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NPR Arts & Life

BBC's 'Line Of Duty' Stars Play The Cops That Other Cops Detest

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

AC-12 is a hard group of folks to like. They can be nervy and brave, but they're an anti-corruption unit. Those are cops who investigate other cops. Cops don't like to inform on their brethren in blue. But when a police convoy of a counterterrorism unit is ambushed, three police officers are killed, witnesses injured, the chief of police tells reporters at the scene...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LINE OF DUTY")

UNKNOWN ACTOR: (As Character) Three of our colleagues have lost their lives in the line of duty. Our first thoughts are with their families, but now the hunt begins for the people who committed this brutal crime.

SIMON: AC-12 is called into service because maybe a fellow officer tipped the information to criminals. "Line Of Duty" is created and written by Jed Mercurio. Season one is now available in America on Acorn TV. And a couple of the actors who play unit investigators join us now. Martin Compston, who plays Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott, joins us from Los Angeles. Thanks very much for being with us.

MARTIN COMPSTON: No problem, thanks for having me.

SIMON: And Vicky McClure, who plays Detective Chief Kate Fleming, joins us from the BBC Studios in Nottingham. Thank you very much for being with us.

VICKY MCCLURE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: This "Line Of Duty" is no "Downton Abbey," is it?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCLURE: No.

COMPSTON: That's a fair comment, yeah.

SIMON: How do you explain it to people who haven't seen it?

COMPSTON: Basically, it's our version of internal affairs. And it's just a spin on all the sort of recent cop shows because I think there's become a trend with things like "Luther" and "Sherlock Holmes" about all these maverick cops who play by their own rules. And the basis of our show is, basically, everything has to go by the book, and the devil's in the detail, you know. We have is incredibly long scenes which are very technical. We don't make it easier for the audience, you know, you have to pay attention. So we sort of find our excitement elsewhere.

SIMON: Vicky McClure, how do you your characters handle being aware of the fact that, as a generalization, other cops detest them?

MCCLURE: Yeah, it's fun to play in that respect. Obviously, Jed's written things very accurate. We rely on that to be able to play the characters. And sort of with my character being undercover some of the time, it's good fun to play. Obviously, Martin's got a different accent in it.

SIMON: I was going to that point it out. Martin Compston doesn't sound really anything like the character that he plays.

COMPSTON: That's one of the things that comes with this job. You have to be able to adapt. And the character just was from the south of England. So the character himself - he's sort of the moral compass of the story, but as a person, he's not very likable. And actually for me, that accent actually is something I associate with that is this sort of newsreader sort of accent back home.

SIMON: Someone who's unlikable, like a newsreader is.

COMPSTON: Well, just in terms of...

SIMON: Thank you.

COMPSTON: But I mean in the UK, our sort of newsreaders always have that same sort of accent.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LINE OF DUTY")

COMPSTON: (As Steve Arnott) Two of my police vehicles departed the safe house. And the most direct route to Fall Street Station is by A Route. Instead, the vehicles traveled along Crown Avenue and then turned left into Long Lane, almost immediately after which the ambush took place.

SIMON: There's a startling scene early in season two when an officer that's - a lot of police hold responsible for being slow to call backup survives the ambush. He limps into the police station, goes to the loo and there's a group, a retinue, of cops outside that hold her head in the toilet.

COMPSTON: Yeah, it's a great scene because it brings it back to sort of reality of obviously she didn't mean for it to happen, or as the series unfolds, you're not sure. But at the basic of it - she went gung-ho and her actions resulted in the death not just of two police officers but of colleagues of those people. You know, so they hold her immediately responsible for the death of their friends.

SIMON: What do you think about that code among police officers, Vicky McClure?

MCCLURE: I'm not a police officer so I can't say for sure, but I'd imagine the responsibility you hold when you're in that job is - it can take over your personal life and a bit like my character. It does, and, you know, she kind of loses her family, so to speak - her husband and this sort of relationship with her child. And her job means too much to her to a degree. But I think there's a lot to be said about the fact that she's very ambitious and she wants to get the job done to do justice for the people that need to be taken down or whatever the case may be.

SIMON: Let me put you both on the spot a little bit. The audience for this series has been fantastic. But without giving any plot points away, there was, I gather, in the British press, some consternation last year over how season two ended. Some people thought it didn't tie up all the loose ends in the satisfying manner that we like.

COMPSTON: It's a fair point, but I think the hype of the show was so big I don't think the ending was ever going to satisfy everybody. OK, not to give too much away, but we're just about to start season three, and I think a few of those questions might be answered.

SIMON: Martin Compston and Vicky McClure. They are internal affairs-type investigators in the hugely successful British cop drama "Line Of Duty." Thank you both very much for being with us.

MCCLURE: Thank you for having us.

COMPSTON: Thank you - very kind. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.