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'We need a bit of levity because of what we're all going through now'

Ahead of his new police comedy show, Daniel Mays tells Georgia Humphreys about living in lockdown and his wife's shocking accident during a family walk


Action man: Danny Mays as DI John Major in Code 404

Action man: Danny Mays as DI John Major in Code 404

Press Association Images

Action man: Danny Mays as DI John Major in Code 404

Daniel Mays was walking with his family on Mother's Day when his wife had a "horrendous accident".

Louise didn't really want to go out because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Essex-born actor (42) persuaded her to get some exercise with their kids - and then she slipped down a grass bank, lodged her foot, toppled over and broke her leg.

"We heard the bone crack and everything," recalls Mays, who has two children, Mylo (14) and Dixie (7), with his wife.

"So, for her, who didn't want to be around people because she's obviously so paranoid and apprehensive and nervous about the (coronavirus) situation, like lots of people are, we then had to jump in the car and sit in A&E in Barnet in north London for three hours.

"It was a completely surreal and horrible experience, but they were incredible.

"It's a testament to the A&E department there in the fact that, along with all the corona cases that they're dealing with, people like my wife are unfortunately going to have accidents and the day-to-day running of an A&E department just goes on regardless.

"She's on the mend, but I'm having to spin all the plates this end."

Home-schooling and doing all the cooking and cleaning sounds like a change from last year, when Mays was "ridiculously busy" with work.

One of the projects he was filming was the now new Sky show Code 404, the script for which he had a gut reaction to.

In fact, Louise could hear him laughing out loud at his character's antics from the kitchen.

"My agent was like, 'They want to attach you to this project. It's about a policeman that gets killed', and I was like, 'Oh wow, I've sort of been there and done that'," he says.

"But it's a comedy. He becomes an AI prototype and they bring him back from the dead. I was like, 'It sounds completely bonkers'."

Yep, bonkers is certainly the word for it.

The six-part series, set in the near future, revolves around two detective inspectors, DI John Major (Mays) and DI Roy Carver (Stephen Graham), who are the top crime-fighting duo in a police special investigations unit (SIU).

When an undercover sting goes wrong, Major is gunned down and killed,

However, the SIU considers him too valuable to lose and so his body is fast-tracked into an experimental artificial intelligence project.

When Major 2.0 is introduced to the world, though, "the wiring is all wrong".

"He's kicking down the wrong doors and he's making the wrong arrests, so he's struggling with it," explains Mays, who's also known for shows such as Mrs Biggs and Porters and last year's box office hit Fisherman's Friends.

"If it all does go wrong, the powers that be are going to switch him off and he'll be no more."

It was Mays who suggested Graham for the part of Major's partner, Roy.

The pair have stayed in contact since working together over 15 years ago on a comedy for MTV called Top Buzzer.

"He's a true and dear friend of mine," Mays says of his co-star. "We genuinely had the best time working on this. We kept having to add time onto the end of each day because we were just fooling around. I think you can definitely sense that dynamic between us."

It also meant a different challenge for each actor.

"We've both probably been more recognised for our dramatic roles, such as Line of Duty, The Virtues, which Stephen did recently, and This Is England.

"We both wanted a change of direction and to play in the comedy world again because I think we're both comfortable in that, although we're not necessarily associated with comedy first and foremost."

Mays says they made sure the story was grounded in truth, and there are some touching moments throughout.

As for the laughs to expect from Code 404, he hints that there are "so many amazing set pieces".

"The slapstick comedy in it is a dream," May adds. "It is a classic comedic double act. I'm the funny guy and Stephen plays the straight guy."

We chat the day before the Government announces the Covid-19 lockdown will be extended for at least another three weeks.

As Mays points out, Code 404 is the perfect show to binge-watch. "I think we all do need a bit of levity at the moment because of what we are all living through, so maybe it's come at a fantastic time," he says.

Mays was due to start filming the second series of another Sky show, Temple, soon.

"We'd had read-throughs of the scripts, which were looking great, but everything's gone into lockdown," he tells me.

"I've done another show for Netflix called White Lines, which comes out in mid-May. Everyone's keeping their fingers crossed that goes again."

He notes that the impact of the coronavirus has hit lots of industries, but "none more so than the film and TV industry because it's obviously not seen as essential work".

"I have to admit, I am struggling with it. I love to work and I love to be out filming and being with people, so it feels like it's totally against my nature, the ethos of who I am. It's very weird. It's just like being in Groundhog Day," he says.

When life returns to normal, he likes to think everybody's mentality will have shifted.

"It has forced us all to slow down and reconnect with our loved ones," he suggests.

"I think the hardest thing in all of this is the fact that you can't be with people. Personally, I won't under-appreciate anything ever again.

"I think you have to live life to the fullest. This is an example of when it's taken away from you, how tough it really is."

Code 404 launches on Sky One next Wednesday

Belfast Telegraph