Home Vera Vera | Q&A with Brenda Blethyn – DCI Vera Stanhope

Vera | Q&A with Brenda Blethyn – DCI Vera Stanhope

Q: Did you ever imagine, when you read the very first script, that you would be making a ninth series?

“Before I took on the role of Vera I first read the novel The Crow Trap, written by Ann Cleeve’s, because that is where the character is introduced, although this story became the third episode of the first series we made.

“I then read the script for Hidden Depths which was the first of Ann’s books to be adapted – it was a pilot. The story was a skilfully crafted mystery, a real page turner full of high emotion. With Adrian Shergold’s wonderful direction and a stellar guest cast that included Gina McKee, Neil Armstrong, Craig Conway, Juliet Aubrey, Murray Head, we were hopeful the pilot would be successful. It was! In a really rare move Peter Fincham, who was ITV’s Director of Programmes at the time and Laura Mackie, ITV’s former Director of Drama Commissioning viewed Hidden Depths and were thrilled with the results. As a consequence, three further episodes were commissioned and put together with the pilot which then aired in 2011. It didn’t enter my head that I’d still be filming Vera nine years later. It’s marvellous.”

Q: Given the length of time you’ve portrayed Vera everything about the character must be second nature to you now?

“I know the character pretty well and as different writers come onto the show, all first rate, I strive to keep Vera’s character as Ann Cleeves created her.

“The costume designers all liaise with me when buying or making new costumes but, they are as in tune with the character as I am.”

Q: What are the key themes in the new series?

“We have four really compelling and emotional stories in series nine. Our open episode, Blind Spot, focuses on a trainee forensic psychologist who is found murdered. In Cuckoo, episodes two, a teenage boy is found dead in a coastal town far from his home. Vera and the team are faced with the body of a partygoer who is found drowned in episode three, Cold River, and the final story, adapted from Ann’s latest novel of the same title The Seagull, a skeleton is discovered during some building excavations of a notorious nightclub and the team discover a link to a recent murder.”

Q: Paul Kaye joins the series as Dr Malcolm Donahue. What can you tell us about his working relationship with Vera?

“It has been a real pleasure to welcome Paul Kaye to this series as the Pathologist working alongside Vera and her team. Paul brings a very interesting dynamic to his character and the show. Malcolm is very stern which can often come across as him being rude. He is there to get a very serious job done so he doesn’t hold back if he feels Vera is overstepping the mark or cross examining his work. He’s been great to work with.”

Q: Episode one, Blind Spot, takes Vera and the investigation team to a landfill site. How was that to film in the height of summer?

“Working on the second biggest landfill in Northumberland in the summer is not really the best place to be! The methane was overwhelming. We all had specific instructions to wear special boots in case a nail went through our footwear. We made light of the situation and it was a real eyeopener. So much waste. Surely we can all cut down on that and become better with how we recycle our waste?”

Q: The series is known for its beautiful backdrops and breathtaking landscapes. What locations can we expect to see in the new series?

“The landfill was breathtaking, literally!! Other glorious locations included Holy Island, Lindisfarne and Spanish City in Whitley Bay, which is now beautifully renovated. We are still surprised by the incredible locations available for us to film.”

Q: Where in the world is your favourite landscape and why?

“I can honestly say I love the beauty of Northumberland, whether it’s a seascape, landscape, the moors, or the city. It’s stunning.

“There is another landscape which took my breath away when I was filming A River Runs Through It. We went on a trip to the Rockies and the friends we visited lived in a fantastic chalet overlooking The Beartooth Trail, Montana. We were surrounded by cascading waterfalls, alpine lakes, towering peaks, and lush forests. It rendered me speechless. Not an easy feat!”

Q: Aside from series regulars, you have worked with a brand new cast of characters. What was that like?

“On Vera we are blessed to have a fantastic casting department. Maureen Duff never fails to get us the cream of acting talent. We even had Doctor Who (Peter Davison) join us. Really good actors – Mark Addy, Natalie Gumede, Daniel Ryan, Robert James-Collier to name just a few. We also have some brilliant newcomers, namely Louis Healy, Kathleen Cranham and Josie Walker.”

Q: A character in the opening episode, Paul Eastman (played by Sean Cernow), is very aggressive. Does Vera ever feel threatened?

“Sean Cernow is a terrific actor. His performance was so powerful and real that I found him a bit scary when we did our scenes together but between takes we’d have a bit of a giggle. Vera wouldn’t feel threatened, she’s seen it all.”

Q: What has been your personal highlight during the filming for series nine?

“One of the highlights for me was working with Kathleen Cranham on the fourth episode, The Seagull. It was her first TV role and the performance she gave was great. She had really done her homework. Also, Jodie McNee in the opening episode gave a really powerful delivery.”

Q: When you’re filming in the North East and not working how do you spend your time?

“I’m always working whilst on Vera. When I’m not actually on set, I’m learning my lines and there’s a lot of them. Otherwise I’ll be doing a shop in Morrisons, or occasionally, if the schedule allows, I’ll go to the coast at Blyth for a lobster lunch with Kenny Doughty.”

Q: The North East has really embraced Vera. There is even a stall in Newcastle selling Vera’s headwear. What do you make of that?

“I take my hat off for that! They told me they do a roaring trade. Once when I stopped to chat, a couple stopped at the stall and explained they’d come to Newcastle for their anniversary (they’d met at Newcastle university) and they were hoping to see some Vera locations. They nearly fainted when they saw me standing there at the same stall!!”

Q: Episode four has been adapted from Ann’s latest novel of the same title, The Seagull. Did you read her book ahead of filming?

“I had already read Ann’s book The Seagull, a fabulous read. When I heard it was being adapted for an episode I didn’t read it again because inevitably the story would change somewhat in the script. Reading the book leisurely would take a good few hours, but an episode is over in 90 minutes so we were filming the script not the novel.”

Q: Tell us about your involvement with Project Motorhouse in Ramsgate.

“Project Motorhouse is still working with Ramsgate’s young people, getting them involved in making Ramsgate a better place to be. Getting them involved in jobs they might not have even considered as a career. Jo Map and Janet Fielding set up a photographic project for the students, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund. It culminated in a photographic exhibition, and some wonderful hoardings along Ramsgate seafront. One student has become a professional photographer as a result.”

“The building we were hoping to renovate, The West Cliff Hall, was to include a theatre, cinema, restaurant and facilities to mentor young people but this has now unfortunately hit the dust. After 6 years of negotiations with Thanet District Council they decided not to support us and recently sold it at auction. Onwards and upwards.”

Q: You use Twitter as a platform to help others find missing dogs and cats. Has anyone been in touch with a successful story following your support?

“I only use Twitter as a platform for good. Letting people know about a good play I’ve seen or if someone is missing. There are so many animals stolen these days, it’s a real problem. It really should be a crime to steal a pet. Family pets are family members. Lobby your local MP!”