Gripping Sky Atlantic crime series The Tunnel’s lead man Stephen Dillane talks to Shelley Marsden about our seemingly insatiable taste for Nordic noir
“I’ve still only seen the first four episodes”, says Stephen Dillane of detective series The Tunnel, just out on DVD. “I haven’t got Sky and nobody has offered me a subscription to it, but there we go…”
From the makers of Broadchurch, Spooks and Life on Mars, the dark Sky Atlantic drama, a British-French remake of cult ‘Scandi noir’ hit The Bridge, begins with the death of a prominent French politician, whose body is discovered on the border between the UK and France.
French and English detectives are called in to investigate on behalf of their respective countries, but things take a surreal turn and a series of elaborate killings and, mindful that they now have a very clever serial killer on their hands (they use increasingly ingenious methods to highlight five ‘truths’ about our morally bankrupt society), the French and British police are forced into an uneasy partnership.
It was a gripping series and superbly acted. It sounds like Stephen, who plays likeable rogue, detective Karl Roebuck, had a lot of fun filming it -not least because he was in the one place for six months and could get to know the rest of the cast.
It wasn’t without its drawbacks though: “It was damn hard work; early mornings, late nights and… I think I was about as cold as I’ve ever been down on the harbour at Folkestone. It was FREEZING.”
But Stephen, a distinguished theatre actor who played Horatio in Franco Zefferelli’s Hamlet, with Mel Gibson in the title role, and journalist Michael Henderson in Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), enjoyed working with the French actors on set.
“It adds a bit of exoticism to the whole experience” says the actor, as wry as his on-screen persona. His on-screen sidekick Elise is played by tiny French model-turned- actress Clemence Poesy (In Bruge, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
Elise is the antithesis to her laid-back British counterpart; she’s an uptight, reserved, distinctly humourless individual entirely married to the job. Even her occasional sexual encounters are wholly mechanical.
Stephen enjoyed the juxtaposition between the two leads; Karl trying to tease a more humane, sensuous woman out of Elise and she in turn trying to get her frustratingly unpredictable colleague to toe the line and stop getting so personal all the time. It’s an uncomfortable chemistry without any ‘will they won’t they’ sexual chemistry, and it works.
“We only saw the first two episodes when we decided whether to do it or not”, says the 57 year old Kensington resident. “They hadn’t written the rest of the episodes yet, but there were clearly the beginnings of an interesting relationship there.”
What is Clemence Poesy like – very different to Elise, I hope? “Good god, yes. She’s delightful; very giggly, sociable and chatty. It was brilliant watching her do this straight-faced stuff actually, there were definitely times when she was cracking up and finding it very hard not to laugh”.
On first appearances, Karl Roebuck comes across as a bit of a womaniser, but at heart, a decent family guy. Stephen found him interesting to play, but also a little tricky in parts.
“It seemed like he was somebody who’d been a bit of a lady’s man in the past, but had put it all behind him and found the woman he wanted to settle down with; he’d decided to stop drinking and hanging out with the boys and the girls. I was taken aback like everybody was, I think, when he suddenly went and slept with someone that wasn’t his wife. Clearly, old habits die hard.
“As I say, when I took him on I’d only read a few episodes but he seemed a light-hearted, cheerful sort of bloke. He’s fairly relaxed about everything and takes life in his stride, which is nice to see amidst all these tortured cops we get on TV. That was attractive to me.”
Stephen was also intrigued with the background The Tunnel’s writers had created for his character, namely that he had an old miner, communist dad. Writer Ben Richard’s script seems to have a lot of nostalgia for a time when people were a bit more politically engaged.
“In Karl’s background, you felt he had a certain desire to ‘do the right thing’ as a cop”, says Stephen. “He wasn’t necessarily out for himself all the time, and it sounded as if he’d let something go, let himself down somewhere in the past, and that it was going to come back and haunt him.”
For the full interview, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 18 Jan 2014).
The Tunnel is out now on Blu-ray (£29.99, Acorn Media).