behaves in a certain way. And that’s why I love playing characters like this because it’s never as straightforward as it seems. Jaisal plays by his own rules, because he feels that the world has failed him, society has failed him. He’s not just the ‘bad guy’, he’s clever, he’s intuitive, and he’s learnt how to manipulate others in order to get what he wants. And beneath that steely veneer is actually a young man that is more vulnerable than he lets on.

Jaisal knows exactly how to needle Danny.

There’s a lot of history there – he knows exactly how to push Danny’s buttons. He certainly ‘performs’ to begin with, giving Danny exactly what you would expect from him, if not more. But as the conversation evolves between the two it becomes clear that there’s a side to Jaisal that Danny may have underestimated. He’s clever, he’s dangerous, he’s manipulative, and he knows exactly how to get what he wants.

And he’s the last person you would expect to make Danny face some home truths regarding his daughter Christina (Imogen King). This isn’t done to needle Danny, it’s one of the rare moments in the episode where Jaisal is being completely honest and open. It really catches Danny off-guard, and is incredibly moving.

Where did you film your scenes?

In an amazing space that is actually part of a Thames Water sewage plant! Not the most glamorous of locations, but it looked fantastic on screen. And both Dries, and our exceptional Director of Photography, Brecht, really brought the space to life with the cinematography.

What do you get out of the two-hander set-up?

The episode is a conversation between two actors in one location. It’s shot for screen, but at the same time it also feels like you could be watching a piece of live theatre. It’s a format unlike anything I’ve ever worked on before. The performance becomes the sole focus with no tricks or clever edits, so there’s really nothing to hide behind, hence why the character prep beforehand was so vital.

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There’s also minimal coverage, which means a lot of the action plays out in a handful of shots. Once you start cutting into scenes of this length with too many shots, the action tends to lose its natural rhythm and spark. It’s really exhilarating to play out a full scene in one take, but it also intensifies the pressure, which in itself brings an added dimension to scene. It’s a great way of working because you have less time to overthink what you’re doing, and rely totally on instinct.

How was it to work with James Nesbitt?

Jimmy is a great leading man, not just in front of the screen, but off-screen too. I worked with Jimmy a few years back on a TV series called The Deep. I adore working with him, and he’s an absolute joy to watch on screen. He’s effortless in performance, so instinctive, and incredibly detailed in his choices. It had been almost 10 years since we worked together, so like Jaisal, I was keen to prove myself, and not drop the ball.

What’s coming up next?

I’m currently filming a major new six-part crime-thriller based on Mo Hayder’s acclaimed Jack Caffery novels called Wolf for the BBC. Megan Gallagher scripts are so good! And I’m also set to return as The Master in the Doctor Who Centenary Special, which will air later this year.

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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.