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TV – Five minutes with… Martin Freeman

The Responder is a new take on a crime drama – and you'll see a different side to lead star Martin Freeman, as Georgia Humphreys discovers...

Martin Freeman in The Responder
By Georgia Humphreys, PA

LONG night shifts on the front line of Liverpool policing, with no idea of the situations you might be called to – and your own mental health struggles.

That's the situation facing Chris Carson (Martin Freeman), a morally compromised first responder working in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, and the character at the centre of new BBC One series The Responder.

A darkly funny and intense watch, the five-part crime drama is based on the real experiences of the writer, ex-police officer Tony Schumacher.

Having been demoted from Detective Inspector to PC three years ago – for perceived corruption – Chris is crisis-stricken, struggling both professionally and personally.

He's seeing a therapist, there's a complicated relationship with a childhood friend called Carl (who also happens to be a local drug dealer), and he has a wife and daughter at home.

Then he faces a fresh challenge, as he's forced to take on a new rookie partner, Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo).

Here, we find out more from Aldershot-born Freeman (50, famous for his roles in The Office, Sherlock, and The Hobbit film trilogy.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO PLAY THIS CHARACTER?

He is a great mixture of vulnerability and strength. I think there is something about a man of few words that is attractive. There's a reason why people like characters that don't have to over-explain themselves and I think Chris is one of them. He's very intelligent, he's emotionally smart, but he's a copper. He finds it hard to be open at home and with his counsellor, and in his job it's probably wise not to be open, so he picks his moments when he can let off steam and talk to people. But those are few and far between and the amount of plates he is spinning is frightening. So much so that if he drops even one of those plates he could wind up dead.

THE MORAL AMBIGUITY OF CHRIS IS SO INTERESTING TOO…

That was one of the things that I thought about in the pilot episode; I wasn't being told what to think, and I wasn't being told who the goodies or baddies were, or that he was a goodie or baddie. Essentially he is a decent human being, but, faced with the challenges of his job – he's probably been in the job over 20 years – that tends to take some of the shine off your character because you're turning up at the worst times in people's lives.

WHAT SORT OF RELATIONSHIP DOES CHRIS HAVE WITH HIS NEW POLICE PARTNER RACHEL?

Neither of them wants to be each other's partner because Chris knows that Rachel doesn't respect him. She gets a bad vibe off him and he believes it's likely to do with the fact that he has a bit of a sketchy past on the job and she knows it. There's a barely disguised antipathy between them for much of the series. However, as the series progresses, Rachel begins to find out more and more about Chris and discovers he may not be as bad as he's been made out to be.

YOU HAVE HAD SO MANY GREAT TV ROLES OVER THE YEARS. WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU READ TONY'S SCRIPTS?

It didn't feel like it was written by committee. It didn't feel like it was written for anybody else apart from the person who had written it. There were things about it where you just thought, ‘He's just going for it'. And it had its own tone. It was just pleasing itself, and I like work that pleases itself because hopefully, by rationale, it's bound to please some other people. But it wasn't being written to please the folks over here, and then the folks over there; it was just someone's own experience.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU THINK IS UNIQUE ABOUT THE RESPONDER?

I think it's a drama that doesn't offer answers but asks a lot of questions. There is nothing neat about it – it's chaotic and unsettling and there's an underlying authenticity to it. We all wanted to make something different that was exciting and unformulaic.

DOES THAT SENSE OF ‘WONDER' COME BACK TO YOU WHEN YOU READ A SCRIPT LIKE THIS?

I haven't read anything like it before and I love being excited by scripts because every time you get a script you do want it to be The Godfather. You do want it to be amazing and you live in eternal hope. Then, very occasionally, when your ability aligns with other people's skills and when someone has such faith in you, it's lovely. I have a reasonably healthy ego but there were several times in the run-up to filming that I asked Tony, Chris (Carey, executive producer) and Laurence (Bowen, executive producer) if they were sure they had the right man for the job and couldn't they get someone better than me. Then Tony said that he'd had me in mind when he wrote it and kept seeing me in scenes when he was writing it, so that really relaxed me.

HOW DIFFICULT DID YOU FIND DOING THE SCOUSE ACCENT?

I definitely had to work. I read the pilot episode at the beginning of 2019, not knowing exactly when we would do it and then, of course, Covid happened. I had one session with the late great (dialect coach) Joan Washington, a Zoom thing. It (the accent) was already in pretty good shape because my ear's OK. But, obviously, I was mindful because the first Zoom read-through we did, it's me and a lot of Liverpudlian actors, and it's the first time that I was doing it in front of people like that – people who weren't my girlfriend or my kids. So that was pretty nerve-racking. It was delightful, actually, because I heard a few people say after, ‘I didn't know Martin was originally from Liverpool!' It was such a relief.

The Responder starts on BBC One on Monday January 24. All episodes will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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