I caught up with Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke about working together on Sky One’s latest drama Bulletproof.
The six-part series follows Bishop (Clarke) and Pike (Walters), two cops who are best friends and bonded by the same moral code, despite their very different backgrounds.
Set in London, it’s a fun, authentic, action-packed ride around the city as Bishop and Pike tackle the bad guys in their own uncompromising style, all while maintaining their friendship, their relationships and taking on ghosts from the past.
Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family. These two have got each other’s backs, no matter what.
How did you come up with Bulletproof?
Noel: It’s his idea so he came to me really.
Ashley: Yeah I did. First and foremost I sat there thinking about vehicles for us because I could clearly see that Noel had pretty much created all of his success himself. He was the master of his own destiny.
I’d never been in that position. I’d never written anything so when me and Noel started talking properly he encouraged me to go down that route. We were at BAFTA or an event somewhere and then the next day I rang him up and pushed this idea to him.
We met up in a Starbucks on Oxford Street and we just started fleshing out this idea. Technically it was my idea at the beginning but we created it together.
Noel: Yeah, I then went off and wrote up the treatment and I’d show it to Ashley and he’d go “Nah nah nah nah, change that” and it took us a while. Months and months! It was only a six or seven page treatment but because we were so busy, it took ages to really lock it down in the way we wanted.
And you were always going to play the two leads?
Noel: Yeah, it was a show for us. We were like “Have you ever seen a show with two black leads?” especially in such positions of power and doing good. No. And I think even now if a show like this got made, and it wasn’t us who created it, it might be one white guy and one black guy, it would always be a mix.
Our idea wasn’t to go “We just want to see black faces”, it was to go “Well actually, we’ve never seen this”. It’s not an issue who they are. They’re just these two guys who happen to be these two guys.
Did you get any resistance when you first started pitching the idea?
Noel: Yeah yeah yeah, but this now is a different idea. So the resistance was just at the idea but we never really pursued it fully because we were working on other things. As soon as it came to Sky, they were fully supportive.
Ashley: Fully supportive.
In a nutshell then, what is Bulletproof?
Ashley: It’s an action drama, there are bits of comedy in there, but the main thing is about the relationship between our two characters. We are police, that’s our job, that’s our life but the series is more centred on brotherhood.
How we are with each other. We don’t come from the same mother and father but we’re like brothers.
Noel: I guess it’s a procedural but it doesn’t feel like any procedural that you would have ever seen. Especially in this country. You definitely don’t watch it and know that this week there’s going to be this crime, then that’s going to happen, then this blah blah blah... It’s a really organic show in that there’s an overarching story.
It’s very much 50/50 in terms of portraying their professional lives and their personal lives. Was that important?
Noel: Yes, very much so. You don’t really see, especially in those type of shows with us as leads or whatever, you don’t see enough of regular family life.
I think it was important to show that and have a husband and wife on screen who weren’t having problems. How often do you see that? There’s always an issue.
But there is an issue in Bishop's relationship...
Noel: I think in shows like this you do need that Mel Gibson character, that Will Smith character that can just push the envelope a little bit further and act more recklessly than others. Sometimes if they have a family and a wife, the argument is that they’re not going to be as reckless.
How much of an effect does Pike Snr have on Bishop and Pike? Is there a sense of hierarchy there because of who his father is?
Ashley: Not at all. I think they see each other as brothers and Pike doesn’t want to live in his father’s shadow. I don’t care what position he’s in or who he is, we don’t expect to be given any leeway. We’re just doing what we do.
Also, I’m not just bragging, but we’re really good at what we do. As police, as much as he’s a bit weird and crazy sometimes, and I go off on one or whatever, we actually get the job done.
It’s quite rare to see two officers in the same position out there in the car together. Usually there’s a junior with them. Was that important?
Noel: Yeah, that was important. You’re completely right. In all the older shows that you’ve seen, even the modern ones, Inspector Morse or this that and the other, there’s a senior and a junior but now in Bulletproof, nah. These two are equal.
The thing is, they would both do anything for each other but Pike is a bit more thoughtful, whereas Bishop would act first and think after. They’ve got that relationship where they just have to give each other signals or little looks and they just know what they need to do.
How fun were the car chases to film? And did you do all the driving?
Ashley: It was amazing. I didn’t do all the driving, I did about 80-90%. I enjoyed it so much. You can imagine, just having toys every day.
