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Cops and robbers South Coast-style

It may not be Scandi-noir, but ITV's new police drama The Level still packs a plot punch. Keeley Bolger takes down the particulars ...

The Level is the latest cop drama to be fired out of ITV's cannon, but the cast and crew are insistent this is not your regular meat-and-potatoes police fare. "There are no women dying and that being the centre of the drama," explains former Misfits actress Karla Crome, who leads the cast as Detective Sergeant Nancy Devlin. "That's not what it's about.

"There are no young, raped bodies strewn about, and from a female perspective, that's very fresh," adds the 28-year-old.

An exemplary officer, Devlin's professional demeanour masks her double life, which sees her cover for shady businessman and drugs trafficker Frank Le Saux (Philip Glenister), who also happens to be the father of her best friend Hayley (Laura Haddock).

But keeping her secret from her mates and copper colleagues - played by Noel Clarke, Downton Abbey's Rob James-Collier, Lindsey Coulson and Ruth Madeley - soon proves tricky.

She may still be in her 20s, but Crome, who previously worked on Stephen King's Under The Dome and You, Me And The Apocalypse with Rob Lowe, is level-headed about heading up the drama.

After all, TV is an unpredictable beast.

"I've got to be honest, with every job I do there's a part of me, that child in me, that goes, 'This is the one'," admits the actress, who until a few years ago was teaching dance lessons on her weekends.

"And it rarely actually is. There are decisions I could have made, moves I could have made, that would have got me seen more. I do it because I enjoy the craft and the challenge of trying to make something that doesn't exist come alive, and that's what I'm in it for. I'd do it for free - well, I wouldn't do this for free, because I'd be a mug and everyone's getting paid - but I love it!"

Not least, on this occasion, because of the opportunity to work closely with Glenister.

"I've always wanted to play a cop, desperately," Crome says with a laugh. "I remember doing an interview once, where I said my dream role would be Phil's part in Life On Mars, a sort of a rookie cop who goes around beating the sh*t out of people. Nancy's not like that, she's a bit more dignified, but it's great."

James-Collier's last role, as scheming butler Thomas in Downton Abbey, was always going to be a hard act to follow, but The Level, in which he plays gregarious Detective Sergeant Kevin O'Dowd, gave him plenty to sink his teeth into.

"I don't think I've played a copper before," says the actor, who turns 40 this month. "It's really exciting for me; the last thing I did was period and there's a massive difference, lots of racing around in cars, very action-led, very exciting to play.

"One of the prerequisites is that the detectives have to be deadly handsome."

Best-known as tough matriarch Carol Jackson in EastEnders, Lindsey Coulson relished the chance to flex some new acting muscles as Detective Chief Inspector Michelle Newman. "She's the detective chief inspector. She's in charge and runs the investigation. I've got my own office with my name on it," says the actress, smiling. "I tell you what, I feel very powerful!"

She looks different, too, with new brunette hair for the role - which was necessary, she notes, or audiences might just be thinking, 'There's Carol!'

"I don't think I necessarily would have gone dark, but it feels like a very different character," explains London-born Coulson, who is also currently studying creative writing.

"Although when I started shouting, and I have to say I'm very good at shouting, I was a bit like, 'Oh, is it her (Carol)?' Because you can only shout like yourself, can't you?"

Back in the spring, Madeley was nominated for a best leading actress Bafta for her performance in BBC Three's Don't Take My Baby, alongside Suranne Jones, Sheridan Smith and Claire Foy; the show scooped the Best Single Drama gong.

The nod has opened up further opportunities, says the actress, who plays secretary Julie in The Level.

"It's made people take me a little bit more seriously and realise I'm not just somebody who uses a wheelchair," says Madeley, who was born with spina bifida and scoliosis.

"I'm an actress first and somebody who uses a wheelchair second, but I do think it's making huge strides to have me up there (on Bafta night) in my Ralph Lauren dress.

"Hopefully, it will open many doors - not just for me, but for other people."

  • The Level, ITV, Friday, 9pm

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