It’s Keeley’s (Katherine Rose Morley) birthday and she could really do with some luck today - she’s defaulted on a payday loan, and the debt collectors are already knocking on her door demanding she pays off the £425 she owes. With nothing in her bank account Keeley needs to think of a way to get the cash and fast - and winning the lottery would certainly solve all Keeley’s problems!
The Syndicate begins Tuesday 30th March at 9pm on BBC One.
Interview: BBC Press
Tell us about your character Cheryl.
Cheryl is very down to earth and a hard worker. She runs the newsagent and the post office at the same time and is absolutely smitten with her fiancé Frank. He’s a bit of a pain in the bum, but she loves him deeply, despite coming second place to Frank’s beloved dog Duke!
Do you think you share any character traits with Cheryl?
Yes, I think in as much as she’s a hard worker and somebody who doesn’t want a free ride. I love work. I wouldn’t put up with coming second best to a dog though and I don’t think I’d put up with some of the things that Frank puts her through. But she’s essentially a hard-working, down-to-earth woman and that’s what I am as well.
Where do we find Cheryl at the start of The Syndicate?
When we meet her, Cheryl’s nagging Frank, because their wedding’s in three weeks and Frank’s done nothing to help out, and is sat reading a magazine instead of sorting the bridesmaids presents.
Cheryl’s an everyday woman who just wants to settle down, probably live out her life and draw a pension and retire. That’s what essentially her life holds for her and she’s very happy with that. But it doesn’t all go to plan.
What’s it been like working with Kay on this new project?
I’ve not been in Kay’s TV work for a long, long time. I’ve written with Kay, because I’m part of Rollem, the production company, but it’s been over 13 years since I’ve acted in her work. She’s a bit like a superhuman, she’s up at the crack of dawn, directing all day, dealing with all the other Rollem projects in her lunch hour, goes home, plans for the next days filming, deals with re-writes on other projects before going to bed.
She’s quite amazing, really. It’s fantastic working with her, she’s a great director, great writer and passionate about her work. Kay also wants everybody to have a great experience on set. She comes from an acting background so she’s fantastic for actors to go to and because she’s written the characters she knows them inside out.
People are quick to jump on, ‘Oh, you’re working on your mum’s thing’. Well, I’ve always worked with my mum, from being very, very young. In fact, right from Children’s Ward days, I used to get given a tenner for any storyline that I came up with. Kay’s always inspired and encouraged us to be involved with her writing.
I got involved with Rollem after I began acting. My mum was working really, really hard, on three different projects at the same time and collapsed when she was receiving an award at the Dinard film festival. At the time Kay was about to start writing another episode of Fat Friends so I suggested that I helped her by maybe writing some scenes - she told me to ‘give it a go’. To be honest she was so ill I just wanted to help take the stress off her and so that’s what I did. That’s how I came to start writing with her. We had a shortcut and a similar style. I ended up writing on the second, third and fourth series of Fat Friends along with Ruth Jones.
It was organic the way it all started and since then I’ve worked alongside her on lots of projects and theatre pieces. I love it - although sometimes it does get in the way of our mother daughter relationship.
How have you found filming during Covid?
It’s been incredible to be working at all as an actor. A lot of my friends have lost work because shows have been cancelled or postponed. So actually to be filming a series in the midst of a pandemic is just a huge feat in itself and to have finished it and not to have stopped is incredible. But it’s not been an easy ride. We had to keep isolated and have Covid tests every week, the anxiety levels were high waiting for our results back as a positive result could be detrimental to the show and nobody wanted that responsibility. We had to stay in our bubbles, which meant that the social aspect of the job wasn’t the same.
When you do a job normally you’ll socialise together after filming, but we couldn’t do that. We also filmed in Monaco which we were all so looking forward to, but travelling to another country in a global pandemic, adhering to all their rules and regulations and then to enter another lockdown in France before trying to get back to England. It was just one hurdle after another, but we did it, despite everything, I still can’t believe it, but we did.
How did you prepare for the role of Cheryl?
Cheryl is that woman that everybody knows. She’s always got a smile for everybody and no matter what’s going on in her personal life she doesn’t bring it into the shop, not knowingly anyway. It’s only when Frank puts her in a very awkward situation that she suddenly has to start thinking on her feet and battling with her conscience.
In preparation - it was more that I was mentally alert to my characters journey as it shifts and turns on a sixpence. We shot everything out of sequence over a long period and in chunks because of Covid. So keeping a breast of my characters emotional state was quite tricky. I had to be very careful and write lots of notes on my script as to where I was emotionally as I left a scene and how I would go into the next scene as they could be shot months apart.
How would you describe The Syndicate?
It’s a show about a young group of friends who work at Woodvale Kennels and have got a lottery syndicate together. Each of them have got their own story of why winning even £500 would turn their life around, let alone 27 million! But as we know, money doesn’t always make the best of people - it can bring out the worst in people too. Deceit, lies, blackmail with a backdrop of sun, sea and beautiful scenery, it’s a cracker! I think it’s Kay Mellor at her best - and all in the midst of a pandemic.
Is there a favourite scene that you had during the shoot?
Well I was working with Neil Morrissey, who’s utterly fabulous and great fun so every day filming with him was a treat - he brings such a great energy to set - he’s a real team player. We were also lucky enough to film a lot of our scenes in Monaco, in a beautiful hotel with a beautiful balcony overlooking the sea. What more can an actor want, great scripts, great actors, great team and beautiful scenery? I feel so lucky - jobs don’t get much better!
Do you have any funny anecdotes?
One of Cheryl’s lines is, ‘Keep the dogs by the door’. One of them wee’d by the door last week and I don’t want them weeing on my newspapers and actually the dog, on cue, wee’d right in the doorway. They didn’t get it on camera, but that actually happened, so that’s a star dog right there.