Interview with David Morrissey who plays Ian St Clair in Sherwood
David Morrissey plays Detective Chief Superintendent Ian St Clair
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What attracted you to the role in Sherwood?
I had the first three episodes, which were sent to me, and then a sort of story outline for the next three and I loved it. I love the idea of it being this ensemble piece about a community. I thought it was subtly written, a story about a historical event which I knew a lot about. I'd lived through that time and it was about the repercussions of that time in Nottingham. I was very excited about it and I had quite a bit of time before they started so I was able to do quite a bit of research as well.
Can you tell us who your character is, and how he fits in with the community?
I play a high-ranking police officer in Nottingham. When we meet him he's being honoured for tackling street crime and gang violence in the city, so he's successful. His path is in the right place. I guess you could describe him as a pillar of the community. He then very quickly has to investigate a brutal killing. Someone who he knows from his past, who is killed on the streets he grew up in. He has to go back to his childhood area to investigate this terrible death of a man he knows and that puts him back into a community and a place in time and history that was very complicated for the community, and very complicated for him personally. He has to confront many demons, not just demons that are being played out amongst everybody else, but amongst himself as well, inside of himself. So, he's the law, but he's also someone who is trying to hold on to a moral centre.
Did you already know about the true crime events that the series is inspired by?
I had heard of them. I read the scripts and then I went for a walk with James, so I was able to discuss with him where the seed of this idea had come from, the true events, his background. It was something I knew about, it wasn't something I was across in detail. But I did know about the wider story that this event uncovers.
How familiar were you with the history and the legacy of the minor strikes, and what research did you undertake before filming?
I don't believe there's anybody of my age who isn't aware of the miners’ strike and what it meant to the country. I think certainly having lived through that time, but also how that time has been shown in drama, in some really shows like Our Friends In The North or Billy Elliot you know about it. It's a massive part of our history, that has reverberations right through to today and will continue to. That makes me sound so old that is something I remember vividly.
I was in Liverpool at that time, and then I moved down to London to come to drama school around ‘84. It was a very active part of my early adulthood. We were on marches, it seemed to me, every weekend about either the miners’ strike or Rock Against Racism, all those relevant issues… people's marches for jobs. It was a very politically active time for us all. So, research wise, there were lots of different strands to it. There was the historical strand of the big picture, which was what was happening at that time and there's so much material for that, both in film and television, as well as literature on YouTube and online, so I was able to go back and remind myself of those times. But then specifically, the one thing I hadn't experienced was how the miners’ strike had affected the county of Nottingham. And how Nottingham miners had formed their own union in order to stay in work. They had taken on the union, The National Union Of Mineworkers. I was less aware of that and less knowledgeable about that before my research.
Also, as I was playing a police officer I sort of researched him. I spoke to many police officers who were either involved in the investigation that in part inspired the drama, as well as those involved in investigations like that. I spoke to quite a few miners, but I only ever spoke to miners who were in the NUM. I couldn't find any miners in the UDM to speak to me, although I did do lots of asking and trying to find people who would talk to me, I couldn't find anybody from that union, but I read testimonies from UDM miners. I went up to Nottingham and I spoke to a friend of mine who had been an MP up there, Gloria del Piero, and she was able to put me in contact with police officers and ex miners, she was very helpful to me. James is, of course, very helpful because he comes from there. And so my research was both personal testimonies, from people who had been there, and then research via historical books and YouTube really.
Did you speak to Russ, the real detective who lead the enquiries the story is inspired by?
Yes, I spoke to a number of policemen, both who are still in the force and people who are retired, and Russ was one of them. Russ was brilliant. He was very helpful to me. In terms of procedure, in terms of energies, where you would put your energies as an officer. He was very helpful in terms of walking that fine line between a real police investigation and the community at large, and how you needed to keep the peace in a community when something shocking like this has happened, and how that door-to-door, house-to-house policing is conducted.
Also, how policing has changed, how modern policing is different from how it was years ago. So, things like being on the frontline of a picket line as a police officer compared to what you're doing now, is very different, That was important for me because there's a real historical element to this. So Russ was very, very helpful for that. And what was really great about Russ was I was able to tap in with him during the process as well. When I hit a brick wall, or I had a question, he was always available to me, in the sense of sending him a text saying, "Would you ever do this?", "Is this something that would happen?", "How would you go about this"’ He was always very helpful in terms of the investigative process.
Also, it would be important to say that there were four or five other policemen who I spoke to, who were equally as helpful to me. It was important for me to make sure I get their perspective, because I'm not playing Russ, so it's important for me to have more than one source in one particular arena.
What about the spy cops element?
I did know about spy cops, not in this arena, which is the trade union arena, but in environmental arena such as activist unions and organisations. It's an area that is very alive, as there is an ongoing public investigation into undercover operatives. It was important for me to make sure that I was staying on our story, which was about spy cops being used in trade unions at this time during the miner’s strike.
It's a very contemporary story, but there's a lot in there that will resonate with viewers in today's world. What elements do you think will resonate most widely with audiences?
I think divided community is really alive at the moment. The idea that we are being pushed to the extremes and how a community lives amongst itself, with people with very different views and opinions living side by side. Also, how we deal with history, both recent and ancient history that we live through, and how we have to come to terms with that in order to move on, in order to live our lives without the desire for revenge or animosity.
But I also see how communities and people are susceptible to manipulation from above, that they can be manipulated in really extreme ways. In our country where we believe we live in a very free and open democracy; we can often be accused of looking at the world and thinking we don't behave like that. That we're above such behaviour, so we can condemn other countries and their manipulation and even brutality. And yet, it's harder for us sometimes to look at ourselves and see that we're just as capable of doing that. And I think James really digs into that and sees it from a historical context as well as a modern context.
It's James Graham's most personal work so far, how closely have you worked with him?
We went for a walk beforehand, James is a very accessible person. He's someone who's very, very available. He's a writer who doesn't hide from you, which is great. But he also has great integrity, great storytelling ability. I think he's someone who's very passionate about this subject. What I loved about this piece is that it doesn't fit into any category - it's not a whodunnit, it's not as procedural. It may come under the term of state of the nation but I think it's about the public, the private and the personal. It's about those elements of all of us and I think it's very prescient, it's very topical. And I think it is a very important subject to be investigating at the moment.
It's also important to highlight Lewis Arnold and Ben, who were the two directors, but also Rebecca Hodgson, who I just think is brilliant. And so she was always very there for us, very self present, very liberating and trusting. So those people as well. And it was in a time when, and I'm sure this is true of so many productions, Covid was happening for us. And she negotiated that brilliantly.
There is an incredible ensemble cast in this one, do you have any favourite moments from set?
One of the great locations, one of the central locations, is the club. It's the Working Men's Club, and lots of action happens there, lots of community events. We filmed in this club, and we had this one place where we’d all hang out and I've never laughed so much in my life. And, you know, Sean Gilder, Lesley Manville, Lorraine Ashbourne, all of us just hanging out and chatting and laughing and then we get called to set and to have to have a big fight and an argument. But it's people like Kevin Doyle and Claire Rushbrook, everybody that came in to the cast every day, Robert Glenister - you just went, oh my god, they're in it as well! It was just phenomenal, everywhere you turned there were people who are just top of their game really. And that was wonderful. I really had a lovely time, people like Adeel Akhtar, people I'd wanted to work with for years and people I've worked with before. It was pretty phenomenal on those big days when everybody played, it was so great.
Sherwood starts on BBC One on Monday, 13 June, 2022
Source BBC One
June 10, 2022 4:30am ET by BBC One