Interview with Martin Compston (DS Steve Arnott)
Line of Duty - A hard-hitting new thriller series explores the world of police corruption
DS Steve Arnott was a high-flying counter-terrorism officer who refused to collude with his colleagues in the cover-up of the shooting of an innocent man. He finds himself seconded to Anti-Corruption, much to his displeasure.
Steve is a counter-terrorist copper and at the very start of the series he’s on an operation which unfortunately goes wrong. This leads to him being in a tribunal about the operation going wrong and puts Steve against the rest of his team who were involved and who are trying to cover up the situation. This then leads to him not being demoted as such, but transferred to anti-corruption while he’s waiting on the tribunal. He doesn’t take the AC-12 job very seriously at first, he sees it as something for pencil-pushers - he doesn’t really believe in investigating other cops, he thinks they should be out there chasing bad guys, but he gradually learns that actually the people he’s chasing are worth taking down. He’s chasing Detective Gates, a kind of super-cop; he beats up bad guys. But Steve, bit by bit learns that all is not what is as seems with him, and he goes on this mad kind of adventure to discover the truth.
How did you find working with Lennie and what is the relationship like between your characters?
The relationship between the two characters is really frosty, right from the off-set. Anti-corruption officers are not the most popular people, and obviously Gates is a very popular cop and so you see Steve as sort of an outcast right from the off - but working with Lennie was immense. He is a brilliant actor and has been one of those standout actors in British TV and cinemas for over ten years. It was great watching him doing stuff because it was a great part that Jed’s written. Lennie’s just then taken it to the next level so I’m really excited to see it unfold.
You are known for films such as ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ and ‘Sweet Sixteen’ - what attracted you to this television role?
I thought it was brilliantly written, that’s what attracted me to the role. But you’re very right in saying I made my name and living out of film so it was nice to get the part. I don’t actually ever think people think of me as leading a big TV show and the funny thing is when I got the call about the audition, I actually put forward three of my friends for the part. I got a call from my agent saying ‘why the hell do you keep putting people up for this role? They think you’re not interested!’ I thought it couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s just the fact I thought it was so good that I wanted it to be the best. So, I nearly shot myself in the foot with but thankfully they stuck with me and they gave me the job.
What was the audition process like?
I only had one audition and I tend to throw myself into the role of anything I’m doing. Especially because I have an accent and I never come out of the accent when I’m working. I was doing a another job at the time in a different accent and it was quite a dark film so I didn’t really have time to go through all the scripts in depth, which was maybe a good thing, because if I knew the scope of this thing I’d have been a little bit more nervous.
Talking about accents, you’re Scottish but you don’t play Scottish detective. How did you find doing the English accent?
Well the part was written for a Londoner, so it wasn’t a conscious thing. I’m sure they would have let me probably stay Scottish but the part was written for a Londoner and it is my job to just make that happen. It can be quite full on because, as I said, I don’t come out of the accent, so I mean living for three months as an Englishman can after a while start to mess with your head a wee bit! But I find scripts can change a fair bit and so you have to learn to adapt very quickly so you have to have the accent at your beck and call. We had a couple great dialect coaches working with us but you couldn’t really have them at your side full time, so you have to learn to do things by yourself and it’s good in some ways as although it can get a bit stressed, at the same time, it can help you find the character a bit more. You find a change in yourself with an accent. For some reason I feel a bit like a smart arse when I talk in a middle-English, middle-London accent! It made some of my mumbo-jumbo police talk a bit easier to say for some reason…
Police drama is something that we’ve seen on British TV screens for quite a few years. Why is this different?
Jed’s written a fantastic script which is genuinely exciting and it’s clever. I also think the cast they pulled together is great. One of the big things for me was when I heard Vicky McClure would be playing one of the other leading roles. When I heard that going into the audition, I knew it was something I wanted to do. She’s possibly the best young actress in Britain at the moment so it was a joy to work with her. And obviously we also got Gina McKee, Adrian Dunbar, Lennie James and Craig Parkinson – who is one of my best friends – plus Neil Morrissey. It was a cracking cast, we had a blast, and we were all same when it came to an end, we were all just a bit sad. It was genuinely the most fun I had on a job in years. We became so close altogether. We became a gang and we’ve all kept in touch as had a great time on it.
Did you base your character on anyone?
No, not particularly. It just came out very fresh. Gates is a fantastic part that Lennie’s got to play. And Lennie is electrifying in it. Gates is a fun part to play, while Steve’s sort of holding the whole piece together and you’re getting a lot of information through him - which you have to be conscious of while playing it. Not making Arnott repetitive or dull. I had to inject into him a bit of life. He’s constantly on a downer with the tribunal and he’s got someone’s death in his conscience right from the off. He has that cloud is hanging over him the whole time so you have to try to not make him one dimensional. It was hard but I enjoyed it.
Were you aware of the anti-corruption units within the police force before working on the show?
I was aware of it in American versions - internal affairs - and there’s always stuff going on in the media about how much red tape police officers have to go though. The things that people are doing within the police force are technically illegal, but at this time you can see why they are doing it. They’re under so much pressure; they are trying to hit targets and so they’re just bending the rules, as you would say, to get the job done and cut through all the red tape.
Did you do much research before taking on the role?
A lot of people are saying ‘how much research did you do?’ and I’d came straight off another job so I didn’t have tonnes of time to do much, but Jed just knew everything so anything I needed I just went straight to Jed. He knew everything inside out and is very clever. He never lost his patience with anything. We spent hours talking about things and there was always time, especially in rehearsals. He was very generous with his time.