Why Adrian Dunbar is delighted to be back on the beat in Line of Duty
Ahead of the return of gripping BBC police show Line of Duty, which is back on our screens next Thursday, Una Brankin catches up with some of its stars including Enniskillen-born actor and director Adrian Dunbar
Adrian Dunbar carries an air of authority that has grown increasingly steely as he nears 60, and it is even more pronounced when he's sitting behind a table in Methodist College, in a superintendent's uniform.
The occasion is a Press conference between the filming of scenes for the third series of hit police drama, In The Line Of Duty. The Enniskillen-born actor is a solemn presence during the 15-minute question-and-answer session, sitting, arms folded, alongside his co-star Martin Compston, who plays the tenacious young DS Steve Arnott in the BBC's best-performing drama series in 10 years.
The two stars make a disparate pair, one as dark and unlined - and short - as the other is grizzled and statuesque. With those deep-set, chilly blue eyes and patrician bone structure, Dunbar is perfect for his role as Superintendent Ted Hastings, head of an anti-corruption squad in the riveting procedural drama filmed in Belfast, but based in an unnamed English city.
As a former RUC officer in Line Of Duty, Dunbar has kept his native accent for the role.
"It was useful at the start to make Hastings from here, especially if he had been involved for many years in counter-terror," he says. "There's a lot of instances where people came, after 15 or 20 years in the RUC, and went into other police services across the UK, in particular the MET. So that kind of makes sense.
"There's no plan to bring his Northern Ireland back story into the series, but it would be interesting."
Following a unit of police officers who investigate their own, Line Of Duty, created by writer Jed Mercurio, has earned rave reviews since it was first aired in 2012. Given the uncomfortably close-to-the-bone script, the police refused to co-operate with the programme's producers, who filmed series one in Birmingham. Consequently, the production team was advised both by retired police officers and anonymously by serving officers, making for some truly gripping, realistic storylines.
But even with the brilliant writing, Dunbar was surprised initially at the drama's huge success.
"The thinking is, that the more sensational a thing becomes, the more the audience gets gripped by it. But this is a very procedural show and it seems to me that people are very keen to use their own brains and their own imagination and watch police procedure take its real course rather than a fictitious course," he explains.
"So that's been very positive. You don't expect audiences to want that detail in something. We are expecting to build on that with the next series. We are very confident about the next series ... the storylines are very, very good and the issues are very powerful. The structure of the piece is going to lend itself to a big, big build up and an audience being gripped. We have a fantastic first episode, so if we can get our main audience in on the first episode I think they're going to stick with us."
As in series two, which starred the brilliant Keeley Hawes as the central baddie cop (now jailed), Dunbar's character Ted Hastings' marriage is in ruins in series three, following a disastrous financial investment. In real life, Dunbar has been married to Anna Nygh, an Australian, since 1986, and is stepdad to her son Ted from a previous relationship. The couple have one daughter, Madeleine, and live in Crouch End, London.
Dunbar explains: "Ted's still very pretty much on his uppers. He's not very good at managing his dough and his marriage is very much falling apart at this point. He's separated. He's living in a very small little bedsit somewhere. So, no, he's not doing too well."
A dedicated supporter of the arts in Northern Ireland, Dunbar is pleased to be shooting Line Of Duty in Belfast. Ormeau Avenue is used for the exterior scenes featuring the drama's 4th Street Station, and several scenes of a police awards ceremony in series three were shot in one of Methodist College's impressive function rooms, where the invited Press caught glimpses of the actress Vicky McClure as undercover DC Kate Fleming, and Craig Parkinson as creepy copper Matthew 'Dot' Cottan, one of the corrupt lot.
"Belfast is a good town to shoot it in - the series suits Belfast," he adds. "We are shooting it in a fictitious UK city so we can't ever show where we are, because that might be alluding to the police forces we are investigating, so Belfast suits that very well.
