I TALK TO: Wunmi Mosaku

BAFTA award-winning actress Wunmi Mosaku is returning to our screens as a police officer in Jack Thorne’s new Channel 4 drama Kiri.

She plays Detective Inspector Mercer alongside Sarah Lancashire as experienced, no-nonsense social worker Miriam who is responsible for Kiri, a young black girl who is soon-to-be-adopted by her white foster family. During an unsupervised visit with her biological grandparents, Kiri disappears and the fingers of suspicion and blame from the police, the press, and even her colleagues, point firmly at Miriam.

DI Mercer is the police officer leading the investigation into Kiri’s murder. Having grown up in care and joined the police on a diversity scheme, Mercer has been fighting the odds all her life. She is intelligent, focused, humane and tries to be fair in her dealings with people, but is also under immense pressure to find Kiri’s killer.

Following a recent press screening, I caught up with Wunmi Mosaku to find out more about what it was like to play DI Mercer in Kiri. Here’s what she had to say…

You’ve just watched Kiri on the big screen, do you like watching yourself?

I used to watch everything, but for the last year-and-a-half I’ve found it more difficult. I don’t know why. I really enjoyed watching this one though because from the beginning it felt very different to anything I’d seen Euros (Lyn, Director) do. I love the design, I love the graffiti, I love the comedy and I love the dog.

When Mirian reaches for the flask at the beginning it was a bit of a shock to me, I’d forgotten about that. Up until I appeared on camera I loved it! (Laughs) I’m really proud of it actually. It feels really different and lots of juxtapositions, lots of texture.

What first attracted you to the role of DI Mercer?

Well first of all the script. I think Jack Thorne is brilliant. Second of all, the director Euros Lyn who I’ve worked with before and I think again is wonderful. Thirdly is Sarah Lancashire! I think she’s amazing and the opportunity to work with her and the rest of the cast drew me in.

I always say it’s the story, it’s the most important thing for me and I think Jack is, is a very good story teller and I think Euros is really good putting it all together. He’s really good with actors and crew, I feel like acting with Euros is like going back to drama school and really getting to explore.

What kind of a police detective is she?

I think she’s just very honest and doesn’t concern herself with niceties all the time. She’s very blunt, driven by results, getting the result that she needs. This case is a little bit different for her as she and Kiri have a similar background. They both were in care, both come from African descent, a difficult father.

So I guess in a way she has to fight her but because she understands it more, she almost puts up more barriers. She’s not cold, she cares, but she cares so much that she almost has to block things out to get the results that she needs and be as professional and as brilliant as she can be.

Your flat mate is a social worker. Did you turn to her for any advice?

I would talk to her about the police involvement, but I don’t know anything about her specific cases. Every day I ask her how work was, or how she slept, and she always has a child or a case on her mind. So I know about the affects it has on her.

With social workers, you can either trust what someone says or you can distrust it. You’re the person that’s going to get the blame. All we’re trying to do is look after someone else’s child and make the best decision for them.

Did that influence how you approached the role of Mercer?

Well DI Mercer has her own relationship with care as well, so that affects her. But yes, I think seeing my flat mate question whether she trusts that someone will do what they say they’re going to do – that’s just really difficult. It’s not always going to be the right decision because it’s about trust. Trusting someone else. It’s just really hard and you only see the bad cases.

What was the most challenging part of filming Kiri?

I was nervous about the whole thing actually. I don’t normally get very wordy characters. I get emotional and generally quite quiet parts. So this one was quite scary because I had to do interviews and be on it.

It wasn’t necessarily about listening, there wasn’t an awful lot of conversation, Mercer was definitely driving the conversation so I found I was quite nervous having to be in control.

Read my interview with Sarah Lancashire here and writer Jack Thorne here.

Kiri starts Wednesday 10th January at 9pm on Channel 4