Guilt’s back and it’s even darker this time round. The second season of the BBC Scotland TV crime thriller set in Edinburgh with its deceptions and devious rats-in-a sack characters, denizens of the middle class mansions of the Grange, the corridors of power and the tenements of Leith, returns to our screens this week.
With a plotline riddled with more twists and turns than one of Jake’s vinyls and a cast of characters you couldn’t trust as far as Roy Lynch’s heavies could throw them, season two looks set to be as big a hit as season one.
Episode one kicks off with a bang and the appearance of Roy Lynch’s daughter Erin, played by Edinburgh actor Sara Vickers. With Max released from prison and determined to claw his way back to the top, the scene is set for more down and dirty goings on in the capital.
“It’s intense from the off,” says Vickers when we meet. A massive fan of the series she was delighted to to land the role of the steely Erin.
“When we meet her she’s at a huge crossroads in her life so is extreme with what she attempts to do. She’s an entrepreneur, she’s done her own thing, but now it’s falling apart and she’s pushed to do things she’s wanted to do for years.”
Writer Neil Forsyth’s new hour-long four episodes series, an Expectation and Happy Tramp North co-production for BBC Scotland and BBC Two, sees Mark Bonnar reprising his role as the slippier than a greased whipped lawyer Max McCall, Stuart Bowman replacing Bill Paterson as Roy Lynch, Emun Elliot back as the indefatigable investigator Kenny and Henry Pettigrew as still bent copper Stevie Malone, as well as new characters played by Phyllis Logan, Greg McHugh, Sandy McDade, Rochelle Neil and Robin Laing.
With Max’s brother Jake (Jamie Sives) staying out of trouble abroad, his return sees him attempting to cosy up to Kenny and crossing paths with Erin. Despite being shielded from her father’s crime empire as she grew up and spending her whole life trying to distance herself, she’s still Roy Lynch’s daughter and when the going gets tough, Max finds he has met his match.
Born in Rutherglen and raised in Balerno, Vickers left Scotland to train at RADA in 2007 and since graduating has worked extensively TV, film and theatre and is best known for her long running role as Joan Thursday in ITV Inspector Morse prequel, Endeavour, season eight of which has just aired, as well as Sunshine on Leith (2013), Shetland (2016) and HBO hit Watchmen (2019), the multi-award winning superhero drama series based on the DC Comics.
After loving the first season of Guilt, she’s delighted to be in the second, and to have landed such a weighty role as Erin.
“I felt like if I got this, my street cred would go up. It’s one you’re super proud to be part of and I was blown away to get the part,” she says. “There’s never a dull scene and it was a joy to play.
“I watched the first series and my god I just absolutely loved it. Loved it. I felt it occupied this perfect space between humour and darkness. It was like the perfect storm, all these elements came together; the music, the way it was cut together, the acting. I felt I hadn’t watched anything like it before. And when I said I was going to be doing it, everyone said how much they loved the first series, so I’m like ‘oh gosh, no pressure!’
“And the second one? It’s the same, but totally different. It’s very urban, whereas the other was more suburban, and it’s a lot darker definitely - even though the first one does have an old man who dies in it,” she laughs.
“But there’s way more in this one, way more characters, twists and turns, there are bits that I’d even forgotten happened when I watched it, because you focus on the bit you’re doing. There is just so much for the audience to take on, but yeah, I think it’s a winner!”
How would Vickers describe the show to someone who hasn’t seen it? (If that’s you, it’s available on iPlayer so you’ve still time to catch up.)
“I’d say it…,” she pauses and hmmms to herself, “Sara, say something really good, something really clever…” and laughs.
“Well, ‘it’s a fab kind of dark comedy that you basically can’t stop watching. You will just binge the whole lot. I don’t know anyone that has watched season one and not absolutely loved it.
“When I watched it, I was so proud, because it’s Scottish but universal. There are loads of brilliant Edinburgh references sprinkled throughout but you don’t need to be Scottish to appreciate it or for it to make sense. I feel like we don’t get enough of that specificity, of what it is like to be Scottish today.”
