Interview With 'The Responder' Creator, Writer & Executive Producer Tony Schumacher

Martin Freeman and the cast and creatives discuss new characters, complex relationships, and Scouse accents in series two


Filmed in and around Liverpool, the new series joins the unconventional urgent response officer six months on from series one



30 April 2024 – The Responder is a distinctive new take on crime drama from the makers of The Salisbury Poisonings, Dancing Ledge Productions. Written by ex-police officer Tony Schumacher, his first original series for television, The Responder holds a mirror up to the emotional extremes of life on the front line of British policing – sometimes darkly funny, sometimes painfully tragic, always challenging. The Responder follows Chris Carson (Martin Freeman), a crisis-stricken, morally compromised, unconventional urgent response officer on the beat in Liverpool. Whilst trying to keep his head above water both personally and professionally, his partner Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo) is also looking for meaning in the job but can’t seem to find it anymore. Both know that if they are to survive, they will need each other more than ever.

Series two joins Chris Carson six months on from series one. Chris is attempting to rebuild his life, and his relationships, desperate to avoid the corruption that nearly sucked him under. He is trying to be a better police officer, a better man, and most importantly, a better father to his daughter Tilly. All whilst still dealing with the relentless trauma of being a night response officer. Chris wants a day job. Chris needs a day job. But is he prepared to risk everything to get one? Rachel Hargreaves is putting her life back together too. She’s still fuming at the way Chris dragged her down with him into the dirt in series one, and now she’s desperately trying to take control of a life and a career that sometimes feels like it’s slipping away. But after working with a succession of ‘normal’ coppers, Rachel is starting to realise she’s got more in common with Chris than she’d ever want to admit. As they are sucked back together, and into the night, they must pull each other back into the light. But then a routine stop on a black Range Rover changes everything, and suddenly the darkness beckons once again.

The Responder (5x60’) is written by Tony Schumacher and produced by Fremantle-backed Dancing Ledge Productions, for BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

It is directed by Jeanette Nordahl, Mounia Akl, and Charlotte Regan and produced by Barrington Robinson with multi BAFTA award-winning and Emmy-nominated executive producers Laurence Bowen, Chris Carey and Toby Bruce for Dancing Ledge Productions. Rebecca Ferguson is the executive producer for the BBC.

Fremantle is handling global distribution for the series. Filming took place in and around Liverpool City Region with support from the Liverpool Film Office.

Series one of The Responder is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Interview with Creator, Writer and Executive Producer Tony Schumacher

How did it feel to see the success of series one?

The success of the first series was absolutely mind blowing! It was just totally the weirdest thing ever. When the first episode went out, I took the dog for a walk, when the second episode went out I was sitting in a hotel room in London and social media just went mad and no one was having a go at me, I just assumed everyone was going to be screaming at me, but nobody was, everyone was so positive about the whole show and it was coming from all around the world. Celebrities started talking about the show and I found myself on daytime TV about an hour after I'd finished my breakfast defending the Liverpool accent to Alan Sugar! It was just this craziest thing. I was sitting in a cafe, and I noticed a lady was watching the show on her iPad at another table and seeing her reaction to it, I think that was when it really hit me that we'd done something special.

What is The Responder about?

The Responder is about Chris Carson, a guy who is struggling to be a better person, but who is falling apart inside his head whilst trying to deal with what’s going on in his job. His marriage is over, his family is falling apart, he hasn’t got any real friends and the one friend he did have is dead. Everything is bubbling up and over in his life and yet he is expected as a copper to go out and do the job. A job he doesn’t believe in anymore.

Where do we pick the story up for series two?

At the end of series one Chris was heavily traumatised. Lying in a shell hole, soaked full of mud, with his ears ringing. He was dishevelled and confused - shellshocked in many ways by the death of his best friend, Carl, and the things that he'd done and the lies that he'd told. So, where we find him in series two, is crawling out of that shell hole, thinking the war is over…only to discover it’s not, he is covered in mud, finding his feet, and looking to do it differently this time.

What are the key themes for series two?

It's about people under pressure from organisations that are under pressure. We often hear about the ‘bad apples’ in the police, but I've tried to look at the fact that, in my opinion, the barrel is sometimes rotten and what's making those apples bad is the organisation. I wanted to show that good people can do bad things to survive, and bad people sometimes do good things.

At the beginning of series one Chris says “I want to be a good bobby”. What does he want to be this series?

I think for Chris it isn't about being a good bobby anymore, it's about being a good dad. It's about him being someone who his daughter can look up to and being someone who can look at himself in the mirror. Chris is learning to love himself, having hated himself for years. He feels like a failure for his daughter Tilly and wants to just tell her that he loves her, but he was never told he was loved, so it’s a word he was never taught.

Where do we find Rachel in series two?

In series two we find Rachel suffering from PTSD. She's damaged and she's trying to put the parts of her life back together but is using the wrong tools to do it and is breaking off all the bits that make her work. She won't admit it, but she's been through so much trauma with her ex-partner Steve, and the emotional damage that being in that relationship has done to her. I wanted to show how, what she went through at the hands of her ex-partner, changed her life. Rachel characterises people who go through terrible things, in her case abuse, and how they can carry the weight of that for the rest of their lives.

Tell us about Chris and Rachel's relationship in series two?

In series one Rachel doesn’t believe Chris should be a copper out on the streets because, in her mind, he’s not up to it. However, she soon starts thinking that she’s got to be a bit more like him and in series two it is clear that there is a much deeper understanding between the two of them.

