Martin Freeman on his crisis-stricken PC character in new crime series The Responder

The Responder is a new take on a crime drama – and you will see a different side to lead star Martin Freeman, as Georgia Humphreys discovers.

Long night shifts on the front line of Liverpool policing, with no idea of the situations you might be called to – and your own mental health struggles.

That’s the situation facing Chris Carson, a morally compromised first responder working in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, and the character at the centre of new BBC One series The Responder.

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Martin Freeman, famous for his roles in The Office, Sherlock, and The Hobbit film trilogy, plays the lead in the five-part crime drama, which is based on the real experiences of the writer, ex-police officer Tony Schumacher.

Martin Freeman plays the lead in new drama The Responder. Photo: PA/BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha GartonMartin Freeman plays the lead in new drama The Responder. Photo: PA/BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton
Martin Freeman plays the lead in new drama The Responder. Photo: PA/BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

Having been demoted from Detective Inspector to PC three years ago – for perceived corruption – Chris is crisis-stricken, struggling both professionally and personally.

He’s seeing a therapist, there’s a complicated relationship with a childhood friend called Carl (who also happens to be a local drug dealer), and he has a wife and daughter at home.

“He is a great mixture of vulnerability and strength,” says 50-year-old Freeman. “I think there is something about a man of few words that is attractive.

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“There’s a reason why people like characters that don’t have to over-explain themselves and I think Chris is one of them.

“He’s very intelligent, he’s emotionally smart, but he’s a copper. He finds it hard to be open at home and with his counsellor, and in his job it’s probably wise not to be open, so he picks his moments when he can let off steam and talk to people.

“But those are few and far between and the amount of plates he is spinning is frightening. So much so that if he drops even one of those plates he could wind up dead.”

In the series, Chris faces a fresh challenge, as he’s forced to take on a new rookie partner, Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo).

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“Neither of them wants to be each other’s partner because Chris knows that Rachel doesn’t respect him,” Aldershot-born Freeman explains.

“She gets a bad vibe off him and he believes it’s likely to do with the fact that he has a bit of a sketchy past on the job and she knows it.

“There’s a barely disguised antipathy between them for much of the series. However, as the series progresses, Rachel begins to find out more and more about Chris and discovers he may not be as bad as he’s been made out to be.”

Freeman, who performed in productions at Scarborough’s St Joseph Theatre in the 1990s, says The Responder is a drama that asks a lot of questions - but doesn’t offer answers.

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“There is nothing neat about it,” he says. “It’s chaotic and unsettling and there’s an underlying authenticity to it. We all wanted to make something different that was exciting and unformulaic.”

One thing he had to work on was the Scouse accent.

“I read the pilot episode at the beginning of 2019, not knowing exactly when we would do it and then, of course, Covid happened,” he says.

“I had one session with the late great (dialect coach) Joan Washington, a Zoom thing. It (the accent) was already in pretty good shape because my ear’s OK.

“But, obviously, I was mindful because the first Zoom read-through we did, it’s me and a lot of Liverpudlian actors, and it’s the first time that I was doing it in front of people like that – people who weren’t my girlfriend or my kids. So that was pretty nerve-racking.

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“It was delightful, actually, because I heard a few people say after, ‘I didn’t know Martin was originally from Liverpool!’ It was such a relief.”

– The Responder starts on BBC One on Monday, January 24. All episodes will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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