By David Hennessy
The latest series of ITV’s Whitechapel is currently airing on ITV. Although it began in 2009 as a one-off drama about the hunt for a Jack the Ripper copycat, the show is now in its fourth series with things taking an even more sinister turn.
Rupert Penry-Jones is back as DI Joseph Chandler, the methodical and meticulous detective who battles obsessive compulsive disorder. Rupert is best known from dramas like the BAFTA-winning Spooks and the court room based Silk which he is currently filming the second series of. His other credits include Treasuse Island, The 39 Steps and films such as The Four Feathers and Virtual Sexuality. He married the Irish actress Dervla Kirwan in 2007 and the couple have two children. Rupert met Dervla when he was cast opposite her in JB Priestley’s Dangerous Corner in 2001.
The current series sees Whitechapel taking a more frightening and supernatural turn after starting out with a serial killer torturing victims he believed to be witches. The current case reveals a ghostly presence in the police station Chandler and his team operate from. Whitechapel’s charm comes from the relationship between Chandler and the battle hardened veteran DS Miles and Ripperologist Edward Buchan.
“People are starting to understand what we’re doing,” the actor begins. “It’s always a very heightened sense of reality and I think people thought we were taking ourselves seriously. I think most people have realised that we’re not trying to be realistic police men in a realistic world. It’s sort of a parallel universe and I think once people buy into that, they really start to enjoy the show and we’ve really gone down different roads this time in terms of taking it into the supernatural which is great fun. The directors, the producers, the writers, the actors, we all have an input into where the show is going and I think it’s resulting in a very interesting, fun piece of drama.”
The last series allowed the audience to see another side of Chandler, who is normally all business, when he developed feelings for Morgan Lamb, played by Lydia Leonard, whom he comes into contact with after she survives an attack: “Yeah, he was trying to sort of have a life like everyone else does but it didn’t work out. I think he’s closed the door on that. He’s gone back to just accepting his fate and that he is what he is and that’s the way it’s gonna be.”
With Morgan Lamb murdered in the police station, is this something that could haunt Chandler? “The writers, producers and I were very worried about continuing this pining for a woman that had died in a series before into the next series because we didn’t want to alienate people that hadn’t watched the show before. It’s quite tricky for me because I’d invested quite a lot in that at the end of that series and so trying to find a way of moving on without it seeming a bit crass was tough but we came up with the idea of him having the elastic band he gave her around his wrist and then that breaks in the first or second episode and that is an end to his harping back to Morgan really.”
In 2009 Rupert was cast to play the lead in an ABC pilot entitled The Forgotten only to be unceremoniously replaced by Christian Slater once the crime investigating drama was picked up. Rupert has spoken out about his harsh treatment before and the experience has certainly left a mark on him: “I’m very wary of getting involved with America to be honest. Every time I do, something terrible seems to happen. There’s something about America and Brits that if you strike it lucky and you do well, it’s great but most of the time you seem to get your fingers burnt and I’m one of those people that have been nothing but burnt by the Americans. It’s a very rocky road to go down but they make the best television, I think. They also make some terrible television. They make an awful lot more television than anybody else but when they get it right, they get it very, very right. I’m a big fan of American TV and I would love to be part of these very successful American TV shows but unfortunately with every one of those, there’s 20 horror stories that go along with them and a lot of these actors that have finally cracked it and made it there have gone through an awful lot of pain. I don’t know, if the right script comes along and it’s the right people and I feel comfortable with it, I would definitely go for it. I’m not saying I would never do American television but I was very angry and very hurt, I was also mourning my father. I just felt they behaved in a way that British producers would not behave.”
For the full interview, please see the September 28 print edition of The Irish World.
Whitechapel continues at 9pm on Wednesdays on ITV. Catch it on ITVplayer if you’re too scared to watch it after dark.