New drama for BBC One starring Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg
Matthew Macfadyen plays Inspector Edmund Reid
Tell us something about the character you play in Ripper Street
Reid is a very dedicated, forward thinking policeman. What I find interesting about him is that there’s nothing jaded or on the back foot about him. I wanted to get away from the sort of classic, seen it all, done it all copper and he’s definitely not that. He’s quite progressive and interested in technology and the innovations of the age, which were enormous, especially in Victorian times. So he’s an interesting character. He’s got quite a lot of anger and he has a fairly dark past. He has made a terrible mistake and that sort of haunts him. So, there’s a lot to play with. It’s good fun.
How would you describe Ripper Street?
Ripper Street is a very visceral police drama set in the reign of Queen Victoria in Whitechapel in London, in the aftermath of the horrific Jack The Ripper murders.
What drew you to the character of Reid?
It’s always really the writing. That’s what either grabs you or doesn’t. And Richard Warlow, the creator and writer, has made a very original thing really. He’s got a wonderful way of creating the language and so this show is sort of bombastic, big and colourful and grimy as well. There’s lots of stuff in there.
What is the dynamic like between the three main characters?
I certainly love acting with those two and the way it’s written they complement each other very well. There’s me, who’s the sort of driving force of the threesome; and then there’s Drake played by Jerome who’s got this lovely quality - he’s the brawn and he’s also got a great sincerity and strength to him; and then there’s Jackson played by Adam, who’s just sort of brilliant, he’s got a brilliant mind - I mean he’s wayward and he’s infuriating but he’s, incredibly gifted at forensics and pathology and all the rest of it. As a threesome they sort of work really well. And there’s respect and there’s also mistrust. And there’s antagonism between the three of them so it’s a good mix. I hope!
Reid respects Jackson because of his skill. This was an age where the amazing advances that we take for granted now hadn’t happened: forensics, forensically fingerprinting and DNA. It was very basic sort of police work I suppose but for them it was cutting edge. Things were happening at an alarming rate, technologically. And so I think they would think of themselves as very modern and very progressive... which is interesting. It’s a period procedural but it doesn’t feel like that to them, obviously.
What do you think is the fascination with Jack the Ripper and Victorian times?
Well you have the kind of stereotypical Victorian attitudes towards sex and society. And certainly in London and certainly in the East End there is enormous poverty and a whole life that was going on. Actually, it was the Ripper murders that brought to light the dire poverty in the East End. They showed them up to a greater audience.
How does Reid approach his detective work?
I think he’s very good. He’s got an open mind and he’s open to other opinions. For example, he actively enlists Jackson because of his skill whilst everyone else is resistant to him because he’s an American. So I think Reid will try anything to get the result. Also, he’s interesting, he has very firm morals. He has a sort of certitude about things, right and wrong.
What is it like going back in time to seedy Whitechapel?
The sets are brilliant. The designer, Mark Gerhaty, is really a supremely talented man and they’ve all been fantastic. I mean we’re here in this barracks built in the 1860s so it’s as it was. It’s like a big playground. We jump around the different sets. There’s a toymakers shop, a pub, an orphanage and an asylum and all kinds of different things, it’s great. It’s really, really lovely.
Discuss your experience of filming the series
We’re getting great directors coming in, which is very flattering. And really great guest stars, which is also very flattering. So, we’re very lucky. It’s good.
So, who was Jack The Ripper?
That is something that I am working on. Haven’t you listened to anything that I’ve been saying (laughs).
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