I TALK TO Craig Parkinson

"I had to double-check that this was all based on factual real events because it's going to blow people's minds."


BBC Three don't make a lot of original drama compared to other channels, but when they do, they do it very well. Mood currently airing every Tuesday (or all on iPlayer, of course) is a stunning debut from Nicôle Lecky, and the channel has a long history with hour-long factual dramas which began in 2014 with the BAFTA winning Murdered By My Boyfriend.


Their latest, Life and Death in the Warehouse - from the team behind two BAFTA winning films; Killed By My Debt and Murdered by My Father - tells the fictional story of warehouse worker Alys, played by Poppy Lee Friar, and childhood friend Megan, played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards, who joins the same distribution centre as a trainee manager.


Written by new screenwriter Helen Black, the hour-long drama is an uncomfortable, difficult yet impactful watch that I'm certain will spark conversations about working conditions in distribution centres. An essential watch, it's an authentic exploration of a world shrouded in secrecy where warehouse workers are subjected to a gruelling work regime and obsessive monitoring.


Craig Parkinson plays Senior Manager Danny Howells who pushes Megan to breaking point, encouraging her to push her team of workers to up the pick rate and race around the warehouse delivering more and more items.


One of those workers is childhood friend Alys, who's pregnancy means she struggles to keep up the pace. But in a desperate attempt to make a good impression and keep her new job, Megan goes against her gut and pushes Alys, putting her and her baby at risk.


After watching the incredible film, I caught up with Craig Parkinson to discuss the drama's subject matter, his character Danny and BBC Three's return to TV.



Congratulations on Life and Death in the Warehouse. A wonderful drama and the latest in a long run now of hour-long factual dramas on BBC Three. Why do you think they've proved so popular?


Thank you so much. I started out in my career on BBC Choice, which was BBC Three before it knew what BBC Three was, and it hits home on such broad and varying levels. Because whilst they encourage homegrown comedy, they've certainly got time and space to deliver these important factual dramas and stories that people don't know about.


When I was reading the script for Life and Death in the Warehouse, I had to double-check that this was all based on factual real events because it's going to blow people's minds. You don't believe that people are being treated this way by their employers.


It's often some of the best stories that make you go "Yeah, but no one will ever believe that" - but it really happened.


It's a little, low-budget drama at 9 o'clock on a Monday night, but never underestimate the underdog. Killed By My Debt was exactly the same thing and we ended up walking away with the BAFTA.


Whilst I don't think this will be an easy watch, I think it will be an impactful watch. You watched it yesterday and it is quite the sucker punch. These are important stories that people need to gain more knowledge of.


When you first read the script, what was it that struck you the most about the story and how much did you know beforehand?


Kind of the same as 'most people'. And I say most people in inverted commas. It was quite limiting and over the last two years it's built - we can just click and it comes the next day or the same day in some cases. But we don't know what that click actually represents. What it means and what it's doing in these various distribution warehouses, not just here but around the world.


It all started off when I got a message from Aysha (Rafaele) the producer who I'd worked with before on Killed By My Debt and she said that Joe (Joseph Bullman) was directing another one. It's going to be intense and heavy and wanted me to read it as soon as possible. So I did.


I was filming Grace in Brighton at the time and I said "Look, I'm in" because I love working with Joe. He's a director, unlike anyone I've worked with. And if you speak to anyone else who's worked with him, they'll concur.



What kind of director is he?


Well, he's got quite a frenetic energy in the way he sets up the scenes. As tight as Helen (Black)'s script was, there was one pivotal scene, which is Megan's first day and she gets inducted and there's lots of group chanting - he wanted my character to be quite the cult leader - and he'd whisper into my ear "I'm not going to say action. You just start when you want. And surprise all these people. I need you to shock them and wake them up."


So it's little touches like that, that keep everything super fresh and ever so slightly scary. There's a freedom in working with Joe, as we all found. Certainly, later on in the drama when there's a big long intense scene, just after Megan has called the ambulance, and we're all around the table - it's just three on one. The bullying is super dark and very intense.


I know Helen Black, did a lot of research whilst writing Life and Death in the Warehouse. How much did she share with you? How much did you do yourself?


I think Helen only came down to set for a couple of days, towards the end of filming, but I've got a good relationship with Joe so he sent me a lot of research prior to that. I was actually juggling three different jobs at the time. So I was going from Brighton for Grace, to Wales, then back to Brighton, then back to Cardiff to do some reshoots for Doctor Who, so I was bouncing all over the place.