Noel: It was really interesting to do those because I never really thought about how they do car stunt action scenes like that. Like Ash said, a lot of the driving was him. What I’ve realised now, which I didn’t know, is that they just go “Right, drive in a straight line. You just drive full pelt in a straight line and let all the stunt drivers do the rest!"
So when you see those near misses, they’re really happening but we just drive straight. We just drive and they do all the swerving.
Ashley: On the first day I got straight into that BMW with the stunt driver and he took me on the route. I came around the corner and the big truck came and Noel wasn’t in the car yet so on our second run, we just put him inside and he was filming me actually. No one told him anything!
Noel: After that I was like, OK they dodge us.
How many cars did you get through? I’ve seen two episodes and there have been three different cars.
Noel: We’ve got the BMW, then there’s that stupid Mini that I can’t stand in real life as well...
Ashley: Then there was the silver M5.
Noel: Urgh. The silver one’s horrible as well. Thank God what happens to that happens and we end up with the Jag.
Ashley: But they’re just the ones you saw. A few cars were written off. We had to replace some cars during filming
Noel: I think we only actually had four cars but three of them were in the first two episodes. I wouldn’t have minded if we got a different car in every episode. That should have been like a running gag.
Traditionally, if you look at shows like Starsky & Hutch and more recently The Bridge, the car is almost a character in itself. Were you conscious not to make the blue BMW the third main lead to allow the audience to really focus on Bishop and Pike?
Noel: Funnily enough, we did have a debate about that. We did talk about whether we should have "a car". We might do next time... who knows?!
I like the idea of "a car” because then the kids can have the toys of it for example. But at the same time, you’re right. Maybe it does focus you more on the characters if you don’t.
How did the writing process work?
Noel: Nick Love wrote about three or four episodes, then we got two other writers in and I write an episode as well. That's what I do so I was always going to write on it.
The only reason Ashley didn’t write on it is because he doesn’t write yet, fully. Godwilling, by the time we get series three he should be writing them all well.
Ashley: Yeah man.
Noel: I wrote episode six and if we go again I’m going to write more. This was a real learning experience for me to see how much I can deal with and not trying to overload myself being in the show, creating it and writing for it. Now I know what I can handle, I might even direct some next year. Depending on the time frame.
There’s a good mix of comedy and drama in Bulletproof, especially in their bickering, is that something you set out to achieve at the beginning?
Noel: Yeah 100%. People need to know that obviously the show is not a comedy, it’s an action drama but I think what was important to us was that these guys are so close and you bicker with your brothers.
You have that sort of relationship with one another. Almost competition. At the shooting range for example. You need that sort of dynamic and it adds humour without adding comedy.
Did you have much gun training for the series?
Noel: Yeah, we did have training and practice. We had people come in and tell us how to hold them and when usually they’d pull them - the show is slightly heightened in that in real life you wouldn’t be able to walk around with them.
At home you’d have them in a safe, which his character do, but also at work you’d check them out before you’d go but we ain’t got time for that. We’re making a TV show! So our characters just carry them around.
Ashley: The training didn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know! (Laughs) Google me! Nah I’m joking...
Noel: I’m not a fan of guns. I’d rather punch someone up! But it was pretty cool having them.
Ambitions for a second series?
Noel: Yeah 100% and that’s not me saying it’s been greenlit or anything like that. That’s me saying that the ambitions are there for a second series. We know where we want to take it so I think they should just hurry up and green light it so that we can get on and write it.
What’s next for you guys? Ashley, have you spoken to Drake yet about Top Boy 3 for Netflix?
Ashley: We’re in prep now, the scripts are all done. We’re going to start filming soon. That’s pretty much all I can say right now.
Noel, how about you? You’ve got your production company and The Corrupted...
Noel: Yeah The Corrupted we’ve filmed already. I don’t mess about. It’s got Sam Claflin, Tim Spall, Hugh Bonneville and myself in it. It’s sort of like Heat I guess, real corrupted cops and what they get up to not just in the UK but worldwide. It was a nice little think to do actually.
As for my production company, I’ve had it since like 2007 but what’s happened now is that we have the TV part of it now which we signed a big deal for. The idea is to do this. To make shows that aren’t being made. The type of shows people don’t get the opportunity to do.
We want to push new voices, push women, push people of colour and working class people who don’t get a sniff. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do that or fail trying to be different.
We want to make the industry a little bit more diverse and better. Not because everyone else is trying to do it, but because we authentically have done it for years. There should be a lot of people that are really glad that we got this deal and there should be a lot of people that are very worried that I got this deal because I’m putting people out of business.