"It's great for me because I have loads of mates and can get down home as much as I can. But that doesn't happen a lot because the schedule is pretty tight."
Given the aspersions cast upon Belfast last year by Game Of Thrones actor Kit Harrington - and more recently by Louis Walsh, who claims the city is dull and boring - I wondered how Scottish actor Martin Compston (31) found working here. Currently dating a stunning American cheerleader, Tianna Flynn, Compston is set to appear in a Hollywood action movie, The Hunter's Prayer, opposite Sam Worthington (Avatar).
"I love it here - I've had a great time," he insists. "Anyone coming away from home for, I think, five years - it's going to be tough. But there's some great boozers here, there are fantastic restaurants, great nightlife. We're here four months at a time - it's tough shooting away from home but it's a great place to shoot.
"This feels like our home now. I really enjoy it and the scripts are so good. We always had a hope it was going to do well but I don't think we realised how well. The first series I think was the biggest hit in 10 years on BBC2, so the way the fans have taken to it is a credit to the writing and it's taken all of us back.
"I'm very proud of it. The scripts just seem to be getting better and better every series, so if we keep delivering what's on the page, it's going to keep going and going."
A fourth series was recently confirmed. Meanwhile, series three begins this Thursday, starring the excellent Danny Mays, who made a compelling Ronnie Biggs in the eponymous TV drama. Mays plays the role of apparent villain Sergeant Danny Waldron, leader of an Armed Response Unit, who is beset by personal troubles even greater than Keely Hawes' troubled loner in series two.
In previous series, Line of Duty has placed a character in a situation which prompts anti-corruption unit AC12 to investigate. The protagonist's guilt or innocence is never clear until the very end, but in an intriguing twist on how events have previously unfolded, the apparent culpability of Sergeant Waldron in series three seems clear from the outset.
"One of the things that's distinctive about Line Of Duty is that we have a different person under investigation in every series," says Mercurio, during the Press set-visit in Belfast.
"Because it's built round the character's story, that makes each of the serial series very different - it's a completely fresh investigation.
"I suppose also we are looking at firearms. We are looking at the role of the police in using police powers, when they are allowed to use lethal force. So, it's an officer under investigation who really is the most dangerous adversary AC-12 have come up against. That propels us into an investigation that digs into his personal relationships, his private life and unexpected twists and turns."
Given that Mays, the star of Ashes To Ashes and several Harold Pinter plays, has described his character as "damaged, twisted and unpredictable", it looks like we're in for another thrilling ride with the new series. Mercurio admits to being "excited and flattered" by the glowing reviews to date.
"When people are actually talking about the stories you have been involved in writing; I was delighted," he says. "Obviously that had the knock-on effect that the BBC were very pleased with the success and made this extraordinary commitment to give us two more series, at least two more series. They commissioned two in one go, so we know we are going to be back next year and that's great to have the opportunity to plan ahead and have that sort of security."
A former hospital physician and RAF officer, Mercurio (49) is ranked among UK television's leading writers by TV-industry magazine Broadcast. Along with Line Of Duty, his chief works for television include the series Bodies (based on his 2002 novel), The Grimleys and Cardiac Arrest.
From Staffordshire, Mercurio confirmed that series four of Line Of Duty will be filmed in Belfast.
"It's a great city to work in. We have everything we need in terms of locations and resources," he adds. "What's great about the fact there are other productions here is that they are driving the industry. So, people who want to work in film and TV in Northern Ireland don't have to move to get the right experience.
"I think if that level of production can be sustained here, then I can only see it growing. In the past if you graduated here and you had ambition to work in film and TV, you probably had to move either down south or across to London where the biggest industry is.
"But that's changing and I think that's really good for the area. There's a great atmosphere in terms of working with the cast, the production company and the BBC. It's certainly one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had in my career and I really don't want don't want it to end."
Line Of Duty returns to BBC 2 on Thursday, March 24 at 9pm