Line of Duty has had an absolutely meteoric rise from a little-known crime drama on BBC Two to the biggest series on BBC One in just under a decade. Metro.co.uk chats to some of the cast and crew who’ve played their part over the years.
When Line of Duty first hit screens in 2012, the country was just about to enter Olympics mania, and a long-hot summer was in full swing.
But despite the cast featuring a host of relatively unknown names, it quickly made its mark as BBC Two’s best-performing drama series in ten years with a consolidated audience of 4.1 million viewers.
Little did those having a whirl of a time making the series, penned by the legend that is Jed Mercurio, realise just how big it would get.
The finale of season six, which aired last year and finally exposed the identity of H aka the so-called ‘fourth man’, pulled in over three times that figure, with 12.8million watching everything unfold on the night.
Season one kicked off with DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), an authorised firearms officer being transferred to Anti-Corruption Unit 12 (AC-12) after refusing to agree to cover up an unlawful shooting by his own team.
At AC-12 Arnott was partnered with DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), a highly commended undercover officer with a keen investigative instinct. They’ve worked under the supervision of Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), uncovering corruption within the fictional Central Police Force. And the trio have never looked back since.
To mark a decade since AC-12’s journey started on-screen, Metro.co.uk spoke to casting director Kate Rhodes James, Lisa McQueen star Rochenda Sandall and Chris Lomax actor Perry Fitzpatrick, to chat about the sensation that is Line of Duty, fella.
Kate, who’s headed-up the casting since day dot, began: ‘What’s brilliant about Jed, is that he’s not gender-specific. He’s not background-specific. You can really play around with the sort of actors you bring in when you know what the ambition is, as in the ambition of the character, and what one needs to achieve that. when you identify that and you’re all on the same page, then you can kind of go off-piste.’
But what about casting the main trio? ‘Hastings wasn’t described as a man from Northern Ireland,’ Kate revealed. ‘He just wasn’t, and I just thought that Adrian Dunbar had the right characteristics for that role.
‘It was really fun because when I brought him in, Jed later then said that was really interesting because one of the policemen that had been working on the show was from Northern Ireland. So whether that had permeated through the writing, I don’t know. Sometimes it does.’
Meanwhile, Martin had arguably the biggest job, as the only member of the major cast with a very specific back story. Steve worked in the Met when we were first introduced to him.
Kate gave a bit more insight as to why Martin had to swap his thick Scots accent to the more Estuary English style we see him sporting as DI Steve Arnott.
She explained: ’He needed to be a fish out of water, and somewhere along the line, it at that point, they needed him to be English, not Scottish. I don’t remember what that was. The question to Martin was, “Are you going to feel okay about this?” Because, it’s interesting. I’m sort of hesitating, thinking why didn’t we just let him [keep his accent]?!
‘But I suppose at that point, everything was set down and the story was very much wrapped around London Police. The senior police [involved in the storyline] were all Londoners.
‘Every time somebody comes with their baggage, you have to address that. You have to. But with Martin, because he’s Scottish, there was a long discussion. It was difficult for Martin, really, to take on that accent, but he’s done it brilliantly. Hardly anybody even knew he was a broad Scotsman!’
While the show is filmed in Belfast with a fairly nondescript location, it was originally meant to be set in Birmingham, which is actually where season one was filmed.
‘It was all meant to be based in Birmingham,’ Kate revealed. ‘We had a lot of actors that were from Birmingham, like Neil Morrissey and Kate Ashfield, they all originate from Birmingham.’
However, there was a concern over what the drama could look to be ‘saying about Birmingham’ if Line of Duty was set in a real-life location.
‘There was a fear about what we were saying about Birmingham, that Birmingham policemen were not to be trusted, so it had become this nondescript,’ she noted.
Of course, the show has become known for featuring some incredible guest leads, with names such as Lennie James, Thandiwe Newton and Stephen Graham all having major parts in recent years.
Kate expressed how brilliant it’s been to have such high-profile names on board and shed some light on the attraction to the guest lead roles from major acting stars.
But she insisted it’s ‘always about who’s right’ for specific parts, and not just how well-known the creatives are.
She told us: ‘The good thing is that because they know they’re not committing to options, where they have to sign up for years, it’s an ideal package because A, the show now is established. B, they are the lead, and C, they do the job and then they go. They don’t have to commit to it for a long period of time. It’s only what, four or five months? When you’ve got that in mind, you can kind of reach for the stars, but again, it’s always about who’s right.
‘Daniel [Edwards, co-casting director] and I will go off and we’ll draw our lists and then we’ll sit down with the team. As of late, we go to the first person and they say yes, Thandiwe [was the] first person and she was astonishing, and an amazing asset and kind and just really brilliant, brilliant, brilliant to have. Stephen Graham was exactly the same. It was a no-brainer when we all read that [script], it was Stephen Graham.’
In terms of what she had to go on for the characters, there was no ‘physical brief’, but instead, just ‘a rough age.’
‘We brought in a lot of people for a lot of those roles, but then after a while and with recalls, you started to see a team, for me, formulating. You start to go oh actually, Vicki and Martin, that’s a really good pairing. Adrian, that is the sort of the father figure. It worked exceptionally well.’
Meanwhile, Rochenda, who played the absolutely ruthless organised crime group (OCG) boss Lisa McQueen has a special place for the show in her heart, and clearly had an absolute ball working on it
Before she got cast, she was a massive ‘fan girl’ and couldn’t believe it when she got the call for the part, telling us: ‘When the call came in, I was like, “yeah, yeah!”. I mean, it was real life-changing moment for me. It really kind of turned my career into something rather than nothing.’
