By Alison Graham
"Broadchurch,” says David Tennant in a mock, doom-laden, sonorous voice: “It’s back and it’s differently bad. You can put that on the poster, ITV!” Then he and co-star Olivia Colman howl with laughter. It’s like trying to interview unruly ten-year-old twins. Tennant and Colman are bundles of giggles and uproar as they try not to give away even the most piddling details about the return of one of the biggest television triumphs of recent years.
There are Manhattan Project levels of secrecy surrounding the eight-part second series, which starts on Monday. Cast and crew have signed documents forbidding them from discussing anything publicly and there will be no previews of any episodes for journalists, which is unheard of in my experience. Final episodes, occasionally; none at all – never.
As we sit down to talk in the dining room of a hotel in Clevedon, the real-life Broadchurch (or part of it, anyway; that long tracking shot in the first episode of the first series was this rather nice Somerset seaside town’s main street), Tennant and Colman – detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller – plead for sympathy and understanding.
“Having to do interviews is a nightmare for us,” says Tennant, whose sickly, tormented detective returns to that small, tight community as it wrestles with the shockwaves of grief and guilt after the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer. “I worry about saying something out of line, or puncturing a balloon.”
He doesn't, no one does. Everyone's locked down with sealed lips. During the five-month shoot over 2014’s hot, sunny summer in Clevedon, and West Bay in Dorset, plus one or two sets in London, the cast had to dodge snoop- ing photographers. Or rather the production’s burly security staff were charmingly obstructive, says producer Richard Stokes. “We brought in ex-Coldstream Guards who are used to standing for eight or nine hours... they talked with them [the photographers] and engaged with them.” And blocked their shots, of course. Clever.
Olivia Colman was unforgettable and Bafta-winning as the wife of the murderer, that nice paramedic Joe, who had an unwholesome relationship with Danny. Her meltdown on discovering his guilt was haunting, though the endlessly jolly Colman insists she’s tried not to be too weepy in the new series, as she copes with the aftermath of the murder and Joe’s arrest: “I’ve really tried not to cry. I don’t want people to turn on the telly and go, ‘Oh, it’s her [again], she cries.’ ”
At the height of Broadchurch mania nearly two years ago now, neither she nor Tennant could go anywhere without being quizzed about the identity of the murderer. Says Colman: “It got to the point where I stopped going on trains and buses because everyone was asking me, ‘Who did it?’ I thought taxis would be easier, but drivers would still ask me [and here she puts on a Cockernee cabby accent], ‘ ’oo did it?’ ” Even her own family piled on the pressure. “Everyone, friends, family... it was like, ‘I’m your dad, tell me who did it.’ ”
Tennant didn’t tell his wife Georgia who the culprit was and they watched episodes together at home. However: “I didn’t get to see the final episode [with her] because I was filming Doctor Who. We were doing a night shoot for the 50th anniversary episode.” Colman feels his pain: “Oh no! So you didn’t get to see her reaction!”
The second series, I’m assured by writer Chris Chibnall and producer Stokes, will have the same tone but move away from being a murder mystery. Stokes is adamant: “People have said, ‘Don’t turn it into Midsomer Murders in Broadchurch.’ We have nodded in that direction. It’s not Midsomer in Broadchurch.”
Teasing trailers (above) that have peppered ITV for the past couple of months beckon us in with the line, “The end is where it begins,” and Chibnall tells me, wryly: “I promise we do not start with the discovery of another body beneath the cliffs.”
He’s stuck firm to the thread woven through the first series, that something as hideous as the murder of a child simply “never happens here. I will not betray that. That’s always been my pact with the viewer – this [Danny’s murder] is an unusual event that has massive repercussions.” More significantly, he says: “The feel of the show is slightly different this time... Grief is not our driving emotion this year.”
The main characters – Hardy and Ellie, of course, and Beth and Mark Latimer, Danny’s bereft parents, always had more stories to tell, says Stokes, hence the second series. “But that’s not something you’re going to sell [to ITV] before the first series.”
Tennant and Colman didn’t need any arm-wrestling to return. “It’s genuinely lovely to be back because you know people liked it rather than hated it,” says Tennant. “We’re back in the same situation, though it’s a different sort of suspense this time.” Colman chips in chirpily with: “Apparently it’s like Bobby Ewing’s dream, nothing happened.” Thanks for that, Olivia.
“Of course, the murder of a child is the most appalling thing humanity can do...” says Tennant, before agonising over the mots justes, “[the new series is] differently bad.” Colman sighs (the pair are incorrigible at starting and finishing not only each other’s sentences, but also each other’s thoughts): “I don’t think ‘Broadchurch Got Worse’ is going to sell it.”
After Doctor Who, Tennant is used to attention from fans, but it can be bothersome. I read a Tennant fan site during the first series of Broadchurch, which was little more than a detailed breakdown, with exact times and locations, of his movements on and off set.
