Line of Duty cast and crew reveal behind the scenes secrets

GRAEME COUSINS learns the secrets of the hit BBC crime drama from the people involved in bringing it to life

Saturday, 20th March 2021, 10:00 am
Updated Monday, 22nd March 2021, 12:33 pm

Not all aspects of journalism have suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic, some things have even improved.

A prime example was a Zoom webinar that took place earlier this month involving key players from the BBC’s highly-acclaimed crime drama Line of Duty.

I’ve done round table interviews before where a number of journalists take turns to ask questions to their subjects. Where TV programmes are concerned it is often done on set with one or two big names at a time, as and when they become available.

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Filming begins on series six of Line Of Duty. (C) World Productions - Photographer: World Productions
Filming begins on series six of Line Of Duty. (C) World Productions - Photographer: World Productions

There can be a lot of waiting around and interviews can sometimes become unwieldy – you’re talking at least half a day’s work resulting in a vast amount of notes, some of which won’t see the light of day.

Surely there has to be a better way to do this I’ve often thought. And there is.

The Line of Duty webinar, which was hosted by journalist Rebecca Nicholson, involved creator and writer Jed Mercurio, producer Simon Heath and stars Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar and Kelly Macdonald. All six of them occupied their own little box on my laptop screen at the same time.

All of the journalists on the call were hidden from sight (hallelujah!) and able to ask questions by typing them via the Q&A tab. It meant no one was talking over each other and the questions could be posed clearly and concisely, and answered in turn by the relevant member of cast or crew.

Line of Duty S6 Episode: DI Kate Fleming (VICKY MCCLURE), DCI Joanne Davidson (KELLY MACDONALD) (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill

As a huge fan of the show it was some welcome voyeurism to see the stars off set and in the relaxed environment of their own home. Witnessing Kelly Macdonald getting interrupted a number of times by her son made it apparent that my plight is not so different from someone who has starred in a hit HBO drama.

Everything I needed for this article was harvested in 40 golden minutes.

Like almost every single show filmed in 2020 Line of Duty had to adapt to Covid safety measures lockdown restrictions.

The filming schedule was no longer as chronological as the cast were used to and some of the set had to be duplicated to allow for better ventilation.

Superintendent Ted Hastings (ADRIAN DUNBAR) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: World Productions

Vicky said: “The AC-12 room isn’t great for Covid – a glass contained box. As much as we used the original set for the main body we also used a ventilated set, you genuinely can’t tell the difference.”

“The schedule was probably one of the biggest changes from an actor’s perspective because it meant we were shooting with different directors on the same day, different episodes on the same day. That chronological order just wasn’t possible because we were bound by location and safety.”

She added: “There was talk of us doing our own makeup, I was sad that didn’t happen, even if just for one day to see how it would have panned out.”

Adrian commented: “Because it’s taken so long to do it, when I saw the trailer the other day it was quite a shock to me.

Superintendent Ted Hastings (ADRIAN DUNBAR) (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill

“Suddenly I saw the whole storyline compressed. We’re not all as actors in possession of all parts of the storyline, once you see it all put together you say, ‘God, this is going to be something else’.

“There was quite a lot had slipped my mind.”

Season six will see the AC-12 team of Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) return to work with a new recruit in tow – DC Chloe Bishop (Shalom Brune-Franklin).

The squad will be investigating DCI Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald), who has been described as “the most enigmatic adversary AC-12 have ever faced”.

Martin Compston was unable to make the Zoom call but we were assured that his problems in the wardrobe department during filming were behind him.

Vicky said: “Martin said he’d tried on his suits and they were a bit tighter than usual. I think he was being slightly dramatic to be fair.

DS Steve Arnott (MARTIN COMPSTON) (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill

“He went back to Vegas for a bit (where he has a house with his wife Tianna Flynn). He obviously chilled out like we all did.

“He had to self-isolate for two weeks because he was coming over from Vegas, production got him a bike for his flat and he just ate soup for two weeks.”

This season’s guest star is Kelly Macdonald who plays DCI Joanne Davidson.

She said: “I was completely aware of Line of Duty though I hadn’t watched it. It occurred to me the other day I spent a number of years in New York filming, and I missed a huge amount of British pop culture.

“When I came back after I finished Boardwalk Empire, I missed a lot of TV, there was people I didn’t know, comedians I didn’t recognise that were really popular. Line of Duty happened while I was away as did Broadchurch.

“When I got the offer I thought I should really sit down and see what [Line of Duty] is.”

She admitted the technical dialogue has proven tricky: “I knew it was going to be great, dramatic, compelling. The shock really was when I was sent the first episode and I started reading it on a train up to Glasgow from London. I was happily reading then suddenly there was this massive long bit of dialogue about stuff I’d never heard of, then I turned the page and it kept going. It went on and on and on like that.

“There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to say yes, but I did have to go over that obstacle in my mind. I did know it was going to be quite challenging.

“We would be on set and we would go through a scene, there would be certain acronyms we would discuss at the time, also in hair and makeup there was a list pinned up that was quite helpful I found.

“I’m not brilliant at it still but I sort of get by.”

In terms of keeping storylines secret Kelly said: “People have been really excited from the get go and knew more about it than me. They were screaming in my face, ‘Am I H, Am I H?’ I didn’t know what it meant. I wear a chain with a K round my neck, I was thinking of getting one with an H just to mess with them.

