We Brits love a police drama, yet The Responder starring Martin Freeman promises to give us a new perspective on the unique challenges faced by frontline officers.
Created by debut screenwriter and former police officer Tony Schumacher, under the mentorship of acclaimed TV producer Jimmy McGovern, the five-part drama follows an urgent response officer, Chris Carson, as he answers a host of emergency calls during five-night shifts in Liverpool.
Yet with the stress of his job overtaking him and his marriage crumbling, Chris soon finds himself battling to keep his head above water. Martin Freeman, explains what the series is all about.
Martin Freeman on Tony Schumacher's scripts for 'The Responder'
"When Laurence Bowen first sent me the scripts he was very excited and after reading the first few pages I felt this was really something else. It wasn’t a drama that was written by committee, it was unfiltered Tony Schumacher and I really liked that he put whatever he wanted on the page. Tony has been writing for a long time but the fact that this is his first television drama means he is far from having gotten into a comfortable groove or formulaic. He just put on the page whatever the hell he thought needed to be there and that is really exciting."
What stood out to you about the character of Chris Carson?
"The Responder is like nothing else I've ever down before and the reason I wanted to play Chris is that 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 counselor 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 number of plates he is spinning is frightening. So much so that if he drops even one of those plates he could wind up dead."
How did you find playing Chris with a Scouse accent?
"I haven't played a character with a Scouse accent before and I was incredibly mindful of that when I was reading the script. It read pure Liverpudlian to me and I knew Tony was from Liverpool. He always said to me that the character didn’t have to be from Liverpool — that not all coppers in Merseyside are from Merseyside but I really felt Chris had to be from the city. I also knew that if I couldn't do it properly then I wouldn't do the accent. I would just have done my own version of my own voice. I was really pleased when I heard that some of the Scouse actors asked if I was from Merseyside – it was like I’d passed some sort of test. I worked really hard at it because there was no way I was prepared to go on telly doing a terrible Scouse accent in Liverpool with a load of Liverpudlian actors. I'd get taken to the cleaners and rightly so."
What is the character facing when we meet him?
"Chris has got himself mixed up in activity that he shouldn't be involved in and he's been partnered with a new trainee police officer who doesn’t like him and who suspects him of being bent. He’s got very little time for some trainee who judges him on what he's been doing these past 20 years so there's a lot going on. Plus, his marriage is falling apart as well. He wants to be a good dad and I like his dynamic with the family – he’s such a loving person but he just can’t seem to make it work.
"I shouldn’t love him but I do. Who amongst us hasn’t messed up at some point? Perhaps not to the same extent that Chris has but who amongst us wouldn’t do some of the things he does if faced with the same circumstances? His family situation is precarious and his marriage is hanging by a thread. I think both he and his wife, Kate are trying to make it work in that way that sometimes you can see each other through a fog but you’ve grown too far apart to see each other through the crisis."
What sort of relationship does Chris have with his 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. We see a mentee/mentor relationship begin to develop between them and they begin to thaw each other out."
What sort of world does Chris find himself being drawn into?
"Chris knows his own city and is familiar with his beat so he has gotten to know lots of the characters he relies on for local information. His contacts Casey and Marco are just trying to make their way through any means they can. They’re not violent or horrible people. They’ve just got caught up in either their addictions or thieving or whatever their vice is.
"Chris is quite a softie really and wants them to be ok and get by. He wants to take people like Casey, a street kid with a heroin addict under his wing and if he can help her, he will. Having said that, he can also be cruel too. People like Chris are called into situations that are not going to play out well and that tension has to build up somehow. There are a lot of mental health issues, homelessness, addiction, violence and a lot of humor as well. That gallows sense of humor is prevalent across all the emergency services where responders are dealing with life and death situations. He deals with a lot of people who are forgotten, neglected or ignored and that has to have an effect on him."
What insight do we get to Chris in the therapy sessions?
"I always feel that without vulnerability, you're useless. You're useless as an actor, and drama without vulnerable characters is very boring because it's just a lot of cardboard cut-outs of people being heroic. There are versions of coppers being heroic and it’s talked about how the job does take a massive toll on people. Chris is just one of them and the one whose story we follow. He isn’t connecting with his wife even though we see him trying so his counseling sessions are his only means of letting go. We get the sense that he really wants the therapy to work but a), it's finite and he will only get a certain number of sessions and b) the therapist herself is completely overwhelmed by her workload and despite everyone trying to do their best, it’s never enough."
What kind of research did you do to prepare for playing someone with mental health issues?
"The research I did is living in my body and head for my lifetime. Chris says he has anxiety and depression, but he’s not suffering from something particular. I’ve had enough anxiety and depression in my life. If it was a specific thing I would have done research, but I read the script and read about his experiences at work and how his marriage was falling apart and it’s easy to understand what he’s going through."
Chris and Casey have a unique relationship. What was it like to work with newcomer Emily Fairn who plays Casey?
"I saw Emily’s audition tape and her strength was that we didn't know what she was going to do next — that was genuinely exciting. She came out with actions and reactions that were completely unexpected and I really wanted to play with that. Emily brought a real lightness and freshness to the part of Casey that could have been played in the usual depressing, heavy, and earnest way, which isn’t necessarily the wrong way to play it, but Emily’s instincts were different. She plays Casey as very much alive, funny, irreverent, and surprising and that’s her skill as an actor, to be surprising."
What's 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."
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Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are The Great British Bake-Off, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.