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I TALK TO Bronagh Waugh

"It was so nice to do a crime drama where I'm not playing one of the victims."

Across five nights on ITV, gripping new drama Viewpoint will follow a tense police surveillance investigation into a tight knit Manchester community. Written by Ed Whitmore, the series explores whether it's ever possible to observe the lives of others with true objectivity and zero effect.

It follows surveillance detective DC Martin Young, who sets up his observation post in the home of single mum and secret voyeur, Zoe Sterling, whose windows command a panoramic view of Westbury Square.

But more importantly, it provides a direct sightline into the home of missing primary school teacher, Gemma Hillman. The home she shares with boyfriend and prime suspect in her disappearance, Greg Sullivan.

Bronagh Waugh stars as surveillance detective DC Stella Beckett and with a CV already boasting roles in Des, Unforgotten and The Fall, among others, I'm almost certain that Viewpoint will be another huge hit with audiences, night after night.

I recently caught up with Bronagh Waugh to discuss how she chooses her roles, what she believes sets Viewpoint apart, the last minute change she had to make to her character and why when it comes to how to watch television in 2021, no one really knows the answer.

How would you describe Viewpoint?

Viewpoint is a British crime drama series focussing on surveillance and surveillance detectives who are tasked with watching a terrace of houses in a Manchester neighbourhood because a young woman goes missing.

Noel Clarke plays the lead, Martin, and I play his sidekick - his partner - DC Stella Beckett. It's a show about different points of view and how we judge people. And whether we pre-judge people with guilt in the assumptions that we make.

It's along that genre of crime drama, but the twist is the surveillance side of it and the fact that the audience are invited in to be a part of that. So they get to be as nosey as we get to be. I think, hopefully, that peaks everybody's interests. Certainly it does mine, because I'm very nosey!

And I've been so nosey in lockdown. My old flat I lived in, had loads of flats across the way and I would just be glued to the window. Checking who's coming, who's going. Whether they're sticking to the rules or not... so I think it really will appeal to people's nosiness. we as British people do have a curiosity like that.

But I also think it will get you to question your own judgement and preconceptions that we all make about things.

What was it about Stella that made you say yes to the role?

When I read it, I loved Stella. I was not the first choice. I'm obviously not from Manchester. I think they were looking for a Manchester girl. But I read it and went "Oh god, I really like this. I really like her."

Because she just felt really different. She felt feisty and fiery and is a bit messy and undone and not perfect. I get sent quite a lot of crime drama roles, I've done quite a few crime drama roles, but I haven't played a cop yet because all the cop roles I get sent are all the same. They're all very prescriptive.

It's almost as if the traditional roles you see on TV have been reversed here between Martin and Stella. Would you agree?

Totally! I felt that. When I read it, I was like "Oh. Martin's the sensitive one and Stella's the boorish one that doesn't give a fuck." She just gets on with the job. She cuts corners sometimes. Is a bit of a lad. I just love that about her and Martin is actually the sensitive one.

I think that's what Noel really liked about it too. It flipped things for him and it's flipped things for me. She felt like a really real woman and that's something that appeals to me.

Was she a lot of fun to play?

Yeah! So much fun. And it was so nice to do a crime drama where I'm not playing one of the victims or someone who's going through trauma. It was just really refreshing to play someone that's very empowered and more aligned to me.

It's really weird. The roles that I've played are really so not like me at all. So it was really nice to play someone - and even though there's loads about her that's very different to me - the energy of her is very similar to myself.

Do you think filming during Covid and being in a bubble with your fellow cast members helped you all bond?

I think so. Because of the nature of us being in a bubble and locked down together, none of us could leave or go to London or go home, so that was our family for five months. I think that really compounded things and made us all get very very close. It just came very naturally, which I was relieved about.

What was really weird was how where we were staying - Native in Manchester - very much mirrored the show. Because it's an old Mill so all the apartments are in a quad and they all have windows that look in on each other.

Fehinti (Balogun) who plays Greg, the two of us are thick as thieves now. Very very close. And Alex (Roach) as well, who played Zoe. It definitely compounded things and made for quite intense friendships, which I was so grateful for.

