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27 November 2014
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New Street Law 

John Thomson

New Street Law - new legal drama for BBC ONE

John Thomson plays Charlie Darling

Lazy, lovable, chancer and flirt are not usually words you would use to describe barristers. But there's a new barrister in town, and his name is Darling, Charlie Darling. Welcome to his world.


John explains: "Charlie is a lovable rogue, but he's not really a rogue. All lawyers bend the rules, but Charlie tends to bend them until they break.


"But at the bottom of it is a deep humanity and kindness, and when he sees someone in the thick of it he will bend things to their ends so that they get off. He used to be based in chambers in London, but he bent the rules a bit too far and had to go back to Manchester."


Charlie has always lived his life by the seat of his pants and avoided responsibility. With one failed marriage behind him, problems soon begin to surface in his second.


He's a risk-taker, addicted to danger and lives on the dream of one lucky break bringing him fame and fortune. Charlie is in serious debt and moonlights as a bit of a restaurant critic. He also likes to dabble in gambling, and is a terrible flirt with the ladies.


"Charlie's on his second marriage," says John. "I think his second wife loves the high life, much to his discontent! So the stock market, a bit of poker and the horses are all ways he can make a quick buck, but inevitably doesn't.


"His hero is George Carman, so he wants a big celebrity case to get on that bandwagon, and then retire. But the essence of Charlie is his brilliance; he's a brilliant lawyer, but desperately lazy.


"But everyone knows he's brilliant and if he pulled his finger out, he could probably have the success he wanted."


John heads the cast of New Street Law, which follows the exploits and cases of two rival barristers' chambers in the heart of Manchester, alongside John Hannah – who plays Jack Roper, a young barrister from a working class background.


However, Charlie's approach to defending differs from that of his colleagues. In the opening episode, Charlie takes on a case with fellow barrister Annie Quick (Lara Cazalet).


The pair are like chalk and cheese - while Annie feels it's her duty to play by the book, Charlie is willing to do whatever it takes to get his clients off.


"Most people in my chambers have thought, or said, at one stage, 'Charlie, come on, you're going to have to watch yourself here'.


"So it's just a known fact what he's like. But he'll resolve it with charm. As far as Annie goes, they have such a good working relationship. I don't think they let their private lives affect it like professionals would, even though there's a definite attraction there.


"When it's work, it's work, and when it's fun, it's fun.


"I have a real crack with Lara, actually. We have a similar sense of humour - a quietly destructive one!"


As part of his research for the role of Charlie, John spent a week in court as well as getting his teeth into a few legal books.


"We followed the same case for a week and it was quite harrowing, actually, because it was a paedophile case - although we had no idea what the subject matter was at first. However, they did warn us that it was a sensitive case."


Has he ever done jury service before?


"No, no, never been asked. Not many actors have, actually, funnily enough. Trying to get off work, though, you'd never do it! They'd never let you go anyway!"


John thoroughly enjoyed filming New Street Law, although he found the subject matter quite hard as it wasn't something he was that familiar with.


"It's very easy to film Cold Feet because it was all to do with relationship issues," says John. "That was easy to learn. But when you get into court, and have to know the legalities and all the jargon, you've got to look like you know what you're doing. So, to be honest, we've all been finding our feet and it's been quite tricky."


Ever the joker, John was always on hand to lighten the mood and raise a laugh or two on set - despite the series being set mainly in the serious surroundings of a courtroom.


Indeed, his fellow cast member, Lisa Faulkner (who plays Laura Scammell), described John as having "this brilliant ability to then be able, when they say 'action', to turn it off and just work, whereas we're all left in hysterics, trying to get it together."


"Something happened the other day, actually," explains John. "We were talking about revenge and they say revenge is a very dangerous game, and I said: 'You're telling me it's a dangerous game. I threw a boomerang at someone once, and it came back at me.' Anyway, I didn't think it was that good a joke, but then they all started laughing."


But the joking didn't stop there. John and Lara decided to engineer and rehearse a fake theme tune for the show, and wind up the cast.


"We were doing a big scene on location," laughs John. "We were with Lisa and Lee (Joe Stevens) and asked if they'd heard the new theme tune.


"We then launched into a three-part harmony, which went like this [breaks into song]: 'New Street Law, New Street Law, best things happening behind closed doors'. Lee looked at me and said: 'Are you having a laugh?' and I said: 'It's not good, is it?' We had them going for about an hour! Lee was on the verge of ringing his agent!"


Now that John's had a taste of life in a courtroom, perhaps the legal profession would be something he'd like to get into?


"I can see the appeal of it because of the joy of winning a big case," says John. "It must be fantastic. But the hard graft you have to put in - the study side - ooh, I don't know if I'd go for that!


"The interesting thing is it's hard, because you're performing a performance. Barristers perform. My mum always said I should be a lawyer because I'm good at arguing! But I don't think I've got the determination. Acting is nice because it's better than working."


Probably most famous for his role as down-to-earth Pete in the thirty-something drama Cold Feet, John's other credits include Blackpool, Stan The Man, 24 Hour Party People, and The Fast Show.


"I had a bad year last year, and there was nothing much happening. There were bits and pieces, and a mate said 'oh, that was small', and I said: 'Well, beggars can't be choosers, really', and then New Street Law came along.


"I read episode one and two, and it was so well written that I was gripped. It was a real page turner.


"A lot of British actors will just read off the page at auditions, so I did something a bit different – something I don't normally do. I was told the scenes to prepare and learnt them all, and went to the audition in a suit - with a bit of a silky hanky in the pocket. That's what the Americans do. British actors are lazy buggers!


"I thought: 'Well, I'll do what the Yanks do'. And it's taught me a lesson, because if there are any other auditions, or if I get enough prep time, it's about the learning.


"I wanted the part, and it paid off - I got it. And it was a real challenge, because it's something very different. Even though I provide light relief to the series, my part is not a comedy drama, it's a drama with comic elements, and it's a nice position to be in, because comedy is my pedigree, really - but it has its moments!"




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