Strike is back on BBC One and streaming on BBC iPlayer.
Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke) and Robin Ellacott (Holliday Grainger) are back, and at odds following Robin’s wedding to Matthew (Kerr Logan).
But there’s no time to mull on the new distance within their professional relationship, as a frightening visit from a potential client puts a new case on the table – and Robin and Strike set to work looking into reports of a strangled child.
With the detective agency thriving, the duo are also recruited to investigate the blackmail of a Government Minister and Robin is tasked with going undercover in the House of Commons.
Kerr Logan plays Matthew Cunliffe in Lethal White.
Can you introduce us to LW?
At the beginning of Lethal White, Robin and Mathew have just got married. But Robin managed to say, ‘I do,’ while looking at Strike. So things aren’t 100 percent going to plan. For Matthew, anyway.
So, the beginning of this is wedding photos and the aftermath of Matthew’s blocking Strike from Robin’s phone. Robin doesn’t think she’s working for Strike anymore, and lots of unresolved issues play out.
Have you read any of the books yourself, or have any of your friends and family read them?
I’ve read all the books. Some of my friends had read them before I got the role – they found it hilarious that I’d been cast as Matthew Cunliffe. He’s arguably not the nicest character.
I don’t think my family has read them, though. They’re all huge Harry Potter fans, but they haven’t read the Strike books. But it feels necessary that I do, to understand where my character fits in, what’s the perception of him, and, dramaturgically, what reaction he needs to have to the unfolding narrative to change the course of events.
Do you think it’s an added pressure when playing a character who exists in the books?
Yes, I think so. Because everyone’s got their own idea of who these characters are. When you read a book, I think characters become a version of what that person would mean to you. Maybe you endow them with the qualities of someone you don’t like in real life.
Being in a TV adaption means bringing a fictional character to life, someone who exists in the minds of so many people. So when it comes to embodying the characters, the book becomes a crucial point of reference and inspiration, a starting point, and the relationships grow from there. And to a degree maybe there’s a bit of interplay between the book and the show. Perhaps our characterizations somehow inform how they are written in the novels. So it’s important, especially at the beginning of the process, to offer your own take on someone that so many people have such strong ideas about.
I guess that’s part of reason why we were cast. It’s a combination of meeting the physical descriptions, but more importantly, what our perceptions of the characters allowed us to bring to the roles.
What do you think Matthew represents as a character, is he indicative of young British men in general?
For me, Matthew represents a breed of men that, I hope, is dying out. Someone with an old-school, old-fashioned view of women and what a relationship between a man and woman should look like.
I grew up half my life in Ireland before moving across to Lancashire, and there’s a particular type of person there that I reckon I’ve drawn some inspiration from, young men who have their path sorted in their mind. They want a career and their lady by their side. Attached and looking pretty for everyone, with limits imposed on her own free will. I think that I’m playing a sort of archetype of these kinds of men, desperately clinging on to a bygone age. It’s such an amazing, progressive time for women, but it’s vital to truthfully represent the imbalances of power that Robin, and so many other women, are fighting against.
My character receives a lot of hate on social media, and rightfully so. He wants Robin to see sense, to be a good girl, to know her place. He feels threatened by her wanting to strive higher, and he expresses that by claiming to protect her, saying she shouldn’t put herself in danger, for example. He doesn’t want her doing anything out of the ordinary.
Robin and Matthew react to each other, how quickly do you and Holliday get into those roles?
I think it’s an ongoing process.
In the beginning, we didn’t know each other at all, but we quickly developed that kind of familiarity. Now the cracks are showing in their relationship, and we now know each other very well, so in a way, you’re having to play against the level of comfort you get from working with someone you know very well.
She’s so brilliant to work with. When we get into a scene, we won’t have really pre-planned anything. It’s television, and things move so quickly – there’s not really time to go and rehearse. But there’s a lot of trust between us, which is lovely. A lot of the scenes coming up in Lethal White depict some difficult times between our characters. There’s a lot of friction. A lot coming up to the surface. It’s important that there’s that safety net, and also that we recognize that, no matter how awful our characters are to one another, they’re trying to make the dynamic of this relationship work.
It’s a lovely, collaborative process. The script is an adaptation, and so it’s naturally going to be slightly different than the source material. Sometimes more so, sometimes only slightly. What my character says and does in the script will be somewhat different from what he says and does in the book. So already one’s interpretation begins to change.