She remembered ‘auditioning like crazy’ for the role, but had no idea of the major player she’d been cast opposite: ‘I didn’t know that it was Stephen Graham plain oppositely though you normally find these things out a little bit beforehand.
‘I’ve followed the show from the beginning, and I didn’t know there was a balaclava woman, you’ve never really thought about it. Are there any females on the inside of that kind of organised crime? I was totally baffled. But also just so happy because it’s been such an amazing kind of 15 years for women in terms of stepping up to the plate, playing gangsters driving the cars and shooting guns!’
While she had the ‘standard makeup procedure’, a major part of Rochenda’s character was Lisa’s incredible designer wardrobe: ’It really was more about getting Lisa pristine. I mean, the clothes that she wore to stand in dark alleys, it was really expensive gear! I remember that they took me to get a private fitting at Harvey Nicholls.
‘Normally you wear like Zara, and fast fashion brands. But the stuff that they brought out – because they really wanted to be in a complete designer – links back to the thing about a character who is addicted to money and that materialism. Once you put a 500-pound coat on your back, you don’t want to take it off. You don’t want to go back to Zara, do you!?’
Since her incredible stint on Line of Duty, Rochenda has featured in BBC’s Small Axe, Criminal: UK on Netflix, and will also star in The Rig, an upcoming Amazon Prime drama alongside former co-star Martin.
‘I learned so much on that job. I’m forever going to be grateful for that and how far that you can push things… what you can do when the other person’s on camera. You can bait them. Stephen did quite a lot of that to me.
‘Even though it wasn’t in the script, he kind of baited Lisa when he wasn’t on camera, which really gave a truer reaction. He was assisting me. We all pitched in and helped to each other,’ Rochenda added.
Lisa eventually ended up in police custody by the end of the series, granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony about senior members of the crime ring, after killing Stephen’s character John Corbett, a rogue undercover police officer, in very gruesome scenes.
The moment was later shortlisted for Bafta TV’s Must-See Moment, a nod Rochenda described as ‘so cool.’
‘When you’re filming it, because you there for so long, you never think that… I couldn’t believe that that moment had been chosen, because I’m a fan of the show.
‘I think every moment, every ending of that show, it is a must-see! I was amazed that moment was chosen. It was incredible. The show deserves more nods than it gets really so. Yeah, it was great.’
That brings us nicely to up to season six, which featured Perry’s character DS Chris Lomax as a key part of the murder squad at Hillside Lane police station.
The actor, who is also currently featuring in BBC’s Sherwood, shared how he was originally ‘sucked in’ to the drama as a fan due to his long-lasting friendship with Vicki, who he took part in acting workshops with as a kid.
Of what it was like to work with Vicki again, he said: ’We have a lot of fun together and we’ve known each other since we were about 10 or 11, about 25 years now. Going to the Nottingham workshop together. We’ve did a bunch of plays together and then we’ve been lucky enough to sort of work together on telly.
‘We did This Is England and I’ve actually done another job with her as well. I was always a fan of Line of Duty and got sucked into [watching it] because Vicky was in it. Then seven, eight years later be in it as well. It’s great to have a good friend on set. It’s always a bonus.’
After going through the audition process and bagging the part, he became accustomed to 12 to 14-hour days of filming in Belfast, which was soon cut off due to Covid.
He explained: ‘It was a weird time actually because we started filming and we got about four weeks in and then Covid hit, which right at the beginning was quite scary, I suppose to a lot of people and we didn’t really know what’s happening.
We came home for a little while for about three months first and then we were the first production back, so we were very lucky. It was a lovely distraction, but it changed the set. It wasn’t a set that we recognised because of the social distancing and the masks and the regular testing right at the beginning one.
‘We literally had a guy following us around with a two-metre stick to make sure we were always two metres apart because it was taken very seriously at the beginning. It was odd, but it was great. It was blessed to have that sort of distraction. in Belfast, filming whilst everyone else was sort of isolated at home. But yeah, it came with its own difficulties.
Perry’s character was of particular intrigue to viewers, with some believing DS Lomax was a corrupt officer, and we had to ask the star for his opinions on fan theories and the general response to Line of Duty.
He said: ‘It’s quite amazing to be part of something that gets that attention and that people love and get behind the character so much and they start thinking of different conspiracy theories.
‘It’s great to be a part of what unfolded each week and to read what the people are saying online and what they think is going to happen. Chris, my character was quite mysterious, Jed had cleverly written him to confuse the audience.’
Perry touched on some of the very intricate police acronyms and the like used by those working in the fictional police department, which have weaved themselves into the vocabulary of fans, too.
But he admitted: ‘It wasn’t easy actually [to learn]. It’s quite unnatural. The acronyms, don’t roll off the tongue that easily. It’s a case of learning it all separately and having a lot of things written down in notepads and on scripts, the meanings and definitions of certain acronyms, etc. So that we kind of knew what we were saying.
‘It definitely took a little bit extra concentration!’
Of course, the one big question on everybody’s lips is whether there will be more to come of the beloved show. While we don’t have the answer for you, Perry told us he’d absolutely be back for more if he was asked.
‘I definitely would in a heartbeat,’ he said.
‘Whether or not I will, I don’t know. Historically, my sort of characters are part of the guests leads team, like Kelly MacDonald and they don’t generally get to return. Whether or not AC 12 decided to revisit the murder investigation, and Chris is still there… I don’t know what else to say!’
Line of Duty can be streamed in full now on BBC iPlayer.