Charismatic Irish actor Robert Sheehan stars as Stephen Cartwright, a troubled 17-year-old, who ends up in the dock. But is he responsible for his actions?
When Stephen’s mother dies he suspects her palliative care nurse, Charlotte (Sheridan Smith) of wrongdoing and fears for the safety of his younger brother, Dom (Josh Bolt). Later Stephen is more than a little unhappy about the unseemly way his father, Peter (John Bishop), moves on after his wife’s death.
Having won legions of fans and rave reviews as the teenager, Nathan, in E4’s cult drama, Misfits, 23-year-old Robert went on to be a hit with BBC One viewers as Spiller, the teenage rebel in the channel’s Christmas time adaptation of Mary Norton’s story, The Borrowers. Now he returns to peak time BBC One in the leading role in a script by Danny Brocklehurst and Jimmy McGovern.
Everything about this new job appealed, says Robert enthusiastically: “I’ve loved the work of Jimmy McGovern for years, and was particularly taken with the first series of Accused. David Blair is a fantastic director who has collaborated with Jimmy for many years. I felt genuinely privileged I got to be involved in this series and collaborate with this team.”
Robert explains the background to his character Stephen’s troubles. It is a complicated story says Robert, told from Stephen’s point of view.
“Early on in the episode Stephen's mother passes away after a long, drawn out illness. On top of this tragic loss Stephen suspects the stay-at-home nurse of foul play in the final days of his mother's life.
“The trauma of his mother's death and the continued presence of Charlotte send him into a spiral of paranoia and delusion, but what is intriguing is that his delusions are ambiguous. You don't know how much of what Stephen is experiencing and believing is actually true and how much is made up.”
Prior to filming Robert undertook some research into mental health problems to bring a better understanding to his portrayal of Stephen.
“I watched tons of material about people who suffer from acute schizophrenia, paranoia and delusion, to get a sense of how intensely these disorders can affect people’s minds.
“The effects are quite terrifying. But I wanted to keep Stephen very much based in reality, not in fantasy. It’s important that viewers understand why Stephen behaves the way he does. You almost have to live the same symptoms he is experiencing. I think the film will feel quite claustrophobic but will hopefully be very empathetic.
Despite the sadness of many of the themes, Robert says making the episode was a positive experience and he enjoyed working with his fellow actors.
“It was a lovely experience working with Sheridan, John and Josh. At times we were cursed with some very tricky conditions on the shoot. Some days the weather was crazy and the locations cramped, making working very difficult.
“But everyone pulled together and overcoming these obstacles will definitely show on screen as powerful realistic drama,” comments this conscientious young actor.
"In our own special way," he muses, “we were a content, albeit dysfunctional, little family.”