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Wednesday 10 February 2021

Bloodlands - Interview with James Nesbitt

James Nesbitt plays DI Tom Brannick in Bloodlands

Tell us how you got involved with the project.

I first met Jed Mercurio years ago when I was doing Jekyll and I've always liked his work. When he was doing Line Of Duty in Northern Ireland, I would say to him, "why am I not in that?" but he'd say, "we'll find something".

Then a couple of years ago, he showed me a script written by Chris Brandon, it was a real thriller and his first commission for his independent film company. It had Jimmy Mulville and Mark Redhead attached, who I had worked with before on The Secret and Bloody Sunday, and Pete Travis who directed me years ago on Cold Feet. So, it felt like familiar ground with people I really respected, and it was such a perfect fit going back to Northern Ireland, doing something contemporary and brilliantly written.

I was also attracted to Bloodlands because of my involvement with a charity called Wave, and its work with victims and survivors over the years.

Tell us about DI Tom Brannick.

Tom Brannick has been a policeman for over 20 years. He started out when it was the RUC that transformed to the PSNI and would have been there when peace came to Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement. He's a decent man, someone who has known real tragedy during the Troubles. When the name 'Goliath' comes up, an assassin possibly in the police force, we find out that one of the victims was his wife, Emma.

Tom is devoted to his daughter, Issy, he is very protective over her. He was a well known character because he played rugby. He's quite familiar to me, because I knew a lot of police officers when I was younger and my family was in the police and also I played rugby at school and followed rugby a lot, so it was familiar territory. I think as he's coming to the end of his career, the idea of this old case rearing its head again is terrifying to him and everyone in the force - lots of suspicions, paranoia - and there's great danger of what this means for the peace process.

You've filmed in Belfast many times in the past, how has filming in Belfast changed over the years?

Belfast is an exciting, wonderful, vibrant place, it's a cosmopolitan place, but it also bears the hallmarks of a place that went through the Troubles. The last number of years has seen Belfast really emerge since the Troubles and because of the success of the film industry there, it's had a boost for tourism too.

It was great to film there because Northern Ireland Screen make it so easy. There have always been great film crews and studios and within 20 miles there's seaside and urban landscapes.

There's a lot of crime dramas out there at the moment, what do you think sets Bloodlands apart?

I think it really helps to have the team we've got on board. We're seeing Belfast in a new context, we're seeing a more contemporary city. It is a cat-and-mouse thriller but the fact that it has the legacy of the Troubles brings an added depth to it. It's also a story about a father and daughter, and of loss, so there are real human stories attached to it. At its key it's really about relationships, I think it's something that audiences will invest in, invest in the characters.

But also, it is a classic Jed Mercurio thriller, where you're not really sure what's going on, with many different stories interwoven into it. I think it will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

And they'll get a chance to see Northern Ireland in its beauty. It will show Northern Ireland in a different light for people, on both sides of the water.

Did you do anything to prepare for the role?

I spoke to a few policemen that I know about what it was like during the Troubles. We had a police advisor on set, who was great, just in terms of technical things; the way you communicate with people, the relationships that you have, the attention to detail, particularly worrying about the constant threat from paramilitaries. But also, so much of it was already imbued in me.

Could you talk about your working relationship with Jed and Chris?

It was incredibly collaborative, we were constantly fine-tuning things, it was a wonderful relationship. I could phone them at any time, we would just dissect and analyse the scripts. It was certainly one of the most challenging but satisfying jobs of my career.

Did you find any scenes particularly challenging or memorable to film?

It was incredibly cold, particularly when we had to go down to the islands of Strangford Lough. We'd be transporting crew, equipment, food, toilets, to these remote islands and it was bitterly cold, the wind really comes and cuts you through to the bone. At times it was hard to speak, my mouth would be paralysed and I just couldn't get my jaw moving. The privilege of the job is the hardness of it sometimes, because that's what you want to do, that's why you go into acting. It was challenging but fabulous.

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