Vicky McClure likes to keep it real. That’s why you’ll find her wearing authentic, weighted full body armour and helmet in her new show Trigger Point, alongside a similarly suited up co-lead Adrian Lester for new ITV drama Trigger Point as the pair play bomb disposal officers risking their lives at the sharp end of counter terrorism policing in London.
“It weighed about the same as I do. It was surreal trying to move in it and the helmet is absolutely huge. I wasn't being a hero by any stretch because, you know, they shout ‘cut’ and I took it off. The real expos [bomb disposal officers] are in those kits all day every day. But I wanted to do it because it just felt right. It makes everything a bit more authentic. But I certainly wouldn’t want to do it for real!” she laughs.
You’ll also find her wearing Lana’s pyjamas but that’s not because she’s method to the max, it’s because she just happened to like them.
Line of Duty favourite McClure plays front line officer Lana Washington and Adrian Lester (Life, Trauma) her partner Joel Nutkins, both ex-military with a mutual trust forged in Afghanistan in the explosive six-part thriller written by first-time script writer Daniel Brierley for HTM Television.
Focusing on the Metropolitan Police Bomb Disposal Squad officers taking ‘the long walk’ towards devices and danger as a terrorist campaign threatens the capital and the hunt is intense to find out who is behind the bombings, it’s set in the febrile atmosphere of a long, hot general election summer.
A tense, one-wrong-move-and-it’s-over, high-octane watch from Line of Duty executive producer Jed Mercurio the show has an impressive roll call of big-hitting producers all over it - Jimmy Mulville, Mark Redhead, Jessica Sharkey and Julia Stannard, known for the likes of Derry Girls, Bloodlands, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, Vanity Fair, War and Peace, The Great Train Robbery and is directed by Gilles Bannier (Marcella, Tin Star, Spiral) and Jennie Darnell (Line of Duty, Holby City, Death in Paradise).
When McClure joins our Zoom call alongside Lester (who has got up early since he’s in New York, starring in Sam Mendes’ The Lehman Trilogy on Broadway), Mercurio, Brierley and producer Julia Stannard, they’re all buzzing for the transmission of the first explosive episode.
“The story is going to unfold in many, many ways and we sort of ramp it up in the first episode,” says McClure. “I think we also got a really good idea of Lana and Nutkins’ relationship. It’s long standing and comes from being in the forces together for many years and it's a beautiful friendship. It feels quite jovial at times, which is that dark humor that is actually quite necessary in that world. It's nice to have that because I think that sort of taps into the reality of that world where there's that need for release.”
For Lester the ability to improvise occasionally added to the chemistry.
“We had a very good feeling on set between us and were allowed a few times to improvise slightly so we could bounce off each other to establish this long term friendship, even down to choosing the kind of music we would listen to [watch for McClure with music full blast nodding along to a nodding dog in their vehicle in a post-de-fusion wind-down moment]. And little things like the handshakes before we go into a tense situation, it fleshes out the characters.”
The writer Brierley, who has been mentored by Jed Mercurio after meeting him at the Edinburgh TV Festival years ago, pitched the script to him after his young children kept him awake and an early hours You Tube video documentary about a bomb squad in Northern Ireland sparked his imagination.
“I wanted to look at the psychology of people heading towards danger rather than away from it,” he says, describing how he spend time at the squad’s HQ to “hear their stories and see what makes them tick.”
“There's this juxtaposition for them between extreme boredom and intense action. Most days you're preparing your kit and then suddenly you have to switch on. They have to go from nought to 60 in seconds, and so take that into your normal life. How do they live in the world? They were all different, but it goes without saying that the bravery and dedication, sometimes at the expense of their own lives, was what struck me most.”
It’s not for McClure and Lester, the idea of swapping the world of acting and awards for a life of danger and threat on a daily basis.
“I don’t think I’m cut out for that kind of preparation for danger as an expo,” says Lester. “As for law enforcement or the army, I’ve done so many things now where I’ve had to look at army training and weapons training that I can kid myself that I could at some point be a soldier, in a parallel world, but not specifically bomb disposal no.”
For her part, McClure harbours no hankering to change career and enter a high-risk environment.
“I’m definitely not cut out for that,” she says. “I’m scared to cross the road sometimes. People think I’m hard. I’m not,” she laughs. “What I am is very nosey though, so in terms of interrogation and asking questions and getting to the truth, I think I’d be all right at that.”
Written with McClure in mind for her track record in nailing a combination of ‘courage, determination and vulnerability’, the BAFTA and RTS award winning actor (Line of Duty, This is England, Broadchurch, Trigger Point, Without Sin) didn’t hesitate when Mercurio showed her the script.
“The subject matter was the first appeal,” she says. “It was something I knew very little about, and I could see it would bring a lot of drama, and there's so much to play with, the fear, and the fact that the expos sometimes don't have that. Also, with Lana, I could see there was a lot for me to do. It just felt different, something I've not read before.”
Authenticity is what makes Trigger Point such a gripping watch and much of that comes from extensive research from all of the crew, from the writer Brierley spending time with real life bomb disposal officers including McClure and Lester spending time with real life bomb disposal officers.
“We had two great guys who were on hand every day pretty much. There was always somebody there to check so I could ask the silly questions like why have I just taken my helmet off when I'm right next to the device? It’s because it could actually be distracting depending on the sort of small space that you might be working in, or it could impair your vision and also just if it was to knock anything it could be dangerous. Plus if the explosion did go off when you’re right next to it, at that point that helmet is not going to help. It was absolutely fascinating learning just tiny little details that I hope we've managed to put in there.”