I'd spent the first three or four months of lockdown totally isolated so to have that so it was a real privilege to be tested and be able to physically touch someone. My friend Jess, who's totally not into hugs at all, said to me in the second month of lockdown "Jesus, you must be finding this so hard!" - because I'm a massive hugger. I like physical contact with my friends, so I felt very privileged to be in that bubble and be able to have that contact.

Fehnti was doing Zoom workouts with some of his friends back in London, so me and Alex would go to his flat and have these little Zoom workouts.

Fehnti and I actually did an art exhibition in the apartments. Because we couldn't go anywhere, we just created our own fun and I hope that really comes across on screen. Certainly for the cops and Noel and I.

What was the most challenging part of playing DC Stella Beckett?

There are a couple of things, one of them was how far to go with her. I was very tempted to go further with her and the director Ash (Ashley Way) kept pulling me back. I felt there was even more you could go with her and make her a bit more bolshie.

So my challenge was to just pull back a little bit. Especially because Noel's character is so the opposite, it was finding that balance between the two of us correctly.

But also, working in a Manchester accent. Originally she was going to be from Belfast and then last minute the producers wanted to anchor it more with Manchester. So I'd done a lot of prep for the first four months with her being from Belfast. So that was a bit of a challenge because I was like "Oh. I've got three days to change everything!"

That was quite short notice, but I lived up in the North West for six years, and my best friend is from Eccles in Manchester, and accents have never been a problem, but it was a bit surprising. Three days notice is like "Oh. OK."

You want to really make her feel local and authentic and one of the problems with lockdown is that normally when I'm working in a different accent, the first thing I do is go and sit in a coffee shop and get to chat to locals. Or go and sit in the pub and have a pint and sit with locals. That was really challenging, but I was able to speak to the staff where we were staying and befriended them.

I also made the decision to speak in that accent for the whole of the shoot. Also, because sometimes people try and catch you out!

Without giving the ending away, when you read that final episode. What was your reaction like?

I was surprised! Which is always a good thing. What I think Ed (Whitmore) does so brilliantly in his script, is challenge your view and perception on people. I really like that whole concept because we are all guilty of judging and having unconscious bias.

I think that good and television should ask us questions. And we should ask questions of ourselves. It should leave you with some food for thought and I feel like that's what Viewpoint does really well. I really hope that people like it because it would be great to see it come back and to continue exploring these themes of perception.

It's something we see on social media all the time, how we pre-judge people and I think it's a lesson all of us are constantly going through so it's great to see that reflected back in TV.

There's so much about Stella that you're like "Ah!" - she's got a son, but he's been taken off her, so you ask why. What's happened? What was her past? So I think it would be great to go again and look further into that with some of the core cast. But also a new case.

Viewpoint is airing every single night across a week. There's an ongoing debate on the best way to watch a drama. What are your thoughts on it?

We did that with Des which seemed to work. It's so interesting. I'm undecided. Me and my husband watch TV in different ways. With Line of Duty, it's driving me nuts that I have to wait. What I find, is that I forget - and maybe that's because I'm heavily pregnant - but we went to watch this last episode and I couldn't remember what had happened in the last one. I mean, Line of Duty is particularly complicated, so I don't know.

I think we've got very used to consuming things quicker. So doing it five nights in a row gives people that opportunity. But also, selfishly, doing it five nights in a row is still when the weather's a bit cold. I think if we did it over five weeks, we'd lose loads of people! I know myself, as soon as that sunshine's coming out, I'm getting out there!

What Line of Duty has shown me, is that people are talking more about it on Twitter, being bled week by week, than when you get a whole series at once. There were more spoilers, because when you get a whole series in one go, people tend to be a bit more respectful as someone might not have seen it. Whereas with this (Line of Duty) people can't stop talking about it so I have to catch up before I look at Twitter because people were ruining it for me!

To your earlier point, I don't think TV knows yet. I don't think production companies know yet, what the right way to do it is. And I don't think there is. I think nowadays, we as consumers demand many different ways and forms. We want to be able to consume it at once. But people do also want it to be drip fed - without spoilers - so I don't any of us know what we want because we're so spoilt for choice.

It's funny, The Fall came back out recently on Netflix and people binged that in one go. And seeing the comparison to when that came out the first time, which was weekly, it's really interesting to see the different audiences it attracts. Originally, it was a very different, older audience whereas now it's a much younger audience on Netflix who have binged it.

They thought it was a new show! Someone was like "You look so different! I only saw you last month" and I was like "That was years ago!" It's weird.

