Peter Capaldi is looking as sharp as ever. Great shirt, even better shoes. “It’s all my stylist’s work,” he deadpans. We are in Claridge’s in Central London. A very expensive hotel suite, full of very expensive camera equipment recording our every move. “This is just the team we roll with,” Capaldi adds with a grin. “I’ve usually got some dry ice as well.”
We are here to talk about Criminal Record, which could just be your new TV police drama obsession. Capaldi stars alongside Cush Jumbo in a classy thriller in which two detectives go head-to-head – one in fearless pursuit of justice, the other to try to save their reputation and career. The title may be horribly generic, but this is a special show. And both actors have been involved from an early stage.
“Well, my wife’s the executive producer. First dibs? Well, yeah!” says Capaldi. “Both Cush and I were involved in the development, which was really exciting, because I’ve never been in something where the writers all knew from the start who was playing those parts. So they wrote specifically for us, they were picturing us as they worked on the scripts.
“It also meant we could respond to their ideas at quite an early stage. So that was lovely.
“Elaine [Collins, Capaldi’s wife] brought Vera to the screen and Shetland. She’s incredibly well read. People walk into our house, see all these books and say to me, ‘Have you read all these?’ I say, No, I haven’t but my wife has. I’ve read the Doctor Who annuals!’”
Capaldi outlines how Collins was developing a project about policing in a recognisable, modern London. “I said, that detective part sounds quite interesting. And I haven’t played a detective before… so I became involved then.”
Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo had worked together before. “I met her on Torchwood when she seemed like a teenager to me,” he says of his co-star. “She was great. Then I directed her in a comedy called Getting On, with Jo Brand. And Elaine cast her in Vera as well. Cush also wrote a wonderful play about Josephine Baker, a one-woman show she did. So it’s just great to see her really blossoming. We’d always said it could be nice to do something together and this was ideal.”
The first meeting between their characters is sublime. One of the finest scenes in recent television history. It really is that good. A beautiful dance of power as Capaldi’s DCI Hegarty pushes back against Jumbo’s DS Lenker as she attempts to reopen a case he lead and ‘solved’ many years ago. A recent anonymous tip off suggests they got the wrong guy. Suspicion is parried with veiled threat, all taking place beneath a thin veneer of politeness and police procedure. The result is electric. Line of Duty eat your heart out.
“I know Cush is such a great actress and I didn’t want to anticipate what she would do,” says Capaldi. “I wanted to respond to it as it happened in front of me and vice versa. So we just went at it. We decided not to rehearse that scene so we could just shoot what came to us.
“Hegarty is a seasoned detective, probably at the end of his career and has been around the block. He’s been quite bruised, seen the worst and the best of people, and doesn’t welcome someone digging into his past. He doesn’t take someone casting aspersions on his integrity lightly. He’s not going to have it!
“I wouldn’t want people to get the wrong impression and think that’s all the show is – because there are car chases, action scenes, all that kind of stuff. But there are also these long, heavy scenes where you really get into the zone. So I’m glad you liked that one. It was crucial that we set them up in that way. And there are other ones later that we really go for!”
Despite his character appearing to be a little dodgy, maybe even properly bent, Capaldi relates to him. To a point.
“There is a great thing great thing when you’re involved with a character from early on. They put a lot of you into it,” he says. “You know, I’m very proudly Scottish. But I’ve lived most of my life in London. I’ve lived here for over 40 years. I love it and I know a lot about it, historically. If you come here and choose to live here and survive here, you become part of the place.
“When the Blitz came and bombs landed in the city, they found these Roman villas that no one had known were there. All these mosaic floors, a whole Roman part of the city that no one remembered. London’s like that. It builds up layer upon layer upon layer. And I think Hegarty is like that. He’s come here, and layer upon layer upon layer, the city’s had an effect on him and he’s experienced things and done things – good and bad – that have made him who he is. Bad things have happened to him as well as him doing bad things. So he’s a great character. Lots to play with!”
The London depicted in Criminal Record is one Londoners will recognise. Filmed on the street, it has a real energy to it. “It’s noisy, buses go past, but that gives it a vigour and a life, which is what we wanted to put on the screen,” says Capaldi.
But to look at policing properly in modern-day London is to tackle important issues. And Criminal Record pulls no punches. There are big themes woven into this compelling tale.
“It has to be done. Clearly there are a lot of big problems and there’s no point in us burying our head in the sand and not addressing them or not reflecting upon them or trying to draw attention to them,” says Capaldi.
“Responding to some of Cush’s input, we wanted to put in some everyday racism and everyday misogyny. Not big dramatic moments, but the slow daily cuts of unpleasantness that people of colour and women feel and go through.
“It’s an incredibly difficult job, being in the police and trying to deal with all the terrible things they have to deal with. But, also, there’s not enough funding. For all its talk, the government isn’t behind them. They don’t put enough money in, they don’t recruit enough good people, they don’t pay them enough and they don’t look after them enough.
“Hegarty is a leader of a team of old-fashioned, dyed-in-the-wool male cops who have a syntax and humour of their own, which is not always welcome. That’s the world he lives in. It’s also generational. I was born in the 1950s. That’s another planet. So the world I was brought up in is a world away – and Hegarty is not quite equipped to be on this planet.”
Whereas you’ve evolved…
“We can try. Because we’re lucky enough to be in the arts, which is constantly examining issues and trying to move forward with ideas and move with hope into the future. So I think we’re able to examine ourselves and say, how can we fit in and contribute to this new world?”
Talking of new worlds, Peter Capaldi continues to revel in his return to the Doctor Who fandom. “I have to say it’s a relief not to be in the middle of that storm,” he says. “The role has a lot of other demands beyond just acting in it. It’s a kind of circus that you have to do for days on end. But it’s lovely to see Russell T Davies at it again.
“And Ncuti Gatwa is lovely. I met him and his mum at the Scottish Baftas last year. It was lovely, because there’s still very few of us who have played that part, so it’s nice to be able to compare notes about it. He was texting me on the train back to London – and we realised he was in the next carriage, so we got together. He’s going to be wonderful.”
Heading into 2024, Capaldi has just completed season two of The Devil’s Hour for Amazon, with filming on the third season already slated for February. But he’s also got a new role closer to home. “I’ve just had a new grandson arrive,” he grins. “So our house is a bit chaotic and full of babies at the moment.”
And his big hopes for the year?
“I want peace for everybody. I want everyone to stop sniping at each other from these polarised positions and to take more time to consider other people and opinions. It’s just out of control this polarisation everywhere. And politically it’s very useful because it’s just dividing us all. And we all have way more in common. So we have to change things. Because we’re really in a bad way.
“Peace, love and light,” he concludes. “That’s what we should all say. Now, who used to say that? Was it Spike Milligan or Ringo Starr?”
Criminal Justice is on Apple TV+, with new episodes available every Wednesday.
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