A new detective drama, McDonald & Dodds, starts on ITV next month. Ahead of the first of two feature length episodes, ITV have released an interview with one of the stars, Jason Watkins...
A series of feature length crime mysteries comprising of two intriguing stories in its first outing, it stars BAFTA winner Jason Watkins and Tala Gouveia. Commissioned by Polly Hill, ITV’s Head of Drama, McDonald & Dodds is produced by Mammoth Screen, part of ITV Studios, and is created and written by screenwriter, Robert Murphy (lead writer on DCI Banks).
Set in Bath, the detective drama pairs the wildly ambitious DCI McDonald with the shy, modest DS Dodds. While McDonald has transferred from the mean streets of South London to leap up the career ladder, Dodds has happily languished on the shelf for most of his working life. McDonald is a tough, driven, battering ram of a cop who cracks cases through sheer force of will; Dodds – the tortoise to her hare – is quiet, unassuming and enigmatic. But thrust back into frontline action for the first time in a decade, he discovers a hidden talent for deciphering puzzles. Two contemporary Britons, thrown together with seemingly with nothing in common, boss McDonald and loyal sidekick Dodds forge a rumbustious, entertaining and ultimately – give or take a few setbacks – effective partnership.
Each film takes us into a new story world - from a greed-fuelled murder in the upper echelons of Bath society, to an unexplained death in a private hospital for recovering addicts. With a classic crime story at its heart, McDonald & Dodds combines intriguing plots and the journey of two mismatched detectives with warmth and humour.
EPISODE 1 – THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF CROCKETT
When a homeless man is shot in the deserted mansion of one of Bath’s most prominent industrialists, the inventor Max Crockett, newly arrived Londoner DCI McDonald and long-serving DS Dodds rally together to try and discover the killer. In the Crockett family, they find an outwardly perfect, close-knit group with three successful daughters in loving relationships, devoid of any obvious motive to murder, but it soon becomes apparent that each have their own secrets to hide. Faced with evasive suspects and a seemingly inexplicable crime, they quickly learn that not all is as it seems in the House of Crockett.
EPISODE 2 – THE WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS
Adjusting to life in Bath, DCI McDonald and partner, DS Dodds, are called to the Mara Retreat, a private rehabilitation clinic, to investigate the mysterious death of a wealthy patient. However, they are immediately thrown into a world of smoke and mirrors as they navigate the complex and sensitive issues of her remaining tight-knit therapy group, forcing McDonald to use clandestine methods to get closer to the truth. As they dig deeper, they discover a plethora of lies, murder, betrayal and a hidden ruse to secure fortune and freedom, but at what price?
James Murray also stars as Chief Superintendent John Houseman, alongside Pearl Chanda as DC Laura Simpson and Jack Riddiford as DC Darren Craig. Guest actors appearing in the first episode include BAFTA, Tony and Oliver Award winner Robert Lindsay, Ellie Kendrick, Susannah Fielding, Rosalie Craig and Navin Chowdhry, whilst the second episode features Joanna Scanlan, Hugh Dennis, Caroline Catz, Freddie Fox, Michele Dotrice and Kiran Sonia Sawar. McDonald & Dodds is executive produced by Robert Murphy and by Preethi Mavahalli and Damien Timmer for Mammoth Screen, and filmed on location in the West Country, as well as at the Bottle Yard Studios. Amy Thurgood has produced the series, whilst Richard Senior directed the first episode and Laura Scrivano the second.
JASON WATKINS PLAYS DS DODDS
What were your initial thoughts about DS Dodds and the drama?
“DS Dodds is such a great character and so well drawn. I found the script immediately engaging. I always know a good script - when you’re reading it you start speaking the lines out loud, with ideas about how you might play the role. That doesn’t always happen, but I found that with Dodds.
“I also liked the fact that Dodds is not a front footed, thrusting copper. He is slow, interesting, very bright and slightly unworldly in some ways. He has this rather brilliant analytical brain and an open naivety about him. He’s such an interesting mix - a really honest person.
“Then it was mixing that with almost the complete opposite in DCI Lauren McDonald, played by Tala Gouveia. It’s a great clash of characters. I just thought, ‘Now that’s a really good premise for a series that could have legs to it’ which was very exciting."