Going into an already established and popular show is a new experience for Vickers, who landed her Endeavour role not long after leaving RADA and has been with the series from 2012. This time round with Guilt she was one of the new kids on the block and admits to feeling a little pressure.
“Definitely, when you love something so much, I felt it. But Stuart [Bowman] who is playing my dad pointed out we are served up by all these elements that are so strong. Guilt’s got, what’s that fancy word they use? Mise en scene. It’s got so many things that are so specific about the show that you feel just by reading Neil’s script and being among the other actors that were already in the first one, you’re already in that world. You know what you’re working towards. Although it’s very different, you’ve got people that were in the first one doing their thing and you can kind of slide in and follow their lead.”
She wasn’t alone in being new to the series, with newcomers like Greg McHugh revealing a talent for turning on a menacing mien.
“He is just the nicest - I’d never met him before - unlike his character, who is so not. There are a lot of scary people in Guilt. It’s a whole new world - I definitely don’t move in those circles in Edinburgh,” she says and laughs.
“Neil [Forsyth, the writer] steered us away from comedy as much as possible, saying we’re not shooting comedy, we’re shooting a drama, and it’s about the truth and the relationships between characters. He was very much please, no playing it for laughs, which was easy for my character, because there’s not much to laugh about for her.”
It’s true that Erin Lynch’s life isn’t turning out as planned, despite her attempts to lead a clean life away from her father’s clutches, starting her own business and marrying a man who is outwardly respectable to the extent that her own mother dismisses him as a boring dullard in red cords. If only...
For Vickers, the introduction to her character started with wardrobe, Erin being one for sharp suits and spiky-heels.
“When I went for my costume fitting I thought oh, she’s very different from me, very suited and booted, more grounded. We spoke a lot about how she’s almost like the female counterpart to Max, well turned out and quite tightly wound. And she’s always in heels - I’m never in heels, ever, but I was clever and picked a pair of very comfortable black boots and stuck to them, although by the end of the day I was like ‘get these off my feet!’.
Like the previous series Guilt is riddled with plot twists and turns and Erin Lynch is a character who feels it more than most.
“She’s a character that’s never allowed to settle, constantly pushed from pillar to post and feels like an imposter in her own life because she’s got this gorgeous big house in The Grange, a lovely marriage, well that’s what she’s been presenting, then everything is tipped on its head. So she’s trying to find her way - that’s how she and Max collide, because they end up having the same crusade, for very different reasons.”
In a nest of vipers, who does Vickers think Erin can trust?
“That’s the thing. She’s continually being pushed off the edge. Every time she feels she has a handle on something everything does a 180 degree turn. I suppose… oh no, I can’t say that…” says Vickers and stops, wary of spoilers. “She definitely sees something in Max and clings on to that.”
As viewers will know, if you’re clinging on to Max, you’re in trouble.
“I know! But she finds Max and they’ve got a similar thirst and once everything starts going South she clings on to him.”
Shooting in Edinburgh as well as Glasgow made things easier for Vickers who lives with her husband the actor Kerr Logan (soon to be seen in Showtrial BBC One’s new legal drama from the producers of Bodyguard and Line of Duty, and known for Game of Thrones, Elias Grace, London Irish and playing Fergal Sharkey in the film Good Vibrations) and their two-year-old son in the north of the city, especially as filming took place during lockdown.
“But it never brought down filming and because it’s so urban, it made it easier because in Edinburgh we shot out in the streets and it was quiet, just us and our supporting artists. It was like a ghost town.”
Now 36, Vickers was always interested in acting but on the advice of her dad who was head of HR at The Scotsman (her mum’s a nurse, currently engaged in Covid vaccinations about which Vickers is “very proud”), studying psychology and acting studies, picking up anthropology, at university as a back up.
“I absolutely loved it, but even when you graduate you’re not qualified, so I decided to follow the acting and got into RADA and off I went to London. Eleven years I was there and it worked out well.“
What does she think was the most important thing she took away from her acting course at RADA?
“My husband! We met at drama school and have been thick as thieves ever since,” she says and laughs.
