After travelling through space and time as Doctor Who's Bill Potts, Pearl Mackie is staying on terra firma for her latest role in crime miniseries The Long Call.
Pearl plays DS Jen Rafferty, a single mother to two teenagers who has recently moved to Devon for a fresh start after leaving her abusive ex-partner. Her first big case in her new precinct is the discovery of a dead body on the beach, which sees her working alongside DI Matthew Venn (Ben Aldridge), who grew up in the area as part of a religious group known as the Barum Brethren, but left the group after realising he no longer believed — a decision that saw him cut off from his family.
Here Pearl talks about her latest role, playing a mum, and trying to keep a straight face during very serious scenes...
Pearl Mackie on playing DS Jen Rafferty
"Jen is a detective sergeant, she's a single mother, and she's just relocated to Devon with her two teenage kids, aged 16 and 14. She's still kind of new at the station and getting to grips with the way that things work here, which is slightly different from how things worked in London. It's the first big case they've had at the station, so it's the first time that she's really worked closely with Matthew Venn, and they're just getting to know each other, establishing the dynamics and how well they work together in a team. Jen's very diligent and a hard worker — she's very efficient, and I think it would be fair to say that she's trying to achieve that level of control and discipline in her personal life, because she's not had that before."
Do we get to see her home life as well as her job?
"We do get a little insight into her home life, and the difficulties of being a detective on a case and having to deal with kids having exams and day-to-day struggles — and also having them relocate to a totally new place when they've already got an established life and friends.
"Suddenly being moved from South London to Devon is probably quite a shock to the system for them — it's a shock for Jen as well, I think. Jen and her daughter Ella have a really close relationship, which is nice, actually, that's something that really drew me to the role. Jen was young when she had Ella, so there's a real partnership and a sort of friendship there. Ella is more calm and more controlled, where Jen can be a little bit erratic, so I think they balance each other out — it's a really nice dynamic."
The series is based on a book by Ann Cleeves — was it helpful having the novel to refer back to?
"I read some specific parts of the novel that were about Jen, but the Jen that we've created is fairly different from the Jen in the book. We've kind of honed in on the pain that she's experienced, and how she's trying really hard to create a better life for her children — we've focused more on having her as a very intuitive police officer, who is able to understand that Matthew is potentially going through some difficult times with his family and going back into the world that he left."
Having moved from London into a tight-knit small community, is Jen viewed as an outsider?
"I think she views herself as a bit of an outsider, but that's more on Jen than the people she encounters. But I think that's very much to do with her own personal experiences — she's probably always thought of herself as an outsider, even where she's from, I don't think she's someone that has felt comfortable or like she fitted in anywhere in the past. So that feeling is not new to her, but it's something that's potentially more visceral now that she actually is kind of an outsider."
What do you admire about Jen? And do you share any traits with her?
"I think her resilience is what I most admire about her. Having been through this violently abusive relationship for many, many years and being able to escape it and still being able to be strong and be compassionate for her children, and able to be professional at work, I think that's an amazing thing. It doesn't really feel like she's a victim, which is testament to her strength. And in terms of sharing characteristics, I think I'm quite instinctive as a person, and Jen is quite like that as well. That can be a good or a bad thing — sometimes she's quite headstrong and quite quick to react where it's probably better to size things up a little bit, but a lot of the time I think her intuitiveness really helps her as a detective."
Were there any scenes that were tough to get through for any reason?
"Oh yes — Ben and I were in the police station for pretty much two weeks straight. We were in most of the scenes together, all of the interview scenes, and we get on really, really well. There are some scenes with a lot of serious reaction and realisations, and there was one that we just could not get through because we were both laughing all the time. I think it was towards the end of the day as well, and Ben would turn to me with a really serious expression, and I just could not hold it together! It was hilarious — I kept going, 'this is ridiculous! All they need is one take!' We eventually managed to get through it, but there have been a couple of occasions where it's all been rather funny. I think that happens though, when it's a serious subject matter: there's a lot of laughter and jokes behind the scenes. Everyone's been really nice, and we;ve all been having a lovely time!"
- The Long Call launches on ITV on Monday Oct. 25 at 9pm and continues every night at 9pm until Thursday October 28. Meanwhile, in the US The Long Call will drop exclusively on BritBox on Wednesday 28 Oct.
Steven Perkins is a Staff Writer for TV & Satellite Week, TV Times, What's On TV and whattowatch.com (opens in new tab), who has been writing about TV professionally since 2008. He was previously the TV Editor for Inside Soap before taking up his current role in 2020. He loves everything from gritty dramas to docusoaps about airports and thinks about the Eurovision Song Contest all year round.
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