John Simm on why new police drama Grace ignores the pandemic on screen

New ITV drama Grace is based on best-selling novels by Peter James. Georgia Humphreys finds out more from stars John Simm and Richie Campbell.

John Simm as DS Roy Grace. Picture: ©ITV.

It’s a big responsibility to bring a beloved detective to life.

And the next popular literary character coming to our screens is hard-working, Brighton-based police officer Roy Grace.

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Adapted from Peter James’s international bestseller, Dead Simple, new ITV production Grace is written by Endeavour creator Russell Lewis, and stars Leeds-born John Simm, 50, in the title role.

John Simm as DS Roy Grace, Richie Campbell as DS Branson. Picture: ©ITV.

Calling it a “delicate balancing act”, the actor tried not to worry too much about what avid readers of the books would think of his performance.

“While we’re trying to be absolutely true to the source material, it’s a TV show and so some fans of the novel will be up in arms because it won’t be the characters they had in their head,” acknowledges Simm, during a Q&A on Zoom.

“But there’s nothing we, as actors, can do about that.

“We just have to serve the script and what’s in front of us.”

The drama will air on Sunday night.

Here, Simm and his co-star, Richie Campbell, discuss what else to expect from the 120-minute film.

The drama opens with Grace’s career at rock bottom. He has been reprimanded because of his unorthodox approach to his work, which has led to him being seconded to looking at cold cases.

There’s also the fact that his beloved wife Sandy has gone missing, which he is unable to move on from.

Meanwhile, his colleague, Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson, has moved up the ranks – and asks Grace for help on a case involving a stag night prank which has apparently gone wrong.

The groom has gone missing three days before his wedding, and there are suspicions that something more sinister is going on.

But then Grace becomes uncomfortably close to the bride-to-be.

Discussing his character’s strange work methods, Simm – who is known for TV series such as Life On Mars, and films like Human Traffic – says: “He just wants to get the result – that’s it. He doesn’t care about what people think.

“But, having said that, he’s not a maverick or anything. He’s just a really, really good police officer.”

Branson, meanwhile, is dealing with getting his work/family balance right, which Londoner Campbell, 38, notes is something a lot of people can relate to.

“He wants his kids to be proud of him, he’s gone into the police force to do something where they could be proud; at the same time, it’s alienating him from his family,” he elaborates when discussing the appeal of the character. So, for me, it was just those human elements in it – and also the relationship between Branson and Grace.

“It’s kind of harking back to the whole buddy cop kind of thing. You know, they love each other, they hate each other, they’re best of friends and there’s also like an age gap. So there are different elements going on there.”

The chemistry between Grace and Branson is an undeniably important part of the story.

But Campbell – who was recently seen in Sir Steve McQueen’s BBC series Small Axe – wasn’t too concerned whether he and Simm would be able to get that right on screen.

“I just wanted to make sure that he was on the same wavelength that I was on, in terms of how we were going to create the warmth of the two characters, which is in the book, and it’s in the script. And, to be honest, it just kind of happened naturally from day one.”

As one of the first productions to come back after the Covid-19 lockdown, there were challenges for everyone to face as they got used to a new way of filming.

“I really thought at the beginning, ‘We’re gonna overrun’,” admits Campbell, who’s also starred in The Frankenstein Chronicles and Top Boy.

“We were rehearsing in the masks and you can’t hear anything – all these kind of things we’re thinking are going to slow us down. But, actually, you just take it on board and get on with it.”

He continues: “If anything, I think it’s allowed us to be a bit more insightful, in terms of what we’re actually doing, because everyone’s kind of listening in keenly and trying to figure out things and everything was so specific in where we are, it’s allowed us to kind of really hone in and tell these stories.”

With Brighton such a key element in Grace, it’s brilliant to see that, even during a pandemic, the cast and crew were able to bring the seafront location to life so vividly – and also show some normality on screen.

“Nobody wants to see anything about Covid,” reflects Simm.

“It was the most depressingly boring year, and we don’t want to see it again on film, I don’t think.

“And it really ages it and puts it in a specific year and that’s not what it (Grace) is about.

“It was really wonderful to see the nightclub scenes. It was like it was from a different planet: ‘I remember that!’”

A second Grace film – Looking Good Dead, directed by Julia Ford – will air on ITV later this year.

And who knows what else is in the pipeline?

James has written 17 fast-paced and gripping Roy Grace novels (the last of which – Find Them Dead – spent seven weeks at number one in 2020).

With that in mind, playing these characters could keep Simm and Campbell in work for the rest of their lives.

James has even said that, when he’s writing Roy Grace now, he thinks of Simm, which the star says is “a real honour”.

“That’s really odd, as well, because I’m so into these books, I’m so into this character, that I don’t think of me when I’m reading it,” he adds.

“But, yeah, it’s incredible, and we all hope – all of us do – that we get to do more, and we get to do all these 17 books because there’s plenty of source material and it’s all really, really high quality. Fingers crossed.”

When the television adaptations of the books were announced in late 2019, James said he was delighted Simm was taking on the role.

“John Simm, who actually looks like the Roy Grace of my imagination, is inspired casting,” he said.

“With John in the lead, the brilliant scripting by Russell Lewis, and our wonderful production team, I’m confident that fans of my novels and of TV crime dramas in general will be in for a treat.

Campbell certainly seems keen to continue to keep playing the Branson character, too.

“I think that’s what John and I both said that we’re looking forward to, is really kind of building these characters, and just creating more around them,” he follows.

“It doesn’t feel like the kind of show where we come and spurt out detective talk and then walk off. It feels very real and grounded. And I think a lot of people would die to be a part of that.”

Why Simm’s loyalties lie across the border

John Simm may be Yorkshire-born – but having grown up in Lancashire he has more affiliation with the latter county.

He told The Yorkshire Post in 2012: “I was born in Yorkshire, but I don’t really talk about it, because I don’t know anything about it. It just says on my passport that I was born in Leeds.

“My dad used to say I could play cricket for Yorkshire, but I’m not from Yorkshire.”

Simm grew up in Nelson, Lancashire and attended Blackpool Drama College before studying at London’s Drama Centre.

In 1997, he was cast in The Lakes, then a lead in British movie Human Traffic. In 2002, he played journalist Cal in State of Play and in 2006 was nominated for a Bafta for his role as Sam Tyler in Life on Mars.

Grace airs on ITV on Sunday March 14

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