“Also drama school gave me an amazing springboard and confidence. This industry is not easy and it's not always kind and I feel like I have got a great foundation that I can always fall back on. Sometimes have a little bit of imposter syndrome and when you’re giving yourself a hard time, you just think I’ve got a basis, I’ve got that training. I think that’s allowed me to stay confident and take my place and own it.
“It also taught me to constantly strive for the truth. My husband and I are always chatting about acting, techniques, truth, what works, what doesn’t, because acting’s so subjective, so elusive. That’s why I love it. You never get bored because you are constantly learning and the perfectionist in me is always striving to get better. I don’t think I’ll ever turn around and go ‘absolutely nailed that, got every element of it right, that’s perfect’. Never. I will always be searching for what can make me better, and pushing myself.”
With a variety of roles to date, in film, TV and theatre to her name, Vickers lists the roles of which she is most proud, starting with Guilt.
“For an actor having all these amazing twists and turns, to be so part of the show and feel part of the fabric of it. I’m also proud of Endeavour which I got when I just came out of drama school and had no idea I’d still be in so many years later. It’s like the character’s grown with me, I’ve become a wife and a mum and…”
Stopped getting arrested…
“Yes, Joan’s stopped getting arrested. I look back at the first episodes and think oh my god, I look so much younger and there’s just a different energy about me and the other cast members too. I can see the way we’ve all grown through it.”
Nowadays Vickers loves being a parent and enjoys the flexibility acting affords for family life.
“It’s wonderful, being a mum’s the best. It takes the pressure off things. Don’t get me wrong, it drives me up the wall sometimes, but yeah.”
And after moving back home from London five years ago, Edinburgh is definitely home.
“I’ll travel whenever I need to but things were heading in the self-tape direction and since the pandemic it’s gone more that way, so basically you do auditions online. I’m getting jobs from my little box room in Edinburgh. You can be anywhere in the world and have the quality of life that you want.”
A case in point is her role as Ms Crookshanks, one of the main characters in HBO's Watchmen.
“I did the self tape audition, sent it off and quite a few weeks later got a call back saying they were really keen. They said ‘we’ll fly you over for a screen test’ then phoned back and said, no actually, it’s yours.”
Did she not feel like insisting on a screen test in the US?
“This is the thing, it went from you’re going to shoot in Atlanta to you’re shooting in Wales. What!? To be fair we did get to go to Atlanta twice, which was lots of fun. There were some bits with huge set pieces, like a giant catapult that they had to build, so that was all done in Atlanta, but the castle was in Wales.”
No matter, Vickers was chuffed to have the series on her CV.
“Anyone who is into graphic novels puts Watchmen as the pinnacle so I felt like I had street cred, being in that. It’s the same with Guilt.”
Given that everyone in Guilt has something they feel guilty about, is there anything about which Vickers would like to come clean?
“Dear God, I don’t know... At the moment, not watching enough proper drama on TV. Being a mum, you just can’t help but want fluff, complete fluff. I can’t take on anything too heavy or intense. I’m watching Married at First Sight UK at the moment. Sometimes you need to escape, so that’s my guilty pleasure.”
And when she’s not working, mothering or watching MAFSUK, she likes nothing better than being up to her elbows in clay at pottery classes.
“I’ve got loads of pottery in the house, it’s ridiculous, even though I give it away to people. They’ve probably got a lot of duds to be honest, lots of me learning pots - cups. plates, vases, planters...
So there is no danger of Vickers giving up acting to become a potter?
“No. I love acting. The best advice I ever got was if you can think of anything else you’d rather do, do that. I know I don’t want to do anything else. This is my bag. That keeps me going, because staying power is the most important thing in this business, that and keeping your self-esteem. You have to 100% believe in yourself.
“So yeah, I don’t want to do anything else, and feel very lucky doing good shows with brilliant people - and Guilt is just such a good Scottish show, it was so exciting to be in it.”
Season Two of Guilt starts Tuesday 12 October on BBC Scotland, 10-11pm and Thursday 14 October, BBC Two, 9-10pm, also on BBC iPlayer.
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