One of the first things Martin Freeman’s fans will notice when they tune in to this eagerly awaited six-part drama, written by former police officer Tony Schumacher, is his near-perfect Liverpool accent.
As John Watson and Bilbo Baggins, arguably the Hampshire-born star’s most high-profile roles (to date), he was on perfectly posh form but for The Responder, Freeman was determined to sound 100 per cent right, even going so far as to phone Schumacher to confirm how his character Chris would say particular words.
“If I wasn’t careful I could be mixing people from different postal districts and social classes,” he says.
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The Responder follows beat copper Chris as he works six exhausting, back-to-back night shifts and, much like real life, switches from moments of bleak drama to pitch-black comedy, from arriving at a house where an elderly woman has been found dead on the sofa to sneakily quaffing her soup and pinching her cigarettes.
Each episode chronicles a single shift, and all Chris wants to do is make it to clock-out time alive and unscathed, but his daily grind is thrown into the air when he’s forced to take on new rookie partner Rachel (played by rising star Adelayo Adedayo). Both soon discover that survival in this high pressure, relentless, night-time world will depend on them either helping or destroying each other.
Over the course of the opening episode, events from the night shift are intercut with Chris talking to an occupational therapist about what violence he may do to himself, his family or even the public.
Martin explains how producers went above and beyond to ensure the first part of the series was filmed, as much as possible, in chronological order to “really help establish the louring, foreboding sense something is about to go off”.
While Chris says he wants to be a “good bobby”, he also admits “the job has ruined me”, and Rachel can see that her colleague is hanging on by his fingertips, dubbing him a “car crash of a human being” in the official trailer.
The Responder is the latest step in a glittering career that has taken Freeman from much-loved loser-in-love Tim Canterbury in TV series The Office, a role he admitted “cast a long shadow”, to international fame in Peter Jackson’s blockbusting Hobbit trilogy.
Notable highlights also include playing Sherlock Holmes’ aforementioned sidekick opposite Benedict Cumberbatch, and showcasing his American accent as Everett K Ross in Marvel’s Black Panther.
After proving time and again he can play the everyman who sometimes, but not always, gets the girl or the golden ring, the actor seems to be relishing the chance to flex his dramatic muscles and show off his darker side.
Upcoming projects include reprising his role as Ross in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, while a third series of the comedy Breeders, which he created, produced and starred in, has also been commissioned.
While it will be nice to see him back on firmly comedic ground, Freeman has already said he’d be up for another series of The Responder, so fingers crossed we don’t have to wait too long to see him in action. And if you enjoy the opening episode, don’t forget the second is being shown on Tuesday.
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