“Everybody asks, they’re desperate to know, but before you can even think how to respond they immediately say, ‘I don’t want to know’.”

Line of Duty regular Vicky and this season’s guest star Kelly found they had a shared hobby which helped pass the time between shoots.

Kelly said: “In the first few days we realised we shared the passion for jigsaws.

“It’s so funny because lots of people got into jigsaws because of the worldwide pandemic, but we got into them before that.”

“We’re so rock and roll,” said Vicky.

She added: “Kelly brought in a jigsaw which will stress me out forever. It was the hardest jigsaw I’ve ever seen. We never got round to finishing it.”

The girls described it as a mosaic of a woman on a balcony, mostly stonework, which was all the same colour.

Kelly said: “That jigsaw was haunting my house forever. I kept bringing it out, I would attempt it, it would gather dust, I’d put it back in the box again.”

Vicky said: “Sometimes in filming you’re standing round for half an hour waiting for something to be done, so it’s great we’ve got this jigsaw out on the table.

“Literally there would be a piece that would be driving me nuts and they’d be, ‘Vicky, we need you on set’ and I’d be like ‘nooooooo’. It was consuming us. There were a few jigsaws we did, that was one we didn’t finish.”

Some videos from the set of Vicky’s attempts to prank Martin have been shared.

“I have handed a few of those over to the BBC for your delight,” said Vicky.

“I love a blooper reel. I think it’s great that we’re quite open with the audience, going behind the curtain so to speak.

“We have a laugh. With the phone that we’ve got now it’s impossible for me not to capture some of the funny things that go on on set.”

Vicky also turned Adrian Dunbar into a TikTok sensation.

Adrian said: “She just ambushes you. She says, ‘I’m doing this thing for charity, just say this, blah, blah, blah’. You do it because you trust her, sadly though on some occasions you shouldn’t.

“On that occasion she just ran in and said, ‘I’m going to play this bit of music, dance along to it’. I thought what is this about... TikTok. Within three or four days a million people had watched it.”

Discussing Ted Hasting’s idioms which have taken on a life of their own, Adrian said: “We do ask the audience, is there any you think Ted would say that’s a real Belfast idiom?”

In the first episode of series six Ted orders Steve to ‘houl yer whist’.

Adrian said: “They’ve taken on a life of their own, haven’t they?

“People are playing bingo games, drinking games, you can do all kinds of things with the ‘fellas’ and the ‘Mother of Gods’ and all that sort of stuff.

“The ‘Mother of God’ comes from my dad, he used to say it all the time, it’s kind of a nod towards him.

“The police always say they know someone like Ted, whether he’s originally from Edinburgh or Cardiff, there was always someone who was a bit of a Ted and comes out with those idioms. Kind of like Sam Allardyce... DC Allardyce. All that kind of management stuff – Alex Ferguson, Bill Shankley – they all have their little sayings and phrases.”

Given that the likes of Line of Duty, Bloodlands, Marcella, Hope Street have been filmed in NI, Jed was asked is there something about the Province that makes it the perfect place to film crime drama?

He said: “It’s a good place, definitely. You’ve got a choice of fantastic locations, great crews and great facilities. It’s brilliant to see that Northern Ireland is being represented so well on screen.”

Jed did not rule out killing off one of the golden trio of Superintendent Hastings, DS Arnott and DI Fleming.

The Line of Duty creator said: “It’s never far from my thoughts. We all get on brilliantly but everyone knows we’re serving something bigger than ourselves which is Line of Duty, and one of things about the show is that nobody is safe, it’s what keeps the audience on the edge of their seat.

“I know it would be a sad day but all the main cast know that it’s possible.

“We joke about it, it’s something no one would relish but everyone would understand.”

Asked how he keeps track of a complex story that has spanned six series, he said: “We have a great team, we have the resources of the previous scripts and episodes, we all are very familiar with things that have happened in the past and the cast remember things the characters have done in previous seasons.

“When we want to create a connection with the past, often the thing we don’t quite know straight away is the exact detail, then it’s just a case of going back into the script and we can see exactly what date something was meant to happen, and the locations where it was meant to happen.

“Even better if we’ve got some visual reference, an image that’s in the AC-12 files of the past, that’s something that we do in this season.

“We do delve into past cases a little bit and the way that we do that, like any police unit they keep records, when we dig into those files, hey presto we see reminders of previous seasons.”

One of the ways in which past events are recapped are via new member of AC-12 DC Chloe Bishop, played by Shalom Brune-Franklin.

Adrian said: “Shalom is fantastic, she’s absolutely wonderful. Especially because her character was given a lot of the back story that our characters needed. She had to learn huge amounts of stuff and carry a lot of information into scenes. She was really contentious, really clear, and a really wonderful actress to work with. A bang on piece of casting.”

The trailer for season six hints that a fourth corrupt officer operating under the ‘H’ banner.

Jed was asked if he knows how the H storyline will conclude.

“Yes,” he said dryly. “Just as well really.”

• Line of Duty returns to BBC One on Sunday, March 21 at 9pm and is also on BBC iPlayer

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DI Kate Fleming (VICKY MCCLURE) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill
DCI Joanne Davidson (KELLY MACDONALD) - (C) World Productions - Photographer: Steffan Hill