How do other people view Dodds?
“Dodds is invisible in the sense that people don’t notice him. He’s that person in the corner who doesn’t put himself forward. The writer Robert Murphy is really interested in the theme of Dodds as this presence people don’t see. Along with Dodds being middle aged and encouraged to take early retirement, I think he has explored that very well.
“I’m not criticising social media. I am a big social media person myself, but sometimes you think, ‘The person who shouts loudest gets noticed.’ Yet there are lots of very interesting, brilliant people who don’t feel the need - or aren’t able - to compete in that environment and are just as valid as everybody else.
“That’s where Dodds sits. He’s the guy at the back with his hand up going, ‘Excuse me, I’ve just found this amazing thing out that solves your case.’ I love that.
“He also plays that card. People aren’t necessarily their stock, stereotype characters. They can be quite complex. Dodds learns the way he is viewed by people can be a weapon he can use against them. Which is what he does.
“He is a bit like Harold Wilson who I just played in The Crown. Wilson’s great gift was he could see a host of numbers and facts as a whole and know what the outcome would be. That was his great strength. Dodds has a little bit of that about him too. He can understand numbers and where they are heading.”
What is his background?
“Dodds is Bath born and bred and has lived in the same house for most of his life. He is not a career police officer. When he was heading towards potential promotion, he wasn’t that sort of person. He didn’t put himself forward. People didn’t see him as someone who would mark his own territory out and he just drifted into examining cold cases which led to him being sat behind a desk at the police station for the last 11 years.
“His boss Chief Supt. John Houseman, played by James Murray, has now edged him into a dangerous area so he can mess up and they can get rid of him. But Dodds sees it as an opportunity, and to his own and everyone else’s surprise, he is really good at it. That is quite touching.
“Everyone has iPads and Dodds still has his little notebook. That’s the way he has always worked. It’s not unfunny. He will go to the library and cross reference to follow a literal paper trail to come up with the concrete things that are needed. He comes up with physical, tangible evidence.”
What accent did you use for Dodds?
“He has a local accent. That was quite important to get right because he’s born and bred in Bath. A lot of the crew were all local to Bath and Bristol, so I had to really keep my eye on the accent in the first week or two. But then after a while, if there was a particular word I wanted to check I’d go to a couple of the crew and ask them to say it.”
Does he have a favourite culinary delight?
“Dodds likes to dip his chips in butter. It’s an old favourite of his. Now, if you have a couple of chips and you dip them in butter it is delicious, but when you’ve had to do a scene over 15 times for various camera angles it becomes something entirely different and you wish you’d never even started. Chips in butter is funny, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a dietary item!”
How would you describe the relationship between DCI Lauren McDonald, played by Tala Gouveia, and her deputy DS Dodds?
“This is a cop drama that is well drawn, well made and is in some ways groundbreaking in the relationship between McDonald and Dodds. It’s great entertainment, hopefully, for the audience, but also it does touch on real issues today.
“What Tala does so brilliantly is that her character McDonald is a thruster. She is the one who will come in and try to sort a case out immediately. McDonald might be slightly impatient and she certainly runs up against the old prejudice against her as a young black woman from outside this area. That’s what she is fighting against. Maybe that accounts a lot for her energy.
“Dodds and McDonald learn from each other. Dodds learns that trying to be assertive is not a bad thing, and maybe she has to take her foot off the gas and think, ‘Is there another way around this?’
“McDonald gets things done. She galvanises people and has an emotional intelligence and worldliness that Dodds maybe doesn’t have. But he does see the detail and he can add things up. He is forensic in his being, as much as the way he works.”
How does that relationship develop?
“In time they both become aware of each other’s vulnerabilities. There are some touching moments. Dodds is not unaware of the occasional whiff of racism that McDonald meets. It’s not explicit, but as we know, there are some people who still do have those views. So in this show we have touched on and, sadly, reflected on that underlying attitude.
“It’s one of the great strengths of the drama, the script and the whole thinking behind it that we are able to touch on contemporary issues such as this, still within an entertaining format. I think we all have to do that in the business - to both cast people from different backgrounds and reflect the society in which we all live.
“We need to see a fair representation of women and people from all backgrounds both in front of and behind the camera. It’s such a complex subject. Positive discrimination is not about discrimination. It’s just about reflecting what we see around us and bringing what we see in society into every workspace.
