This week sees Lenora Crichlow (Being Human) join the cast of Suspects as DS Alisha Brooks as the improvised series returns to Channel 5 for a fifth run.
The series opens with the shocking discovery of D.I. Martha Bellamy’s body by her daughter Daisy. It appears she’s been fatally shot in her own home.
Here's what happened when I caught up with Lenora for a chat about joining Suspects, working with her old Being Human co-star Damien Molony again and I couldn't resist a little trip down memory lane to talk about Channel 4's Sugar Rush.
How does it feel joining such an established programme in series 5?
A little bit terrifying. Most of the work I’ve done, I’ve been at the beginning which is terrifying in a different way. Both are equally exciting, but for different reasons.
It was wonderful, I had worked with Damien before, so that was nice, I felt like I had a friend on the inside. The whole approach to the show was so different, it’s a different genre and field that I wasn’t necessarily used to, so the whole experience felt really news.
And also, as you say, joining something that is already quite well established, you feel like you have to fit in as opposed to going in and setting the tone, which is nice. You know what you’re getting into, you can see the track record of the show which is reassuring, you can have confidence in the show and the people behind.
When you’re doing something which is improv, it’s quite nice to feel that people already like it.
You mentioned improv there. How does the show work, for those who don’t know?
You get your plot points and you get the story in the script of what happens in each scene - what gets revealed, who you meet or who you’re arresting, but you don’t have nay dialogue scripted for you.
So how you approach that suspect, what they’re doing when you find them, how you get their attention - all of that is to play for in the scene and will unfold as it does, while the cameras roll!
Do you have to do more than one take in that case? How do you know what to say?
No, not at all! Each take is different as well, if we do go again but we very rarely do. The max you’ll get out of a scene is three takes which is unheard of in TV.
You basically go home and study your script so that you know what you need to ask to get what you need to move the scene on. You don’t necessarily know that the people who are the actors playing the suspects are going to be cooperative and the scenes will run until you get what you need.
There’s no time limit on it and the suspects don’t have to be cooperative at all, and a lot of the time we don’t really talk to the actors playing the suspects. One, because we don’t have a lot of time off, but two, just to keep us separate so that when we do meet them, there is an element of not knowing how they are going to approach the scene, so that we can react accordingly.
How you do it? I guess you trust your instincts, you prepare, you do your homework and you stay very present and alert for what happens in each scene.
As an actor, you want to be present and alert in scenes scripted or not, but I think it’s extra important in Suspects because you have to drive the scene. You can’t wait for a cue as such. I think you lead with your instincts as opposed to your rehearsal or the idea of knowing where it’s going.
Have you enjoyed that way of working?
Absolutely loved it! It’s very difficult then going back to the old way. Who need words?! (Laughs)
It’s so fast which is really fun and exciting. You spend more time in character than not in character, which for an actor can be really cool. There’s quite a lot of down time on a regular shoot and that can be quite exhausting in a different way, just waiting around.
You find your rhythm quite quickly. It is very very tiring, that was the biggest thing for me. I think it’s because it’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a 9 to 5 office job, particularly when we’re in scenes in CID, I sit at my desk and we plough through the scenes.
I have my desk, I have my little supplies in my drawer, I have my notepad - where you’ve made real authentic notes that will help you in the next scene, or in the interview scene. It’s a joy, it’s a real hybrid of disciplines and how to work. There’s an element of theatre about it, obviously TV, improv - it was just really cool. I loved it .
Tell us a bit about your character, Alisha Brooks. Who is she?
She’s come up to CID through Drummond do replace Martha Bellamy and is very good at dealing with the more sensitive/delicate subject matters - child protection cases, sexual assault cases. She has a real knack for getting what she needs out of people but also really taking care of them and doing right by them.
She’s very patient and also a stickler for the rules. She relies heavily on the structures and procedures that are in place to protect both them as police people, but also the public that they serve. She’s one of these people that really does take her job to heart but in a very professional way and a very different way to Damien’s character Jack.
She does deeply deeply care, but she does always work within the rules. She’s very very loyal and very very good at her job. I would say at first glance, we’re not sure how strict she is and then as the series progresses you see that you don’t really want to cross her. She doesn’t wear her anger on her sleeve and doesn’t mince her words.
How does she fit in with the rest of the team then?
She doesn’t really. (Laughs) She doesn’t, she has a professional relationship with them and she keeps it as that. She’s not one to go the pub afterwards, she’s not one get into her personal life, but she respects and notes people’s good work, she supports and encourages that, but it’s always quite boundaried.
She’s a true professional and I think she learnt that, but is also naturally quite like that. Also, she was taken off Child Protection cases by Drummond, because it was getting to her emotionally, so I think she has learnt that she needs to get out and protect herself is she is going to do this job every day.
What was it like to reunite Damien Molony since your days on Being Human?
It was a joy. He’s great and Being Human was such an incredible chapter in my life so I keep in touch which the cast. We are all still really good friends so to see Damien again, it was a big draw to the project if I’m honest.
It was wonderful that I could call him up and he could give me some advice - and I learnt a hell of a lot from him.
I called him straight away (laughs), and first of all I said "well done, I’ve just seen it, you’re brilliant" and “What the hell?! How do you do that? What are the practicalities of it? On paper it sounds it very exciting, but how does that actually work? What is that like emotionally?” - So he was able to be very reassuring and give me an insight into practically how it would work. It was lovely.
There are a lot of crime dramas on television, but the way Suspects looks is very different, it almost looks like a documentary. Was that part of its appeal?
I love that, I love documentaries and I love improv. I watched a few episodes before I went in and to me Suspects is a bit like a hidden gem on British TV at the minute.
Because like you say, lots of crime dramas but it’s a brave show. I watched it and thought all the actors are the braves even if you don’t know the format - that it’s unscripted - the camera work is brave, it’s not overly produced.
You haven’t got heavy lighting and make-up, it’s not polished, it’s not slick, it’s not funky - it just feels like a brave, refreshing take on a genre that is brilliant on TV. It is a crime drama and who doesn’t love that?
Claire and Damien’s energy from the start made me realise that this is so special. It was so exciting to be a part of it, and I’m not just saying that.
I have to bring it up... Sugar Rush! I loved that show when it was on and it’s still got a bit of a cult following now. Looking back, do you think it was ahead of its time?
Yeah! To be honest, I felt it at the time because for me it was a show about Kim’s character coming to terms with her own sexuality.
At the time, I remember thinking that whenever I’d seen lesbians on TV, it was for the male gaze. Or, it was for lesbians in this very stereotypical heavy-handed way, and I felt Sugar Rush was a teen drama. It was about friendship and loyalty and love and crushes. It wasn’t this take at sexuality or being gay, that was almost an insignificant element of this fantastic funny young show that was made up of a lot more.
I remember thinking, I don’t think if there’s anything else that ticks all those boxes. Certainly for me, when we’d do press and meet young girls and boys in the gay and lesbian community a lot of them just said “Thank you for being normal. For just being a show on Channel 4 and not saying - this is for you, these are the issues we’re dealing with” (Laughs) And I loved that, it’s important for me anyway, to mainstream it.
I loved playing Sugar, she’s still probably one of my favourite characters of all time, she’s just delicious. I usually get asked “Is she a lesbian?” and I say, “I don’t know. She’s just Sugar.” She’ll say thank you with a kiss if that’s what she thinks you want (laughs), even the process of doing it for me in my life was refreshing. The rules don’t apply here, I have such fond memories of that show.