Chris Chibnall (‘Broadchurch’ writer) interview

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Broadchurch is currently airing at 9pm on Monday nights on ITV.

> Order Broadchurch on DVD on Amazon.

CultBox caught up with Chris for an exclusive chat about the show…

Congratulations on Broadchurch, Chris. It’s had such a great reception, you must be really pleased…

“Yeah, we’re all really delighted – I don’t think we expected this level of response. And to see it take hold a bit has been really exciting, and very rewarding actually.”

And especially as it’s quite ambitious for a crime drama to be in 8 parts…

“Yeah it’s a terrifying high-wire act to be honest, and particularly on ITV, because obviously they haven’t done that, and there’s a long way to go. So none of us are complacent. We could easily fall at any point, and so it’s very nerve-wracking.

“But I give ITV real credit, in that they absolutely wanted it. As soon as I gave them the script they were very up for it and they were very open to doing it this way and they didn’t ask us to compromise.

“They’ve really backed it in a way that’s really taken us by surprise and delight – they’ve given us a great slot, they’ve really backed it with the pre-transmission publicity and marketing – the whole of ITV has got behind and that’s been a really fabulous thing to be part of and to behold. So the ambition of the piece comes as much from ITV as from us.”

Given it’s so popular with ITV as well as the audience, are there plans for a second series?

“It’s not set up as a returning franchise, it’s an 8 part serial. It was always devised like that, and…you’re just going to have to see what happens in the remaining episodes to be honest!

“It was devised as one story, that’s all I’m going to say. Nothing about it was devised as a big ITV returning banker. So the success of it so far has taken us by surprise – let’s just see where it goes!”

You’re not giving anything away! I’m impressed.

“Well, I’m not giving anything away because what I’m really loving is that people are loving not knowing. That’s what I’ve really been delighted and surprised by: the level of engagement is based on not having the spoilers.”

On that note of spoilers, is it true that the main cast didn’t know who the murderer was while they were filming?

“That’s right. Murder or murderers! We’ve got to be careful, let’s keep all our options open! [Laughs]”

That not knowing must affect their performances…

“We talked about it a lot. It was a really deliberate and careful decision right from the start. It was something I really wanted to do, and I talked about it with both the directors, James Strong and Euros Lyn, and obviously the producer Jane Featherstone, and as the cast came on board I would talk to them and explain to them that they weren’t going to know.

“There was a number of reasons for it, one of which was obviously that a lot of the story was driven from characters in the show not knowing, so it enables those characters to enable those characters to behave truthfully in that situation. And also what I wanted was for every performer to slightly suspect their character, and to really think about that, and to suspect each other.

“So what you get is ambiguity, and what it also means is that any of the performer or performers who are responsible for what happened aren’t flagging it or signalling it in any way whatsoever.”

When you were writing did you imagine that Broadchurch would amass such a star cast?

“No, not at all. I mean, I knew we’d have a large cast, it was part of the aim at the beginning and it’s something I’ve been wanting to write for the past ten years, a really big ensemble drama where you could investigate all those characters. But I really didn’t think we’d get this strength in depth. Y’know, normally you get one or two great actors, but it feels to me like we’ve got a Champions League squad.

“It’s like when you’re doing a squad rotation, you never cut to a scene and think ‘Oh, it’s them now’, you think ‘Oh it’s them brilliant!’. And I feel really lucky and blessed with that. Having Olivia and David onboard made a huge difference, and then when Jodie came onboard and Andy came onboard…it starts to get a little bit of a snowball effect.

“And a lot of these guys came in and read. Will Mellor came in and read for that part, because that character was originally in his 50s and Will – I didn’t imagine it like that at all on the page – Will came in and read and just blew it out the water. And it was just ‘well, you have to give the part to him because he’s redefined it!’.

“Same with Pauline Quirke. She came in and read, based on the first two episodes. They were all willing to do whatever the parts demanded. I talked everybody through them. These aren’t necessarily big parts, but they were really up for it, so that was a real delight.”

Do you have a favourite scene or performance from the episodes that have aired so far?

“It’s really difficult to choose with this cast, because I think the extraordinary thing…you write something and you hope you get a good cast. And I’ve been extremely lucky and got a lot of really great actors over time. But with this one everybody stepped up a level. So you’d be watching rushes and think ‘My god, how’ve they just done that? They’ve just- what are they doing? That’s brilliant!’. And it was just a continual delight every day. You think ‘Ooh they’re doing that scene tomorrow, I can’t wait to see what they do with it!’

“Funny enough, some of the simple, very simple scenes, I loved the most. I adore the scene in Episode 3 where Miller asks Hardy to dinner. Because it was probably the first time that I just saw that relationship really powering through between David and Olivia. Not that it doesn’t in 1 and 2, but there was just this moment – a playfulness and frustration and reality, and it really made me laugh.

“I watched the angle on Olivia and then the angle on David and I though ‘I don’t know how we’re going to edit that scene because they’re both brilliant. I just want to do a split-screen between them!’. They’re funny, y’know? And it’s hard to find jokes with this material as well.

“I really love that scene, and I really love Hardy going to dinner in Episode 4. But I really couldn’t pick because there’s just so many, and what’s great is all the different combinations. I’d be halfway through writing and thinking ‘Now that character hasn’t been in a scene with that character, so that could be interesting. And I want to see those two or three or four actors together’. So difficult to pick out to be honest.

Obviously you can’t give anything away, but what can viewers expect from the next four episodes?

“Well I think – I hope – you’re going to get more of the same but more intense. You’re going to get a lot of twists and turns, a lot of surprises, quite a lot of emotion, some amazing acting, and a real ensemble event. And hopefully we’ve got stuff up our sleeves. It’s not just a whodunnit, there are some big strands and you’ll see them teased out a bit more. But you’re in for a rollicking good story all the way, I hope.

“We’ve just been locking Episode 8 and I’m really thrilled with it, so I hope people just stay on the journey. I think we’ve got some tricks to come.”

> Order Broadchurch on DVD on Amazon.

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