British Film Alliance interview, exclusively for BFA members.
Did you have a feeling about it straight away? Does that happen? Can you read a script and know instinctively if something is special? Either a script or a role?
JS: I’ve never had such a strong sense of excitement when the door goes and the new installments have been sent to your house. I was and remain completely in thrall of Chris Chibnall’s writing and I know this is true of the entire cast. We felt it was something incredible but of course that love for a project needs to be shared by the British viewing public and we are eternally grateful that it was.
What was the audition process like? Who did you see first? Did you struggle with nerves at all – either for Broadchurch or other auditions? How many times were you asked to be seen before you won the role?
JS: You are always nervous when you are auditioning for a project that is so special. I went in a good few times before the role was mine but it was a labour of love each time because with each audition I got to find out a little bit more about the plot lines! I was a huge fan of United which Chris and James had done together so the idea of working with guys of that caliber is a) daunting but b) exciting and everything you’d ever hoped for when training.
Tell us a little about your experiences on the shoot? Was it a difficult shoot? Taxing? A joyous experience? Did the cast come together well. From watching everyone certainly felt like a community despite the fractures that the storyline takes them through. Was there a level of bonding that lead to the familiarity that we felt on the screen?
JS: Right from the outset the camaraderie was something that I’ve rarely had the fortune to experience. I’d had the pleasure of working with David Tennant before on Romeo and Juliet for radio 4 and he instantly introduced me to the whole cast which was so lovely of him and put me immediately at my ease. When you feel completely comfortable with everyone you create an environment conducive to doing your best work and this is an environment that James and Euros our two directors and all the cast and crew fostered with extremely powerful results. We all socialise together and I think as long as we each draw breath we will look back so fondly of that amazing few months we spent in the West Country.
You were Danny’s father’s closest friend and I think you played a layered and complex character brilliantly. There must be a subtle line in such a drama to display the many sides of an atypical human being, some hidden, some aggressive without making it feel heavy handed or there for the sake of showing the audience a red herring. How did you prepare and manage to tread such a difficult fine line so skilfully?
JS: We would speak at length with Chris, James and Euros whose doors were always open to discuss however we were feeling and this adds to a layered considered performance. When the writing and directing is that good it’s very difficult to get it wrong as an actor because it’s so honest and sincere. This multilayered character is on the page and it’s an honour to be afforded the opportunity to be able to take it from the page to the screen. Sometimes, without sounding too pretentious the words just sit so effortlessly in your mouth to inhabit a character like Nige becomes effortless. There is no need to force anything that isn’t there and working with actors like Andy Buchan, David Tennant, Jodie Whittaker, Olivia Colman, Pauline Quirke and the list goes on is like the cheapest drama school ever! Such subtle, nuanced performances that you can’t help but to learn and grow.
Was it an overall emotional experience for you? In particular the final scenes? Not only for the emotional climax of such a tragic tale but also when such an immense experience came to a close for you personally?
JS: The art department did such a great job during my interrogation. David and I shot all of those scenes chronologically in one day in that really small interrogation room and it was amazing. The dossier that he gives me about my father’s past and the death of my biological sister was so detailed and descriptive that reading it I would defy anyone not to break down in floods of tears. Alex our first A.D. was so considerate throughout and cultivated the perfect atmosphere to allow David and I to do our best and by the end I was emotionally drained and felt that I was able to do some of the bravest work of my career to date. I would love to be afforded the opportunity to explore Nige’s life post that revelation but alas that decision doesn’t rest with me and I will say whatever Chris and the Kudos team have in store for us in series 2 whether I’m in it or I’m watching from home I cannot wait to see what they conjure up as it’s sure to be an incredible ride.