The Secret Of Crickley Hall

Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis star in Joe Ahearne's chilling drama for BBC One

Interview with Tom Ellis

Category: BBC One; Drama

Can you tell us about your role as Gabe?

I play Gabe who is the father of the Caleigh family. Very early in the piece I have two daughters and a son, but the son goes missing. It cuts to a year later and the son is presumed dead by many people but he and Eve still believe he is alive somewhere. It comes up to the anniversary of his disappearance and Gabe takes it upon himself to take a job away from London where they live, as he thinks it would be a good idea not to be around their home. He takes a job up north and takes his family with him. They end up staying in a place called Crickley Hall which doesn't take long to display to them that it's not a normal type of place; this house is a bit of a haunted house. Eve starts to believe she can hear voices and starts to get hope and an idea that this place might be able to explain where their son is...

What attracted you to the role?

Initially I was attracted to the role because I loved the script and I thought it was very different to a lot of things out there. Yes it's a ghost story and in that genre, but in the way in which it was told - about a third of the story is told in 1943 and the rest of it is present day. It links quite seamlessly in the story - it plays out in the modern day, and then the 1943 story runs parallel to this, rather than flashbacks. It was one of the elements I loved about the script, that it had this duality about it. I was also attracted to the characters - at the heart of the piece is this family going through a very real and tragic time, so it was something that I really fancied doing and something very far removed from the comedy stuff I've been doing in the last couple of years. It was something I wanted to relish really, but little did I know how much it was going to affect me while doing it. It was hard work but very satisfying work as well.

In what way did it affect you?

When I took the job I didn't know how heavy it would lay on me - the subject matter - and I think a lot of that came from the fact that I am a parent in my real life and the playing out of this horrific scenario left me with a very heavy heart on quite a few days.

How was it playing opposite Suranne Jones, who plays your wife Eve?

Suranne was just brilliant and great. She was so supportive and we actually became very supportive to each other and the family unit because it was just us - as we weren't involved in the 1940s stories. The present day stuff was pretty much me, Suranne and the kids on set most days and it was great because we became almost like surrogate parents for the kids on set. When we'd cut we'd all laugh and play together and keep ourselves amused, because obviously with young kids on set, they've got to learn to concentrate for a long amount of time and so they need to have a bit of a relief every now and again as well. We took that upon ourselves to do and it was lovely. 

Did you know of James Herbert’s novel before taking on the role?

When I got the scripts and then found out it was an adaptation I had been told there were quite a few changes from the novel, which always happens in adaptations; so I thought rather than research by reading the novel and get confused about what I'm drawing on, I stuck with the script, promising myself that I'd read the novel afterwards. And I even promised James Herbert when he turned up on set that I’d read it afterwards because I felt a bit embarrassed when he asked, ‘Have you read the novels?’

How was it having James Herbert visit the set?

He was lovely. It was really funny because he came down to set and everyone was running around reminding everyone we had to call him ‘Mr Herbert’ - so it was all a bit formal - and then when he turned up, he was totally relaxed, and really into being on set and having his novel played out. We all went out to dinner that night and he told us a few stories about his writing and stuff. My favourite one was about when he writes his novels he always envisages movie stars in his head playing the characters. That’s what helps him voice the characters. I said “oh right, who were you thinking of when you wrote Gabe in Crickley?” and he went “well I was thinking of Steve McQueen!” and I thought, I’ll have a bit of that!

How is it working with Joe Ahearne, who scripted as well as directed the adaptation?

I don’t think I’ve ever had that opportunity before. Obviously it means that there’s no miscommunication or misinterpretation about what Joe wants. He really knows what he wants. He doesn’t push it on to you, he just knows it. Sometimes he might do a take of something and he goes, yeah, got that. And sometimes you might do 20 takes of something. He’s just piecing it all together in his head all the time. I just trusted him, and it was really important that we trusted him. And we just went with it. He’s great; I’d love to work with him again.

What can the audience expect from The Secret Of Crickley Hall?

It’s not just a spooky story. It’s got a real strong heart to it. Even though it’s got a supernatural element, it’s just a great story.