Blurring the lines
HOW far over the line can a good cop step before going too far? And who has the right to make that decision? The five-part UK police drama Line of Duty asks such questions and many more in weaving its complex and compelling yarn of police corruption among the best and brightest of London’s lawenforcement authorities.
The primary target of an internal affairs investigation is Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates, a decorated and honoured police officer. But is the arrest record of his team the result of clever manipulation and deception?
Unknown to everyone is a darker secret involving Gates: one that could take him over the line from cop to criminal.
Lennie James, whose extensive list of credits in the UK and US includes Spooks, Jericho, The Walking Dead and Hung, gives a riveting performance as Gates. Lennie, how did you come to be involved in and what attracted you to it?
I did not audition for it. It was a straight offer. I had been out in the States for a while, working out here, and I was looking for a project back in Britain to remind people I was still around, and that was something that would bring me home. At the same time Jed Mercurio, who wrote it and produced it, had me in mind for this part. They sent me the first three scripts and I was sold by the time I’d read the first episode. By the time I got to the third episode, all I wanted to do was read the next two, not just to find out about the character I was going to be playing but how the story resolved itself. They were some of the tightest scripts I’ve ever read at that stage of the proceedings, so I said yes almost immediately. Did you empathise with Tony Gates when playing him? Or understand where he was coming from?
I try as much as possible to not have any kind of external eye on the character. You can look anywhere around the world and see people justifying all manner of things within themselves in ways we like to think we couldn’t and wouldn’t. I don’t always think people, when they’re doing whatever they’re doing, whether it’s something good or bad or mundane, feel any means to justify what they’re doing. One of the things I liked about playing Tony Gates was I don’t think he gave much thought to justifying his actions until he was under investigation. Certainly at the beginning of that investigation, his overriding response to it is: ‘‘Why would you be investigating me? That doesn’t make any sense. Why are you going after me and not somebody who’s doing something wrong? You’re wasting my time, you’re wasting your time and you’re getting in the way of the work I’m trying to do.’’ He moves on from that position but that’s where we meet him. He’s somebody who has no need to justify who he is or what he’s done because he’s a very, very successful man. While the focus is on Tony Gates, it seems like each character could be
Tuesdays, 7.30pm, 13th Street. Lennie James the focus of their own show. We don’t have the same kind of pressures American television has with sustaining characters over long periods of time. You can make brazen, bold and surprising decisions about the characters, and also blur the lines. In Line of Duty that’s what they set out to do. It sets itself up as being a program about police corruption, the organisation that pursues that and one particular target they go after, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story. That was one thing I found exciting about it. It’s not just a whodunit . . . it’s a thriller, it’s a catand-mouse game, it’s a whodunit, and it’s ‘‘Is he or isn’t he?’’ but it’s also a fascinating investigation of right and wrong.