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TV Quickfire: Ben Aldridge on starring as Detective Inspector Matthew Venn in ITV drama The Long Call

Fleabag and Our Girl star Ben Aldridge takes the lead in four-part ITV drama The Long Call. We found out more from him about his character Detective Inspector Matthew Venn

The Long Call: Ben Aldridge as DI Matthew Venn

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE LONG CALL?

I HAD narrated the audiobook and heard afterwards that it was being commissioned by Silverprint Pictures as a TV series. I remember thinking at the time that, although Matthew and I were extremely different in personality and energy, there were many crossovers and experiential similarities.

When they were originally casting, I was unavailable. Later, though, my commitments shifted and it became a possibility.

YOU AND YOUR CHARACTER BOTH IDENTIFY AS GAY. WAS IT LIBERATING TO PLAY HIM?

Extremely. I've been wanting to play a character whose sexuality and emotional inner world is similar to my own and this felt like the right project to do so. A lot of what Matthew has experienced and continues to navigate in this piece is recent history for me.

Acting is imaginative and creative and sometimes requires spending time in situations that you haven't necessarily experienced yourself or know about yet, that's what enables actors to play a range of parts beyond their own experience, that's the ideal anyhow.

That said, I've been wanting to play a role that I knew from the inside out, a role that was close to me, that didn't involve total imagination but instead, drew on and expressed some of my own experiences.

DO YOU SHARE ANY OF MATTHEW'S EXPERIENCES WITH RELIGION?

I was raised as an evangelical Christian, and before that, my parents and grandparents had themselves been devout members of the Brethren. Both my grandfathers were Elders in their respective churches.

My parents moved away from that particular domination when they met, however the memories lived on in my wider family, as did some of the culture. I was able to use that knowledge and my own experience growing up in the evangelical movement in relation to Matthew.

Parts of it were extremely similar; there were so many corresponding conversations and coincidences. I was able to ask my parents about many of the specifics regarding the Brethren. They were both brilliant sources of information. We spent hours talking, dissecting, reminiscing, telling stories.

HOW HAS THIS AFFECTED MATTHEW?

Matthew had been ostracised by the Barum Brethren and his own mother, Dorothy, as they believe being gay is a sin and results in burning in the fires of hell. Matthew had to leave his family and everything he'd known behind as a young adult and is only returning now 20 years later.

WHAT'S THEIR MOTHER-SON RELATIONSHIP LIKE?

They are both stuck in a state of unexpressed turmoil – two people who cannot bring themselves to talk about the very issue that is destroying them; Matthew's homosexuality. The Barum Brethren don't express emotion, they are stoical.

When these two characters are re-united in the story, they are worlds apart in ideology, beliefs and lifestyle. Matthew has spent 20 years living in the secular world, Dorothy is frozen in time, clinging to her religion.

It is near impossible to reason with or change what someone faithfully believes to be true, to be 'fact', and Matthew knows that. Therefore, even though he perhaps longs for his mother's acceptance, it feels a futile desire.

Talking is an essential part of healing both for parents and queer children, but here they just manage to hurt each other further.

HOW WAS THE ATMOSPHERE ON SET?

Surprisingly, it was a very funny set. In front of camera, the drama itself was pretty dark and intense — there's a lot of pain in the piece, but on set, there was always laughter, a lot of levity.

:: The Long Call airs on ITV tonight at 9pm.

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