Usually, my brain gets a bit fried when I'm juggling too many jobs, but these were so different, Grace is a world of its own in Peter James' world, obviously, Doctor Who is Doctor Who and this - you could separate them all.


I read a lot of factual reports from various newspapers around the world that Joe had sent me and nuggets of documentaries - again, from around the world that were shocking, but certainly informed my character and what Joe needed me to do and come across as.


It was one of those jobs where we only had a limited time to do this. There isn't a huge budget. There isn't a huge timeframe for shooting. We don't have the luxury of rehearsal. We just have to trust Helen's script - which was brilliant - and get on board,


Luckily, most people had worked with Joe before, so they knew his way of working which meant we could throw ourselves in. It all boils down to trust at the end of the day and we couldn't have been in safer hands.


I don't think a good story needs a big budget.


Absolutely. But also, saying that. What you're seeing on screen doesn't look like a low budget drama. It looks beautiful.


You're right, it doesn'y. Was it filmed in a real warehouse?


Yeah, it was filmed in a real working warehouse. We were doing a certain scene where we were looking at people's pick rates, around a computer, and then the camera cut but there were still people working in the background.


I think I said to Aysha - "Do those SA's (supporting artists) know that we've stopped filming?" and she went "Oh no no, they're real workers. We're in a real distribution warehouse. They're going to carry on working and we're going to film around them.



Tell us about your character Danny then. What type of boss is he?


He's the boss you don't want. But if you try to speak to HR or someone above him, you possibly couldn't quite pinpoint what he's done, because everything's been done with a very gentle energy, quite possibly a smile and you have to get to know a glossary of terms that he's using.


On the surface, he's like that, but underneath there's such darkness and he's obviously been brainwashed by the corporates. He was a very interesting character to get under the skin of because as I've just commented, he's not an out and out evil person, he's just somebody that's been brainwashed by the corporate system and has obviously listened to far too many CEO American podcasts. They've got under his skin!


When you're taking on a role like Danny, who's rooted in truth because of the nature of the story, is there added responsibility to do the part justice - compared to Line of Duty or Doctor Who, for example?


There's always a responsibility with whatever I do, so yes and no. There's a different responsibility for this because we're sort of turning the spotlight on stories that people haven't heard of and working conditions that even if we don't know, we've taken for granted.


How do you think people are going to respond to this drama?


I think they're going to be shocked. I really do. Because of its truth and its darkness. But what I hope is that it will make people think a little bit more - and delve a little bit deeper - before they clicked that next day delivery button.


I'm hoping that the miraculous Wizard of Oz curtain is drawn pack and we get to see behind what's going on. We live in a world of convenience. It's like I say to my son, there's a huge difference between want and need.


I think they need to be shocked and scared and have their eyes opened.


Well, I was certainly shocked and I think it had a greater impact because it was only an hour long.


I think so. Sometimes these stories need to be told in such an intense fashion and this certainly doesn't hold back from pulling the punches.


Has it changed the way you shop online?


Yeah. I don't like shopping online anyway. I need to feel, I need to touch, I need to smell.



Have you watched the final film yet?


I haven't. I've seen little scenes - myself and Kimberley Nixon had to do some social media stuff last week, so we watched certain scenes, picking them apart and analysing them. But no, I tend not to watch straight away. I like to give myself a little bit of space.


And it's on BBC Three, which is back on TV.


Which is incredible. I think it's fantastic. I think it should never have gone away. Look at what they're coming out with at the moment. They've got this. Mood has been a huge hit. And there's so much more to come. Some great sketch comedy coming out soon - Tash Demetriou and Ellie White's show is going to be brilliant, Lazy Susan.


What have you been enjoying on television recently?


It's finding the time. It's finding the time to actually sit down and watch TV which is really difficult. On a recommendation from somebody, I started watching Wolf Like Me, with Isla Fisher and Josh Gad. Very good. Not what you think it is at all.


And The Two Shot Podcast is still going strong?


Still trucking, yeah. We changed it this year to break it down into seasons because it was a very hard balance with the acting career and the broadcasting career to dish everything out every Thursday, so we're doing seasons now. Blocks of 20.


We're just about to finish season 9, then we're going to have a lovely break because I have to go and do some filming. And then we'll come back with another 20 to end the year.


Amazing. You seem to be so busy recently.


Touch wood. It's been incredible because obviously, we had that downtime and as any actor will tell you, they don't like enforced downtime. But such is the way when the world closes down.


It's nice to be back. It's nice to be working with lots and lots of different people, telling brilliant stories.


Life and Death in the Warehouse airs Monday 7th March at 9pm on BBC Three