“We have a great ability to do that in our industry. We hold the mirror up to nature and society. The great thing about this country is it has always been full of people from different backgrounds and countries with a history of immigration going way back. It’s very much part of the fabric of our lives and it’s very important we acknowledge that in popular television.”
What was it like working with Tala Gouveia?
“You’re never too old to learn, and I learned a lot from Tala. We recognised in each other that we are both hard workers. The tendency sometimes is to think that when you have been established in the business for a while and done lots of work, as I have been lucky enough to do, that it comes easily. But it doesn’t. This is a new show and we want to make it the best it can be. We literally said that all of the way through.
“We both have those instincts for hard work. I have a certain amount of experience and Tala has great insight, intellect and intelligence. She is really good. Tala attacks scenes and is fearless. We understood the dynamic of the characters and we evolved a dynamic between us as well which we really looked after.
“When we first met in the chemistry reading process there was a bit of magic between us when we were doing those audition scenes. As actors, we were very aware that we needed to keep that with us. Whatever the undefinable thing was, that’s what audiences will enjoy and what viewers will want to come back and watch - the relationship between McDonald and Dodds.”
Did you speak to anyone in the police before filming the role?
“I spoke to a police advisor about what Dodds could have been doing for the last 11 years. The nature of the work, as well as the structure of modern policing and how it has changed. I had already done a fair amount of research on other shows like Line of Duty and had met a few police officers, so I could draw on that.
“However, it was all very much in the writing. This is not a gritty police drama. It has a gentler feel to it and is more character led. So there was a certain amount of research, but the real gold dust was in developing the plot and the relationship between Dodds and McDonald.”
The drama is set in Bath. Was it a city you knew before filming this?
“I have played the theatre there about three or four times and stayed there. It’s an amazing place. Bath is another character in the show. It’s an interesting place. It obviously has a real architectural flavour and a lot of old money, many very successful people and a mix of types, but there is an underbelly as well. It’s a wonderful backdrop and a world that is great to plunder and visit again and again.”
Dodds is asked if he has ever met anyone evil. Have you?
“I always resist that term. I’ve met a couple of unsavoury people and I have met people in my past research who have committed crimes and were in prison.”
Does Dodds have a hobby?
“Dodds’ hobby is pitch and putt and I like to think he is quite good at it. McDonald has a rather humourous view of that. It should be golf, really. When I was touring in my 20s, I did get a hole in one on a pitch and putt in Norfolk. I’m also very competitive when it comes to crazy golf. I don’t let the kids win. Ever. You can’t. They’ve got to learn.
“Dodds is also a bird lover. He takes an interest in many things and retains a lot of his knowledge which can come in useful. Although he doesn’t shout about it.”
Dodds is under pressure to take early retirement. Do actors ever retire?
“No. I don’t think actors ever retire. You just keep going. I’m lucky. I’m in a position where I can choose a bit now. It’s a mixture of trying to earn a living and also trying to find really interesting projects like this drama. If you can do both, you are very lucky. I just hope that continues. It’s a very nice position to be in. Hopefully I’ll be acting for a long time.”
How do you reflect back on making the drama?
“We attracted some superb guest actors. The likes of Robert Lindsay, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Caroline Catz and many others. We wanted all of the actors to feel they had an investment in the piece and for them to have a real input.
“People like Joanna Scanlan, who is one of this country’s best actresses, in the second film. And brilliant young actors like Freddie Fox, along with Michelle Dotrice - someone with all of her experience. She was absolutely magnificent. A great example to all of us. We were very lucky.
“Audiences love this genre. You’re thinking, ‘Who has done it? How have they done it? How did they get away with it? Is that person lying?’ We’re constantly fascinated by human behaviour and crime.
“There is always going to be this human interest in the things people do and try to get away with. Trying to work out what people’s motives are. Murder is the most critical of those things. Laced in this drama with a little bit of gentle humour. It’s a lovely mix in the show.
“We never get to know the real first name of Dodds. I have an idea what it is but I can’t share that. I really hope the audience enjoy these two films. We would love to do more.”
The first two-hour episode of McDonald & Dodds is on ITV on Sunday 1st March, starting at 8 pm.
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