Then, you’re on set and saying these lines to Holliday, and when she responds, she will have interpreted them slightly differently too. The way she’s heard them in her head might change things completely. And then the director comes in; there’s a different director on each book, and they’ve all got different thoughts and ideas on who the characters are. It’s a constant dialogue. We’ve managed to create developed, complex, and truthful relationships. Robin isn’t always the ‘good’ character that everyone loves, and Matthew’s not reduced to merely being the bad character. These are fully rounded people with wants and needs, and they make mistakes.
You have to be an advocate for your character, irrespective of how badly they’re behaving. Matthew doesn’t think that he’s behaving badly. My job is to find some kind of justification, to go into the scene using Matthew’s words and intentions and to find the truth in that. It’s a lovely process, getting underneath the skin of the whole thing.
What makes the tension between Matthew and Strike so appealing to audiences?
They’re such different people, such different men. And they’ve had such vastly different life experiences. Matthew’s goals are quite material: he wants a nice house and a nice car. Strike’s lived a much fuller, more vibrant life. They’re from opposite sides of the pond. They just don’t understand each other at all, and I doubt they ever will. They’re two people that just always pull away from each other.
We’ve not done it on purpose, or maybe Tom’s done it on purpose, but I think I’ve only met Tom twice. Once at the read-through of the first series and then when we had a scene or two together. It’s actually really helpful, the separation of Tom and I, because when our characters actually sat down to meet, it was pretty much fact merging with fiction. So maybe it helped capture some of the natural tension between two people who don’t know each other. We’ll have to make sure we keep that up as we go on through the books.
Matthew’s just got some absolute clangers of lines – great fun to try and deliver straight, but you know that they’re awful! Tom will give a reaction to something my character might say, and you know that the audience’s eyes are rolling too; they’re going, who is this absolute pillock? It’s great fun occupying that awkwardness because that’s what it should be. It shouldn’t be easy.
What would be your favourite moment in the show?
I don’t know, but I’ve always loved the moments between Robin and Strike – the ‘will they, won’t they’? Even me, who plays Matthew Cunliffe, I really want them to get together! I don’t want Robin to end up with Matthew, because I can see how different they are. They’re just not made for each other.
Some people would say Strike and Robin are made for each other, but maybe they’re not, either. Maybe Strike just represents something for Robin. Maybe he only confirms that Matthew isn’t the right one. Who knows whether Strike is? I think I’ve got it in my head that they’ll never end up together, but maybe they will. It’s this, will they, won’t they? and I love that. I think it’s those moments of silence between all the murders and mysteries that they solve, those moments of human connection that they try to avoid – that’s what I always really love.
What do you think sets the Strike series apart from other shows?
I think it’s J.K. Rowling’s characters and her worlds. She’s got an incredible way of creating characters that are so full of life. They leap off the page. She gives you such a rich world to work within, the chance to create characters and play out storylines that you wouldn’t get in your standard cop drama.
Strike’s not your typical private detective. He’s full of flaws, which is why we love him. All these characters make mistakes and get things wrong. They’re people; they’re real human beings. I think people connect with the characters because they navigate these difficult and dangerous situations in a very human way. And that’s all thanks to J.K. Rowling for writing such rich material. It’s really wonderful to be a part of it.
Do you look forward to what might happen next in the series?
Yes – and with Robin and Matt who knows what’s going to happen. But it would be interesting to see how Strike and Robin evolve into the crime-busting pair that they’re so clearly destined to be. Their relationship grows and changes with each book, and the possibilities of where it might take them next is amazing.
My mother’s devastated, of course, she can’t wait until I play a nice character. I tell her Matthew’s just misunderstood, but then I have to be able to say that. As an actor, I have to be able to take Matthew’s side.
Do we sometimes feel sorry for Matthew?
I think you have to. But that’s been the challenge for me, in terms of getting into this character and into this story, I’ve had to find his humanity. A lot of the things he says and does are awful, but of course, he wouldn’t see them as being so. It’s about finding the justification. Bad people never think that they’re bad.
I think lots of men present themselves in a certain way. They want a lady who they can show off, and that’s clearly masking something, an insecurity, maybe a fear that something’s missing.
Matthew is doing that. Beneath the surface, he’s just a scared little boy. Perhaps he knows that he and Robin aren’t necessarily meant to be together, but as so often happens in life, them staying together is just a continuation of the past. Robin and Matt have this shared history, and maybe that keeps them together in spite of how much they have grown apart. I think they’re just desperately holding on.