Interview with Siân Brooke who plays Grace Ellis in BBC drama Blue Lights
(Image: BBC/Gallagher Films/Two Cities Television)
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What were your thoughts when you first read the script?
I instantly fell in love with these scripts, Declan and Adam’s writing is quite extraordinary. I’ve always been drawn by character-driven pieces and I think, having both been journalists, it makes them great observers. You can really see that come together in these scripts. We meet these characters in what’s seen as positions of power and responsibility but Declan and Adam show a very personal journey for each of them.
What is it about Declan and Adam’s writing that has tapped into the psyche and culture of Northern Ireland and in particular the PSNI?
The combination of having grown up in NI and having been journalists means there has been a great deal of care in rooting this world in reality and what it’s truly like to do such a job in a city they know so well. I don’t think they shied away from all the facets that make up this beautiful city and it’s a real homage to the city and the people.
Describe how Grace fits into the story of Blue Lights?
We meet her at a moment in her life where she’s made this huge career change from social worker to police officer. I think that decision is hugely informed by the job she used to do and the frustrations of working in that environment. She wants to do a job where she can make a difference and be on the frontline of that change. She has a 17-year-old son and she’s juggling being a mum, a single parent, and learning to do a new, challenging job at the same time. She’s just trying to hold it all together and do the best she can.
How is Blue Lights different from other police dramas?
We often see television dramas with police officers who are experienced and in their prime but what’s lovely about this drama is watching these very different characters enter into a job where they have no idea how it will play out. We see the characters as vulnerable when we usually never think about the police being vulnerable. I think there is something unique and refreshing about it.
What sort of research did you do for the role?
To be honest, I’m a bit of a geek at heart! Each role is like going back to school and learning a brand-new subject. I read hundreds of articles, spoke to police officers and social workers and gathered as much information as I could to build the character. We were lucky enough to visit a PSNI station and talked at length with the officers there. This was invaluable, as they gave us so many insights into what the actual day-to-day life of a serving officer is really like and how it impacts upon their personal life - checking underneath their car each time they drive to work, not being able to tell their children exactly what their job was and the constant shift changes. I remember one of them saying they made so many mistakes the first time, they had to start all over again! The other surprising thing was how heavy the vests were when all the equipment was on - truncheons, radios, batteries, handcuffs, notepads, guns, and then having to leg it after someone at any given moment! Grace and Stevie spend a lot of time in the police car, it’s basically an office on wheels so going out in one of the cars on patrol was a real insight - even things like getting in and out of a car with all the equipment on!
Have you found any ways in which you relate to your character?
Sometimes characters come along that click with you - you can’t totally put your finger on why or how, but they just do. It’s obviously something to do with the writing but Grace just jumped off the page and connected. What I hope the audience find relatable is that even though she’s someone trying to do good in this world, she’s also messy and flawed. I also have a personal connection to the story as my dad was a policeman so it’s a world I was very familiar with growing up. I remember my dad dressed in his uniform every day and him having to be on call and the ingrained responsibility that goes with that role. I especially remember the strong friendships which I think is something that Declan and Adam have caught beautifully.
What’s her relationship like with the other characters in the series?
Grace has the gift of life experience in her previous job compared to Annie and Tommy. She can’t help but take them under her wing. She sees a lot of her younger self in Annie. I loved the relationship that quickly develops between Grace and Stevie. It’s one of the things I cherished in the writing. There is an instant spark between them and because they’ve both been around the block a bit they definitely don’t suffer fools gladly! There is a lightness and banter between them that was an absolute joy to play.
Do you have a favourite scene?
I have to say, riding round in the police stunt cars was a bit special. It’s not something you do every day. You were sat in a car that had absolutely no working functions inside and there would be a stunt driver on top speeding round corners and doing hand brake turns which meant you could have all the fun but none of the responsibility! Perfect!
Do you have any specific memories of working with the director?
Gilles is an absolute wonder, a breath of fresh air from start to finish. He has this boundless sense of childlike curiosity which is totally infectious and allowed everyone to feel like they had the ability to play and therefore do their best work. He’s a gift for an actor.
Blue Lights will start airing from 9pm on 27th March on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Once the first episode has aired the full series of six episodes will become available on BBC iPlayer.
Source BBC One
March 23, 2023 5:00am ET by BBC One