“It’s hard to predict when moments are going to spiral out of control. I’ve just spent a day at Center Parcs and I thought it was going to be a nightmare. But it was fine. Other days I’ll be walking to the post office and I’ll have to jump into bushes [to avoid paparazzi attention]. I think handling that kind of fame should be part of drama-school training. If I were just out of drama school and couldn’t walk down the street without people saying lovely things to me, it might send me a bit mad. Luckily nobody knew who I was until I was relatively elderly.”
Colman oozes an approachableness and familiarity that can backfire on the unwary, and tells a story about turning up to a restaurant and being garrulously hugged and greeted by the owner who had mistaken Colman for someone else altogether. “She thought she knew me.”
Though her mega-fame has arrived only comparatively recently, long after Colman’s comic turns in Green Wing and Peep Show, she can still be wrong-footed by overwhelming attention. “There is a misconception that actors love it, but imagine going into a room where everybody knows your face and you don’t know theirs. It’s not a comfortable feeling. Invariably everybody is lovely but I’m not sure it’s something you should get used to. It’s not what you think about when you join up.”
But what about the crying, Olivia? No one weeps like you do. Is it just good acting? “Oh no! It’s real... I cry at One Born Every Minute. I cry... I can’t do pretend crying.” At this point she seems to be welling up, but she insists: “What? Now? No, I think I just look like that.”
Not that Colman is a marshmallow. She laughs as she remembers her first proper talk about Ellie Miller with Chibnall and Jane Featherstone, head of Broadchurch’s production company, Kudos, before she even knew her fictional husband was the killer.
“I said to them, ‘I just want to know, do we get him [the killer] and do I get to kick him in the balls?’ They just went, ‘Oooh, let’s make that happen.’ ” Viewers will remember that a shrieking, broken Ellie did indeed set about her cowering, murdering husband in his police cell. “The kicking happened because I asked if I could!”
Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan, so memorable for their wrenching performances as Danny’s bereft parents, are as bouncy as Tennant and Colman, though Whittaker tends to do the talking for the quieter, more considered Buchan. As we talk, words burst out of Whittaker in a fabulously rich Yorkshire accent, and she’s clearly delighted to be back. “We all got phone calls between episodes seven and eight warning us that at the end of episode eight it would say, ‘Broadchurch will return.’ But they didn’t say who’d be back.”
About a month later Whittaker, whose character was pregnant when we last saw her, leading a cliff-top lantern ceremony to honour Danny’s memory, learnt she would rejoin the cast. “None of us felt they were shoehorning a story on the back of a success. It felt like a natural progression.”
Neither of them was prepared for the success of the first series, which was remarkable, in these days of catch-up, for being a must-see-it-as-it-goes- out treat. “In the world of box sets now, people are less inclined to stay in and watch if they don’t have to, but Broadchurch built up this momentum of people not wanting to know things. When we were doing interviews for the DVD, the final episode hadn’t aired and journalists asked me not to tell them what happened. Usually everybody wants a spoiler.”
Buchan talks of returning for series two to the Latimers’ house, somewhere soaked in sadness during the first series. “It was very, very weird, walking back into that place. It had such a strange atmosphere. It felt so cold and weird that, really, no acting was required.”
Whittaker and Colman are great friends, though she’s surrounded by similar preconceptions. “[Producers and writers] say, ‘Oh, I’ve got a crying mum in my thing, let’s get Jodie Whittaker.’ ” She also says she receives scripts on the basis that “I look like I could play someone in a tracksuit. I always play really sad people and I’m not sad.”
At the heart of Broadchurch is Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and those cliffs that seem to glow with orange light, even during the day. “Yes,” says Whittaker, “the lead role is the town, that’s why it worked so well. Geography played such a huge part. Being able to surprise British people with a landscape is pretty impressive. Suddenly there was this place that so many people were saying, ‘My God, I didn’t know there were cliffs like that.’ ”
Considering he is under huge pressure to deliver another stunner, Chris Chibnall seems his usual affable and voluble self as we meet at ITV HQ on London’s South Bank. Surely at some point during the writing of series two you must have thought you’d created a monster, another eight-part beast that was ravenous for brilliant, engaging stories?
“Well, the process of writing is constant fear and doubt mixed with a strange kind of confidence, delight and joy. I’ve written for Doctor Who, Torchwood and Life on Mars and all of those were big shows with a huge pressure of expectation.” But he’s cock-a-hoop that audiences are so excited. “People want to know what we’re going to do next and I’m really flattered that people are interested. I still feel humbled by the response to the first series.”
Of course, as the creator/writer, Chibnall isn’t going to break the omerta that surrounds the second series; he won’t even tell me what kind of roles new cast members Charlotte Rampling, Eve Myles and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (in above cast rehearsal photo) are playing, apart from: “They are not grieving relatives, they aren’t the relatives of another body, it’s not another crime case.”
But he’s well aware that expectations are high, maybe impossibly so. “We’re aware of the expectation and our job is to be bold and authored and to surprise and to do something different. That’s how Broadchurch came about in the first place. That is the spine, that is the purpose of Broadchurch.” Broadchurch
returns to ITV tonight (Monday 5th January) at 9:00pm