Nicola Walker's new crime drama Annika is, well, not a traditional crime drama. Yes, there are murders to solve, red herrings to avoid and suspects to interrogate, but the lead character DI Annika Strandhed is unlike most TV detectives — for starters, she frequently turns to the camera and addresses the audience at home.
Annika's chats with the viewer can range from her musings on a classic work of literature to her worries about parenting her teenage daughter Morgan (Sylvie Furneaux), and as a result the series feels warmer and more intimate than a typical gritty whodunnit.
We caught up with Nicola during a break in the filming of the series to find out more about her unconventional new role...
Nicola Walker on what we can expect from Annika
"The show is set in Glasgow, and it's a Marine Homicide Unit. It's dangerous to bill it as a crime drama, because it's a lot more than that, and the unusual thing about it is that my character breaks the fourth wall constantly, so the audience is very much the other character in the show — you're all in it too!"
What was it like talking directly into the camera?
"The first time we did it, on the first day, it felt so peculiar. All actors are trained not to look down the barrel of the lens. Sometimes you have to go again [on a take] — 'go again, the actor looked down the lens!' — so to force myself to look directly into the camera was strange. Now, it feels completely normal to me — you're with Annika at all times, I flick you a look when there's a break in the case or something's gone wrong in her personal life. It feels like either an unseen partner in her private life or her partner at work; you're just the unseen other cast member."
This isn't the first time you've played Annika, is it?
"I've been doing it on Radio 4 for something like seven years. Nick Walker, the writer, has always sort of talked about it going onto television and what it would be like, and I never really thought that was going to happen. And then [production company] Black Camel came along — at the beginning of lockdown I got a phone call from my agent, and we were both like 'there is no way this is going to happen'. Then to find ourselves in December beginning it was absolutely surreal. The journey was very quick and very, very unexpected!"
Annika is the head of the Marine Homicide Unit, so she spends a lot of time on the water. What was that like?
"I'd like to point out that myself and Jamie [Sives, who plays DS Michael McAndrews] are now in possession of a level 2 powerboat licence! I don't want to be a cliché, but my parking of the powerboat is not good. Obviously the technical term is not 'parking it'! But Jamie's a really bad stern-seat driver — you can't see him on camera going, 'left! Left! Go left!'. That's been brilliant — during a global pandemic, to have someone say, 'do you want to come to Scotland and learn how to drive the most beautiful, expensive powerboats?' 'Yeah!'"
Annika launches on Alibi on Tuesday August 17 at 9pm.
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