The week’s best TV show
Tell us about the new show
It's a thriller that concerns itself with a family who are under political pressure. There's a mom [played by Sophie Okonedo], dad, who I play, and three teenage kids. The mom is a lawyer and is about to become the director of public prosecutions. Her husband, who she's been married to for 20 years, is, unbeknown to her, actually an undercover police officer who was employed to spy on her when they first met. What happens is she starts to dig-up an old case and, as she's looking at this old case, he's put under pressure to take up his old job again and continue spying on her. And it follows the degree to which the higher-ups, the people in control, try to control him and her, while he's trying to do his job but also make sure she doesn't find out. So that's what “undercover” is all about.
What challenges did you face?
I haven't played a character like this on television before, which is really good because it gave me the opportunity to stretch my muscles and do something people haven't seen me do. Apart from that, I play someone who likes to do triathlons, so there was a lot of running, swimming and cycling in the show. Unfortunately that got cut towards the end, but there was a little bit of training I had to do to make sure I could do the transitions for triathlons. And if you're not used to it, that involves a lot of falling over. Yes, my biggest challenge was not to fall over! But seriously, it’s a very emotional journey. It's not a light-hearted drama - though there are moments where the family enjoy being together.
Can you explain a bit more about your character?
He's an ex police officer who is deeply in love with his wife. So when he's asked to take up his old job again he finds it incredibly difficult. That was one huge moment of tension for him, the guilt that he felt having to do that again. It’s great getting so involved with a character though you kind of get frustrated because you think, why don't you just do this? And they never do. But you can see why they make every decision they have made. Because they're trying to protect their family and they're in love. I think it's going to be a very hard-hitting but also really complex piece of television. It's not for people who like their plots to be explained to them and written up on a big board. It's quite complex and it's the kind of grown-up drama that I would set my recorder to watch, so I'm really proud of it.
What drew you to the show?
The writing is brilliant. Peter [Moffat] has written a really good drama. When I got to the end of the first episode I really wanted to find out what happens next. And if you're feeling that just reading it on a page, then you know it's going to be good. It also brings up some important issues. It looks at us as a society and asks what we're doing, in terms of our attitude to the law.
Tell us about the difference between working in theatre and television
You're acting both times. You're taking on characters. But what it is easy about filming is that you only have to do each scene three or four times to get it right, depending on what the director wants to do. And if you feel like you've got it, you can ask to move on. So you don't have to relive those emotions every day. You do the shoot and when it's done it's done. With theatre you're doing the whole thing from top to bottom every single night, sometimes twice in a day, and that can be difficult. You need to have your muscles, your technical muscles supporting you. Also for the voice, the movement, all those things, you really have to be on top of your game.
Which medium do you prefer?
I like both. When you do a piece of theatre, the last night comes along and then it's over, it’s gone. But when you do TV or film it's there forever. I could people links to things I'm really proud of that I did 10 years ago. So that's the difference for me. But as an actor, I know I don't prefer one over the other. I have to do both.
Was there a moment you realised you wanted to be an actor?
I began dancing and then I joined a children's opera company. So by the time I was 14, I was singing, dancing, and acting. And I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in performing arts, so I chose acting and it meant I had the freedom to do everything that I wanted to do. So if you choose, say, singing classical music you have to prepare for maybe a year or two and then you'll do it again and again. I'm talking about opera, which is what I was doing. And then if you're dancing your career is over by the time you're 35. Whereas you can keep acting until you're in your grave. Plus I knew that the singing and the dancing would be there to supplement the acting. And as soon as I made that decision, I began looking at actors onscreen and in theatres and I really admired what they were able to do. I thought it was brilliant that one person can stand up in front of a group of people and have them laughing out loud, or moved to tears, or make them angry. This is a certain power that people have to tell these stories, and we need these stories. That's how we get a sense of ourselves and our history. Also, there's great perks to the job, let's not lie - it's not all about art!
Undercover is showing now on OSN