The Suspect | Interview with James Strong (Director)

Q: Why did you want to direct The Suspect?

“I loved Peter Berry’s scripts. A contemporary thriller based in London with a brilliant character – clinical psychologist Dr Joe O’Loughlin, played by Aidan Turner – at the heart of it. It had everything in a script that I was looking for as a director.

“It felt fresh, exciting and an interesting new way into a kind of whodunit and not a straightforward police procedural. The central character being somebody who you were invited to think was a hero and then you are not so sure about him. Might he, in fact, be the killer?

“Watching this you will have that doubt and questioning about whether he is the murderer or not. Hopefully, if we have done our job right, the audience will be divided. He is a flawed character. He lies and does unlikeable things. But does that mean he is a killer? Clearly something is going on because he is not telling the truth about a lot of things.

“This is a man who at the start of this story is at the top of his profession, happily married and a national hero. Albeit struggling with a recent diagnosis of early onset Parkinson’s. We then see the chipping away of that and by the end of episode two his life is in tatters. Accused of the murder of someone he had lied to the police about. Everything falls apart.

“The whole package of working with World Productions again on a top end ITV thriller was also very exciting. The joy for me is creating the world, casting and setting it all up. I directed the first three episodes with Camilla Strøm Henriksen directing the final two.”

Q: Aidan Turner looks very different in The Suspect to how viewers may remember him. What was the thinking behind that?

“Aidan is almost unrecognisable at first with a beard. It immediately transformed Aidan and he just became this character. While he also uses his own Irish accent in this.

“I think that’s what appealed to Aidan about the role of Joe O’Loughlin and certainly we needed an actor with the skill to be able to do that. To take the audience on a journey but also not be too unlikeable. With a real sense of suspense about whether or not he is a killer.

“The way we did it during filming was that often we might do a take where Joe is an innocent man who really doesn’t know what is going on. And then we would do the ‘guilty’ version. So how would you play Joe if he is lying and trying to get away with something?

“It’s very interesting playing with those two different things. Aidan does all of that brilliantly. He looks innocent at one point and then in the next you think he is guilty.

“Aidan will also bring a audience because of the interest in him. They will then see him inhabit this character and they will forget it’s Aidan Turner. You will just see this clinical psychologist Dr Joe O’Loughlin.”

Q: How did you approach the depiction of Joe O’Loughlin’s early onset Parkinson’s?

“We had an advisor on set. When he saw the finished drama he said in his opinion we had got it absolutely right. It’s a condition that has a very long progression and it’s diagnosed partly through watching someone’s physical behaviour. There’s no conclusive clinical test to say you’ve got it.

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“Aidan spent hours with a doctor and met a number of people with Parkinson’s. He did a lot of research to ensure the portrayal was very accurate. Including how stress can trigger symptoms. All of that was incredibly important to get right.”

Q: The opening minutes sees Joe attempting to rescue a young man about to jump from a ledge high up on a hospital building. How did you set about filming that sequence?

“It’s an incredibly complicated process. You sit down with all of the departments and work out how best to do it. A combination of the art, stunts and camera departments. All of those elements asking, ‘How do we do this?’

“First of all we had to find the right location that you can believe is a hospital but also has a ledge that is just right. That’s quite tricky to find. The building we chose is right in the centre of London’s Paddington with amazing architecture. We were very fortunate to find it and also that they let us go ahead with this filming.

“Of course you can’t put Aidan and the other actor actually high up on that ledge. So it was a combination of having stunt guys up there on a crane and then constructing a substantial section of that building on a set which we built in a car park in Dagenham.

“Later adding all of the special effects. Then working out what we needed to shoot at the hospital and then at the set. And finally putting it all together. I think when you watch it on screen it works very well.

“I like to work with real people as much as possible. So all of the fire officers in those scenes are real life fire and rescue crew members. They were brilliant. Word perfect every time. It all helps to make it believable.”

Q: The Suspect involves an investigation into the murder of a young woman. You re-shot one of the scenes. Why?

“The investigation is led by Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz, played by Shaun Parkes, working with Detective Sergeant Riya Devi, played by Anjli Mohindra. The Suspect is based on a novel written some years ago and for story reasons the victim had to remain as a young woman. But we felt that maybe part of the job of this drama was to update certain aspects of it. To make it feel correct for today.

“We shot a scene in a King’s Cross cemetery where the murder victim is found. Then overnight I phoned the executive producer Jake Lushington and the writer Peter Berry and said, ‘It feels remiss in 2022 not to acknowledge the fact that this is yet another female victim.’

“Thankfully Peter and Jake responded immediately. So Peter then wrote a speech for DI Ruiz where Ruiz says, ‘I don’t have the words for it anymore. I just don’t.’ And we re-shot that scene the next day.

“I really wanted to acknowledge that it is often portrayals of female victims we see on screen. But I didn’t want it to be gratuitous. I wanted it to be acknowledged that victims of sexual assault and violence are disproportionately female. It’s wrong, but it keeps happening. A detective of Ruiz’s rank would have to deal with many cases like this. It felt correct to acknowledge that and to mark the horror of it and the problem of that in our society.

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“Shaun is an actor I’ve worked with before many years ago on Doctor Who. He was recently nominated for a BAFTA and is absolutely brilliant. His character Vincent Ruiz is pretty laid back, but actually as sharp as a razor. I’ve also worked with Anjli before on Vigil. So we had two great actors in those roles. They had a chemistry together straight away.”

Q: What was your approach to filming in central London?

“For me, the chance to shoot contemporary London was a joy. I’ve wanted to do that for a few years. I thought there was a different way of doing it that was still cinematic and had scale. We also wanted London to be a character in the piece. To be shown off in all its glory – and it looks amazing.

“A lot of the aerial drone shots are around London Bridge. So you hover above the railway station and the trains coming in and out are like eels or snakes. It reminded me of those images of the neurons in the brain. It had a visual landscape that I liked.

“While other scenes were filmed in the King’s Cross area – with more train images. Also showing the London of today. I hadn’t seen the new redeveloped King’s Cross shot from the air. So it’s the London of now. It’s not the Houses of Parliament, the heritage, tourist London. It’s the modern cityscape which is ever changing, vibrant and extraordinary.

“London also gives us a certain scale. But the challenges of filming in the capital are still there. It is difficult. But you just have to be really organised and clear about what you are doing. And it is well worth it.

“Our police station location is amazing with views across to both The Shard and London Bridge. You spend the whole day looking out of the windows. It was a stunning location and worth the effort. Our location manager David Colenutt was amazing. He got us into some fantastic places.”

Q: How do you reflect back on working on The Suspect?

“I loved the ensemble of the cast. A great bunch and all brilliant. And it was a wonderful script. A real page turner. You just know the audience will love it because it has all of those ingredients that make it compulsive. Viewers will want to know what is going on in each episode…and what happens at the end.”

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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.