Deadwater Fell: Interview with Matthew McNulty who plays Police Sergeant Steve Campbell

Talk us through Deadwater Fell?
It’s set in an idyllic suburban Scottish village, within a close community where everybody knows each other, everything seems perfect, everyone has their place, it’s quite old-school in terms of gender stereotypes and we explore that throughout the series. You’ve got male doctors, female teachers, a male headteacher, a male policeman.

They all kind of fit into neatly labelled compartments within that village. You’ve got two versions of the perfect family as well. You’ve got the Kendricks who are affluent, attractive, with a nice house, a nice car, but not without difficulties. They can seemingly juggle everything and be happy which just makes the village believe in how strong they are.

Then you’ve got the Campbells who are a couple very much in love. More pragmatic, than the Kendricks and slightly lower in status in the village. Then a massive tragedy hits and it pulls the floor from the community and really rocks the foundations of that world. The show explores how people put on a façade, how relationships aren’t as strong as you see, a seemingly warm and open community can harbour chilling behaviour. It’s highlights the fact that you never know what goes on behind closed doors.

What was it about the show that appealed to you when you were first offered the part?
It was the best script I’d read in a long time. First I look at the story and how it unfolds and I thought it was pitched and paced perfectly. Then looking at the character of Steve himself. It seemed the perfect project and I really connected with him. As an actor it allowed me, through Steve’s journey, to go to certain extremes in terms of performance.

That’s kind of the main appeal for any actor. I knew David was involved, I knew Cush was involved, so it was a chance to work with them. There are loads of big moments in the series and I get to share them with actors like David Tennant, Cush Jumbo and Anna Madeley. It was like a dream job, really. In terms of the whole show itself and the production itself, I thought it would be interesting and exciting as well to work on something that deals with the idea of masculinity and what it means to be a man in a patriarchal society, but it was told from the perspective of a female writer and it unfolds through the perspective of a female director.

And the producers at Kudos are all female. They’re probably best placed to shine a light on something like that.

Can you tell us about Steve?
Steve is a local police sergeant. He’s very much your guy next door. He and Jess share custody of his two sons with his ex-wife, Sandra, and they’re also going through IVF treatment for their own baby. So it seems quite complicated, but they’re strong enough to deal with those difficulties. He’s never really had to confront his mental wellbeing and his instinct is to be a stoic, practical man who’s strong for everyone else.

Plus, he’s the Police Sergeant, he’s revered within the community and the pressure he feels to conform to that strong male stereotype is arguably higher than for anyone else. Although he is comfortable in his own skin, he’s not comfortable with his emotions, because he’s never had to deal with anything really heavy. His separation with Sandra, the IVF treatment, he’s probably looked at it in a pragmatic way and the fact he thinks he can deal with it enforces that behaviour for him.

However, because he’s not comfortable with his emotions he’s prone to spouts of aggression. The tragedy reveals who he is and everything he’s buried. Because of his family, his small boys, because of his sense of masculinity, he really ends up having to look at himself, look at who he really is and start to re-build himself mentally.

You touched on it briefly, but how does his relationship with Jess change across the drama?
The relationship is solid. Steve loves her, she loves him. They’re definitely right for each other, she’s a great stepmother to his kids. I suppose the issue initially is that because he doesn’t have a strong emotional radar he doesn’t really see when things aren’t going well, because he likes things to be simple and sorted, all black and white.

It can lead him to be slightly insensitive as to how Jess feels. With the IVF, that’s a pressure on the relationship, but that ties into the thing I was saying before out it being the perfect community. Because they’re seen to be the ‘perfect couple’ they think they should have a child together as that’s just the done thing in society.

You’ve got a strong mental health storyline throughout the series. Did you do any research for that or speak to anybody?
Not really, but I know the causes and the effects of mental health problems and blocking things off and not talking about stuff, I know the societal views on masculinity, fitting in being a “lad” and what it means to be a man through my own experiences and that of friends. In my late teens/early twenties I had severe bouts of anxiety.

Like Steve, I’ve had panic attacks and didn’t really know how to deal with them. I remember thinking what is wrong with me but the more you talk about it the more you realise you’re not alone and you can overcome. I think it’s about being very open, talking about it and just trying to manage the injuries mental illness can cause.

I guess, relating it to Deadwater Fell, it’s seeing the signs in other people. With Steve, he had a massive amount of guilt that he couldn’t stop the tragedy from happening, what did he miss? how could he be so naive? Couple that with his inability to communicate … bad things happen when you bottle things up.

What was it like filming up in Scotland?
Filming in Scotland is amazing. It’s so beautiful. We went to some amazing locations. We took over a little village called Dunlop and a lot of the residents became extras. They were all lovely and welcoming, as were the midges! I must have the right kind of flesh for midges because I got bitten all the time. Aside from that I loved it!

Your accent is pitch perfect. Did you do dialect coaching?
I do love the accent, I was one of the few English people on set. Being amongst all that, there’s something comforting about it. There’s something about Scotland, isn’t there? The Celtic history and the storytelling. Despite the fact that what we were filming quite heavy scenes, there’s something quite comforting about it as a place. The setting and the people were amazing. It’s a bit of a tight-knit group, the Scottish crew and they make you feel you’re in safe hands.

January 2, 2020 5:46am ET by Channel 4  

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