A police officer is standing beside a body, dumped in a graveyard and poorly covered in overturned soil. “It doesn’t get any easier, turning up to the murder of yet another young woman,” he says. “Knowing there’ll be another one, and another one. I don’t have the words for it any more.”
If you’re used to crime dramas as escapism, this is the moment when ITV’s new miniseries The Suspect reaches out through the telly and forces you to look at real life. “It gave me a chill even when you said it,” says the programme’s star Aidan Turner. “It is a reflection, unfortunately, of the reality of the world that we live in.”
At least 144 women were killed by men (or where a man was the principal suspect) in 2021, according to the Counting Dead Women project. So far in 2022, the figure is 68.
After Sarah Everard’s murder last year, the ensuing vigil and the brutal police response, violence against women has been at the forefront of the national conversation like never before.
It’s a context that makes The Suspect timely, says Turner – but only because it is done well, steered by the producers of Line of Duty and Vigil, and Broadchurch director James Strong. “When I first read the scripts, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I thought: ‘oh god, do we have to go down this route again?’ It’s been done so many times and unfortunately, lots of times, not very well. It seems like it’s fetishised in a lot of shows and the violence, weirdly, sometimes is also sexualised,” he explains.
“When something is done poorly, the message gets lost and it gets confused. But I think when it’s done well – and I think we tackle it well in our show – I think it does open the discussion.”
The Suspect begins by setting up Turner’s character, successful clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, as our hero. He’s saved a young man’s life in dramatic fashion before the main title has even come up. Soon after, we discover he’s also trying to cope with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
But from there it only gets murkier. Is he all he seems? What was his relationship to that poor young woman found in the cemetery? A “handsome, charming young guy”, Joe’s certainly not the “straight-out-of-central-casting predator,” says Turner – but that doesn’t mean he’s to be trusted.
Turner hopes that watching Joe will encourage male viewers to think about why women might feel nervous around them, even if they think they’re unthreatening. It’s time, he says, for men to join the conversation about misogyny and violence against women. “It does feel like there is change happening. We all want to be part of that movement. But it just feels sometimes that the gears are moving quite slowly.”
For young actors in particular, a recent positive development has been the increasing number of productions employing intimacy co-ordinators to ensure the safety of performers during sex scenes. Unlike star Sean Bean, who recently blasted co-ordinators for “spoil[ing] the spontaneity” on set, Turner is a firm supporter.
“We know now to put some guides in place,” he says. “For years there wasn’t, which is insane, because it’s such a male environment, it’s such an adult environment.”
Following his cult role as conflicted vampire Mitchell in Being Human, and his turn as the titular swashbuckling sex symbol in Poldark, The Suspect is another evolution for Turner. “It feels like a new direction,” he says.
But the changes in his professional life are nothing in comparison to Turner’s personal life. A proud social media refusenik (“There’s no money in all of Great Britain that could pay me to set up a Twitter account and post things on it”), the 39-year-old has a reputation for fiercely guarding his privacy, but today he’s happy to confirm tabloid rumours that he and his wife, Succession star Caitlin Fitzgerald, have welcomed their first child, a son.
“It grows you up pretty fast. Lots of things shift when you have family,” he says. “You can feel it almost physically change you. Certainly, something mentally shifts. You might feel more emotional about things. My wife recently went away to shoot a film in New York and I went home, only two days ago, to the house and it was very empty. The first thing I saw was some of his toys on the floor and my heart broke, you know?”
The couple have had to get used to being apart since much of Fitzgerald’s work is based in the States, but – as with many families all over the world – the Covid lockdowns hit them hard. When the virus first hit, Turner was filming in Italy. “It all happened so quickly. I sort of got the last flight out,” he remembers.
With Fitzgerald stuck in America, Turner was frightened he was going to be stuck on his own in London. So, like a good Irish son, he fled back to his mum and dad in Dublin. “I spent three or four months with my parents, which was amazing and lovely. It’s the longest time I’ve spent with them in so long. But I was away from my wife for a few months, which was really difficult. And it was scary. We didn’t know when we were going to see each other again.”
Would the couple consider working together in the future to simplify things? “Maybe, it might be fun to do a play together,” says Turner. “It might be a nice night out, actually. Get a babysitter. You do the play, grab dinner afterwards and go home.”
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