“It made complete sense and helped to get into that headspace. They were really giving in terms of not only the technical advice, but the emotional advice and the fact that that long walk is very personal. But actually they're so trained and have been doing this for so long … you have to sort of get past that fear and walk towards the device and do your job, and the calmer you are, the calmer you can deal with it in terms of just having a steady hand, dealing with a very delicate device. Things like that are vital.”
Lester agrees that having expertise on set paid dividends.
“They took my rucksack and vest and went through it; what you have and how you know where things are without looking - your snips, tape, wire. They even had things that are used in rock climbing to set up a weights system of pulleys. It’s fascinating.”
Another element that adds to the tension and authenticity in the first episode is the location of the filming on a real estate in London with roads closed off and residents hanging over balconies watching and filming on their mobiles, reacting to events around their homes as they unfolded.
“The first episode is pretty much in the same location for the entire undertaking and we were filming in the same place for three weeks so by the end of the shoot it felt like home,” says McClure.
“We had our little tent and brought our speakers in and got to know the locals, which was great and a lot of them you see in that first episode were residents, so it was really really nice to have this community feel. That happened with the cast as well. We just instantly got on so despite it being a really tough shoot - COVID, a heatwave, the explosions - we enjoyed every second and I feel you can see that on screen. I hope that does come across.”
Producer Julia Stannard agrees: “There may have been one or two people we had to bring in for specific reasons but everybody else you see was local. It's real and they're reacting to what’s happening around them.”
It’s exciting for the viewer too, with a storyline and effects akin to feature film being served up on the small screen as TV-making evolves and adapts.
“Big explosions and a bombing campaign on the capital city is more normally the territory of feature and that's a lot to do with budget. So actually delivering on the scale and the ambition of the piece, with a TV budget, in a pandemic, was challenging. The audience has certain expectations which you have to meet.”
For Mercurio, who put the script McClure’s way, it was a pleasure to work with his Line of Duty star again and talking about it, he slips into banter mode.
“It was fantastic working with Vicky. It always is, and particularly without Martin[Compston] and Adrian [Dunbar] getting in the way and spoiling it. I think that Vicky's the natural leader, and the real talent in that group. For once she wasn't being held back and she just really blossomed,” he says and laughs.
But seriously, are they concerned at all about the inevitable comparisons with Line of Duty?
“I’m not,” says McClure. “This is what actors do. I've sort of fallen into this genre in Line of Duty, which I never expected to do what it's done, and I can't be worried about taking roles that might feel in a similar world or in a similar vein because of that.
“I look at Lana and Kate (DI Fleming), and I don't see them as the same people at all. Not only with the way Lana looks, but her personality is very different and she’s an expo, which is very different to a police officer. They're both very strong women for sure, very brave and committed. But that's the kind of roles I love. When I read a script I often want to play the male's role because that is the strong, committed role. So I'm always going to be drawn to that.
“And you know, people love Line of Duty, so if there are any comparisons it might not be a bad thing.”
Mercurio agrees : “Yeah, we're very proud of our collaboration on Line of Duty and obviously thrilled with the way in which that series has connected with such a large audience. But I think people will realise this is a very different piece of work. And it's great if they come to it because they love Vicky from Line of Duty and want to see her in this particular role. That would be lovely, if it gives the show more attention.”
Like her expo character Lana, McClure switches off from dealing with a device by playing music. “I use music in so many ways, whether it's to try and lift my mood or bring it down depending on you know what scenes I’m shooting. And I binge on television, just the usual stuff. You know, I just want to sort of zone out, but Trigger Point was the first job that I've been on where I felt like a crew member and was there every day, so I would say on this particular job I didn't really switch off from it. I just, you know, I immersed myself in it quite a lot of time.”
With the ever-present danger, Trigger Point is one of those shows where characters can be killed off at any point, something of which McClure and Lester are very conscious.
“One of the fun things is people don't know what's gonna happen next,” says Lester. “It keeps the audience on their toes, drip feeds information and stays one step ahead. You have to truly believe that you don't know what's going to happen next and in that threat that your characters are facing. Otherwise, it's boring. We don't know what's going on, we don't know what's gonna happen next, and it's a world that we’re not really used to seeing. We definitely have that feeling that something bad could happen to somebody at some point.”
McClure is accustomed to this element of uncertainty from Mercurio and this one keeps up that momentum, transmitting once a week at a set time, leaving viewers on a cliffedge, speculating on social media while they wait for their next installment.
“Turning the page on a Line of Duty script can be quite scary, and this is the same,” she says. “But it just proves that Jed and Daniel have created for me another incredible show that is intelligently written with very deep characters and all the right ingredients that we know and love in TV. So yeah, it's been an absolute joy.”
We’ve just time for McClure to end things on another cliffhanger, about what comes next for her, bearing in mind that Trigger Point is ripe for a second series, and there’s another Line of Duty to complete first.
“I wanna do a rom-com. Something really light and funny,” She laughs. “That would be lovely. Not that I’m funny, but…”
“Yes you are,” cuts in Lester. “She’s very funny.”
“I’m just a bit of an idiot really. I’m laughed at, not laughed with,” she says. “Well, I don’t have any plans or anything, I’m just happy to be working with great people on great projects. But yeah, a romcom would be a light relief.”
Trigger Point is on ITV on Sunday [23 January].
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