Where do we find Marco and Casey in series two?

Marco is a dad now and he, like Chris, is trying to be a good dad. Casey is also trying to do better and make more of a life for herself but the struggle for both of them is what brings them together and pulls them apart in series two. Their relationship is so important and so delightful, but it's so tense and painful. They are absolutely fantastic characters and Josh and Emily are just so good in those roles.

We have new characters in this series – how did you approach that and what did you want them to offer the story and the audience?

Bringing in new characters while retaining that kernel of love that everyone's got for the characters within series one was a real challenge, but we've got such a depth of talent in Liverpool that it was always going to be that we were going to introduce new characters for those brilliant actors to play. It’s exciting and creatively offered me great opportunities to bring in new characters whilst building on the arcs of our existing ones. Writing the script is like packing for a holiday with ten kids. You know, you're just literally jumping up, down on the suitcase for 2 hours at the end of every draft, trying to get the lid shut. And it's just been a joy writing new characters for actors like Sue Johnston and giving audiences the opportunity to see her in a role they have never seen her play before.

In this series you introduce us to Chris’ dad played by Bernard Hill. Why did you want to write in this character?

Introducing Chris' dad into series two was a funny thing because when people comment about bringing Chris' dad into series two, I have to point out that he has been there in every breath Chris takes, in every thought he has. That man has traumatised Chris to such an extent that he's been there all along. In series one, there is a scene between Chris and his mum (played by the incredible Rita Tushingham) when Chris alludes to an incident of domestic violence when he dropped his Dad’s tobacco - his dad has been there all along. So now we have Bernard Hill playing the character that has invisibly played a large part in the show.

Can you tell us about the character Franny, played by Adam Nagaitis?

Franny is Chris' nemesis, but he's also someone who sees Chris – and Chris finds that deeply uncomfortable, as he is a man who's hidden himself for so long, a man who's covered himself up for so long. Franny is Chris' mirror in many ways, and he's also the one with the poison apple, drawing him in, tempting him constantly back into a world he wants so desperately to leave. The character of Franny came very early on while we were developing series two and Martin said that Adam would great for the role. The minute he said that I started writing the part for Adam, even though we didn’t know he'd be interested in doing the job. Adam’s one of these actors who you can write brilliant dialogue for, but when you watch him perform them you quickly see it’s actually all the bits in between the speaking that really elevate the show. And I just pretend that I meant it to be like that!

How did you find the balance in writing a lead character who's not a ‘nice’ guy and one that audiences would love?

Martin loves playing dislikable characters, I think all actors do, really, because there's a challenge in making someone who's dislikable likeable. I think what people relate to with Chris and saw in Martin's performance, was that he was a guy who was genuinely trying to do his best and trying to not to be a bad person. I think that if Chris had been someone who'd embraced the darkness inside him, people wouldn’t have liked him. It is the struggle between the light and the dark that people have empathy for and because he wants to be “good”, they like that character. It's like Jekyll and Hyde in that he's fighting against this monster within. He's constantly fighting against the thing that makes him want to be bad, make bad decisions and if you stick a few funny lines on the top of that people can relate to him and actually like him.

Is the process of writing such a tense show stressful?

I have a blue vein throbbing constantly in the side of my head. I'm one of the most stressed people on earth so putting that stress into the scripts is really easy. I also write at weird hours, work all night because I write best when I'm tired, so I'll do 80-hour stints sitting in the office, grinding it out, and I hear Chris talking to me as a character, he’s there during those nights. I think the stress shapes him in a way.

There is a lot of humour in the show. Why is it important to include that?

I always wanted to use humour, because for me it's always the thing that is there even in the darkest moments. It's like the mortar between the bricks. It's constant. In the police, if there was one thing you were always guaranteed to do when you were a cop, it was to laugh. Every single shift. You might cry, you might have a foot chase, you might sit all night and just stare into the night, but the fact of the matter is you would, at some point in that night, laugh, so to capture the reality of doing the job of a responder, that humour had to be there in the dialogue.

This year you have three female directors – what have they brought to this series?

Our lead director for this series is Jeanette Nordahl, she loved series one, but wanted to build on it and she did, she's made it so good. And then handed the baton to her fellow directors Mounia Akl and Charlotte Regan who have done the same. They are a formidable, brilliant, super talented group of directors and I am blown away by what they have all achieved this series.

What makes The Responder different from other police shows?

The Responder is not a cop show. I go mad when people call it a cop show or when people say, oh, another show about the police. It's not a cop show, it's a people show. It's about people and it's about relationships and the spaces between these people. It’s about what pulls them together and pushes them apart.

The show had huge success globally - did that surprise you?

Some people had doubts that people would buy into a show from Liverpool, but I had confidence that if we made a great show, it wouldn’t matter where it was set. It could be set in Birmingham, it could be set in Baltimore, it was about people and universal themes like love and loss and that would connect with audiences anywhere in the world. We had a screening in Rome and at the end of the screening there were two people waiting for me. They were in the Italian police, a lady and a gentleman who had watched the series on Italian TV and they told me that it had profoundly affected them. They had been in the police for 25 years and they'd both gone to work the night after watching the show and started crying in the car together. It was very moving to hear that it had connected with them and their experience.

Why should people watch series two of The Responder?

It’s funny, it’s dramatic, it’s exciting. It is beautifully acted. I can’t wait for people to see it!

Source BBC One

April 30, 2024 3:00am ET by Newsdesk  


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