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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

TheCustard chats to Stephen Tompkinson of DCI Banks


Monday sees the return of ITV's gritty crime drama series DCI Banks. Recently I sat down with actor/producer Stephen Tompkinson to ask what we could expect from the new series and what it was like playing the iconic figure.


With Helen settling into the team, Annie back from maternity leave and the introduction of his daughter, how does Alan cope having three women in his life?
It's lovely. I think the balance is just right. He bought Annie onto the team because of her rawness and intuitiveness. Helen often does things more by the book than Banks himself which can be infuriating. Hopefully it'll be interesting for the audience to see how the three work together. I'm lucky enough to be on the producing side this year and we wanted to run a B storyline all the way through that focuses on the fact that they're all parents. Helen's oldest boy is now a teenager and acting out so that impinges a bit on her work. In the second story we get to see Annie as a first time mother, and we get to learn who the father of the baby is! We then meet Bank's daughter Tracy. She turns up to say she's leaving university and needs a bit of space to get her head straight. The final story is called Bad Boy and that sees Tracy being used as a pawn and abducted, so Banks is reminded how much his daughter means to him. Even though he's dealt with a lot of similar cases and given assurances to other parents and he finds he actually has no idea how all-consuming it is when someone you love is in danger.

Are episodes like that one quite draining to film?
Yes, it was quite exhausting. I think it's important with a new series to show the audience a different layer to the characters they already know and explain what makes these characters who they are. For Banks to disintegrate and not know what to do was a very draining day.  Banks turns to Annie as her time away has bought them closer so that's nice.

Is there a romantic story between the two this year?
There is but fate always seems to get in the way. It seems to be a bit of  burgeoning love that can never be. The fact that Annie is a new mum, Banks is finding is feet as a father again and Helen thinks people who work together shouldn't be together so everything conspires against them
really.

How does Annie feel about going back to work?
I think she feels a bit like the new girl again. The fact that Helen is a rank above her means she can't protest too loudly. She comes back to a team that she thought she knew, but Banks has got used to working with Helen and she's become the girl he turns to.


Is there ever any rivalry between the two women?
A little bit but it never descends into a cat fight, because it was important for us that the audience don't fall out of favour with any of the characters. We're working as a team.

The first episode deals with a couple who pretend to be social workers to gain access to children. Are you ever worried the stories become too dark?
What Peter (Author Peter Robinson) has always managed to do beautifully in the novels, and hopefully we're now mirroring is show you a sort of moral grey area that is a lot more thought provoking and engaging than it first appears. People may think they know what they're going to get but there are lot more hidden layers to it. Sometimes the situations do feel dark when we're on set. I'm sure every policemen has a sort of gallows humour that allows them to get through it. It can be very grim but we do try and pull people back from any abyss.  Crime drama is a very saturated market, but its constantly watched because of the voyeuristic aspect of everyone not wanting to end up there. I think we all have an innate sense of justice.



Has playing Banks affected you at all?
It's given me a greater respect for the police. It's job I know I couldn't do. I'm too sensitive and I wouldn't be able to cope.

Is Banks an easy character to step back into?
There's something very familiar about it because we have a lot of the same crew, and it's the same core actors but we're always very hungry to give the audience something that they haven't seen before. It always feels very fresh.

Do you think UK drama is in a good place at the moment?
Yes. I'm a keen advocator of people giving more time and money to writers because without them there would be no drama at all. It is cheaper to make reality TV, and it's very popular so it's hard to argue against the figures but I think people are enjoying getting involved in stories and longer running series.

Do you get a sense that TV has changed a lot over the course of your career?
I think there's more of a fixation on figures and on overnights but there's so many different ways to watch TV now that the overnight ratings aren't the be all and end all.

So you'd be happy to do more Banks?
Absolutely! I adore the character. 

It must be fun being a TV policemen.
It really is because you get to leave it behind and be you again at the end of the day. When you're playing the eponymous hero that the series is named after you do have a responsibility to lead from the front. I absolutely love it.

DCI Banks Returns Monday 3rd February at 9.00pm on ITV.

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