THE SYNDICATE: INTERVIEW WITH NEIL MORRISEY
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 Frank.
Frank is ultimately a good bloke. He flounders a little bit and has his weaknesses - he likes to gamble and I suspect Cheryl and Frank have been engaged for a long time, so there’s a bit of a problem with commitment. I imagine Frank could probably play the field if he chose to but doesn’t. Like all of the characters in this piece, the big life-changing moment is suddenly the availability of a lot of money and that shows Frank up for what he really is. He then goes on to make mistake after mistake after mistake.
I think there’s going to be empathy for Frank, but he’ll cause a divide between viewers too. There will be people sitting in their lounges saying, ‘I would never have done that’ and those people saying ‘I’d have done that in a heartbeat but I’d have been smarter than Frank'.
Do you share any character traits with Frank?
There are always one or two things that you put into every character that definitely come from you. With Frank, I tried to use a bit of the old charm (!) and that comes through in his relationship with Cheryl, and we see more of that as the series develops. Certainly the idea of having made a mistake and very much wanting to put things right is me too.
Frank is so smitten with his dog, Duke, in the show. Do you have a dog?
We used to have a dog. She was a rescue dog called Tiggy. She died aged 16 a few years back now and we haven’t got another one just yet. It just hasn’t felt right. But yes, I love dogs, absolutely love dogs. And I had a great relationship with Ava, who plays Duke. She should be up for the Bafta, because there she is, a big lady Irish wolfhound, playing a bloke. She was really good and really calm on set. She did what she had to do, unprompted.
There was a scene in the car when it said in the script, ‘Duke is licking Frank’s face’. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get her to lick my face. Production was talking about rubbing me with sausages and bananas so that she’d give me a lick in the scene, but unprompted, in the middle of the scene, she just licked my face. So I’m convinced now that she can actually read.
What’s it been like working with Kay again?
Kay and I last worked together perhaps 30 years ago when we did A Passionate Woman. It was my first play in the West End and I believe it was Kay’s first play in the West End and we had a brilliant time back then. But I’ve been watching her work, everything from Band Of Gold right through to The Syndicates and Girlfriends. Her writing and storytelling are fantastic. You always know when things are easy to learn, because there were days when I had pages and pages and pages of dialogue. 23 scenes in one day, I did, for this. And it was a joy. Every line has a great meaning.
She allowed me to play about a little bit or put in an occasional joke, which I know is very unusual for me, but I couldn’t help myself. Kay’s dialogue is very succinct and very revealing, so it’s really good. She’s a great sculptor of drama and it was an absolute pleasure to work with her again. I’ve had a great time on this gig. People often say, ‘What’s your favourite job?’ but this is definitely up there.
Filming during Covid both in Yorkshire and Monaco must have brought its challenges, but tell us about the experience.
It was very odd, both in Leeds and in Monaco, because of the protocols and you’ve still got to get on the set. It didn’t really alter us - at least I don’t think it did - in the creative process. There was a great team behind us, with great Covid directors and Covid nurses because one of the main things was whether we could all cope with it mentally. Here we are making a drama when the world around us seems to be going into total collapse. Add to that the American election and the approach of Brexit, there was a lot to be thinking of, or trying not to think of, when you were getting involved in the drama.
We were Covid tested every week and we had our temperature tested three times a day on set too. I would imagine the show will feel pre-Covid given how much work and energy has gone in to it, which will probably be a relief to everybody who’s watching on the television.
Did you do anything in particular to prepare for the role?
Yes, we made decisions about how Frank should look. Hair wise, I’m naturally very whitey-grey and we decided straight away that we’d dye Frank’s hair black as I really felt he was someone who would want to try and appear a bit younger. I put on a few of those friendship bracelets to add to the vibe too. Frank is in to gambling and I’ve been in casinos so that was easy enough to brush up on. Sometimes we even played Texas Hold’Em poker with the family on Zoom, of all things!
Describe this series of The Syndicate.
It’s a massive rollercoaster of emotions. You should be reaching for your tissues, not only to blow your nose after you’ve laughed your face off, but also with some of the terrible tragedy. It’s great storytelling. Right from the very beginning you should be drawn in and allow yourself to be taken on a voyage of discovery about all these amazing people and what happens to them.
Did you have a favourite scene to film?
I really enjoyed filming at the Hotel Metropole which, by the way, is the actual Hotel Metropole in Monaco. We obviously didn’t get to stay overnight but just filming there was a great experience. We were filming in this amazing suite and I did a scene in the bath. It’s a really glamorous bathroom and I’ve got chocolates on the side of the bath, a glass of brandy in my hand and my character’s dog is sitting there next to me which was all very nice. So little scenes like that were fun to do.
I think the relationship between Gaynor Faye, who plays Cheryl, and myself, comes across really well in the series too. The interplay we’ve got going on there was really fun. Gaynor’s a great laugh and she thinks I’m funny (I hope!).