Alongside The Fall you've also starred in Des and Unforgotten - two of ITV's biggest dramas. You appear to have a great talent for picking great roles and great dramas to be a part of. What's your secret?

I don't think it quite works like that. I'm always grateful for the work that I get and actors are in a position where we can't - or certainly, I'm in a position, where I can't say "Oh I want this. And I want that."

But I'm very selective with what I choose. There's a lot more that I turn down or say no to, than I say yes to. Because I think the only thing you can ever take with you as an actor is your integrity and the only control you have are the choices you make. There's so much else with acting that you don't get control over.

So I try really hard to pick roles that are interesting and pique my interest as an actor, which is storytelling. I'm interested in telling stories. Sometimes when you do one hit, you often will get offered the same thing again and again.

That's happened before. After The Fall, I got a lot of that being offered, so I was trying very hard to pull back, because you don't want to get stuck. I feel like I've been quite lucky. And it seems like I do a lot of crime drama...

That being said, your next project after Viewpoint is a comedy.

Yes! I've just done a sitcom, King Gary. And it's so weird, because comedy is what I did before. I wanted to be a stand-up so comedy was always more what I was into. Certainly at the beginning of my career, that's what I did more.

I just fell in to this drama phase, so it's been really nice to dip my toe back in and doing a wee bit with Tom (Davis) and a wee bit on Derry Girls. Also, it gives you a bit of light relief because playing the more dramatic victim roles, is draining and exhausting.

And after the year we've all had, we need to laugh. We really need to laugh!

Yet, crime drama ratings are huge in the UK at the moment. Why do you think that is?

I think in the UK, we're really good at it. The UK are good at making crime drama. It's our kind of niche and our thing. It's a bit like our obsession with Making a Murderer and those true crime documentaries. Even during Covid, me and Rich were still listening to (true crime) podcasts and I was like "Why am I still listening to a thing about a serial killer?"

I remember when Des came through, I questioned if I wanted to do it or not. Another thing about a serial killer? I don't know. Is that the right thing to do? But then I started reading up about Nilsen and you just fall into a rabbit hole.

In the UK, we have a bit of an obsession with crime drama. Both true crime and fiction. I think we do it very well. Much like the Norwegians and the Danes. There's a real affinity with what they do there. They're very good at it. I don't know if it's our weather... the bleakness!

Going back to Viewpoint then, what sets that apart?

The surveillance aspect, for sure. The nosiness. The curiosity. And the fact that the audience are invited to spy with us. They get to watch us and the people we're watching. I don't think you get that as much normally. That nosiness and curiosity really invites the audience to be armchair detective with us. And I think we like to be that in the UK.

The way they've shot it is really good. And it make you think. I never close my curtains, in my flat that I was in, or here. You do think sometimes, what do people think when they're watching you? And what do you think when you're seeing other people?

There's a real uniqueness in that. We're far too polite as a nation to ever admit that we have that obsession. But we do. And we do spy on people. There can be extraordinary things in the mundanity of everyday life. Compare to spy stuff that's like MI5 and Bond, that's wholly unbelievable. But what we're doing is very believable, very plausible and also sometimes extraordinary things happen in very ordinary circumstances.

Was that a real street you filmed on?

Yes! It was. It's this beautiful terraced street right in the city centre of Manchester and it's gorgeous. And because we had to sit around a lot we did do a lot of spying ourselves on the actual people that lived there!

It's a beautiful location and I think the show films Manchester beautifully. I'm obviously not Mancunian, but I lived next to there for a long time and it gave me a pang of "Oh god, doesn't the city look gorgeous!"

Aside from Viewpoint and King Gary, what's next for you?

Obviously, the baby is coming imminently! So we've got that and then I've got a film that I was meant to shoot at Christmas, which got postponed because of Covid. We were hoping to pick it back up, but because the pregnancy has gone so far now, I've now got too big for the story to make sense.

So we have to wait until after the baby is born so I'm hoping, when I'm fit and able and ready, to get back to work and do that. It's not far, it's down the road in Brighton.

It's a beautiful beautiful film about a little girl who's neurodiverse and I play her mum. I think it's a stunning stunning story and I'm going to learn a load about something I don't know about, which is really exciting.

Viewpoint starts Monday 26th April at 9pm on ITV

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