INTERVIEW: David Tennant Talks About The Escape Artist

Tell us what The Escape Artist actually means for Will?
Will is a defence Barrister, he’s not quite QC, he’s not taken silk yet as they say, but he’s well on his way and he has the extraordinary record of never having defended anyone and lost. He’s a fairly exceptional defence Barrister – he’s very good at what he does, he’s driven, extremely able and seems to have something of a charmed life.
Is Will a likeable character?
It’s easy to be likeable when everything is going your way and it is for Will, life doesn’t trouble him particularly. He’s incredibly gifted and has a wonderful wife and little boy that he dotes on. Life is great for Will and he’s clearly on his way to being one of the country’s most respected QCs. Very early on in our story he is elected number one in a law magazine’s top 40 under 40 something his colleague Maggie finds hard to swallow.
Tell us about Will’s relationship with his wife Kate
Will and Kate have been together a good while and have an eight-year-old boy. Everything is working out for them. Will is driven and professionally successful but he manages to have a decent work / life balance at the same time.
Their relationship has to be established quite quickly in the series – does it help that you’ve worked with Ashley Jensen before?
I think the fact that I know Ashley of old certainly does help. Every job you do brings different circumstances and people so it’s lovely to have a shorthand with Ashley with whom I did my very first professional job out of drama school.
What made you think this would be a great project to take on?
If you’re privileged enough to be reading a number of scripts, the ones that you don’t want anyone else to have are quite easy to recognise and this was one of those. I read it straight through and was completely hooked and convinced, teased and satisfied by it, dramatically and emotionally. When you have a reaction to a script that strongly, you’ve got to recognise it and make the most of it.
Do you think there is an element of theatre in the courtroom?
There’s a huge performance element and when playing those scenes you feel that. Three barristers could all say the same stuff but the way they deliver it is part of how you receive it, and part of who you believe, and in the end it’s all about who you believe is delivering the truth.
You had a legal advisor on the project, how much help was he in researching your role?
Andrew Jefferies QC worked with us on every aspect of the production and has been invaluable as a resource for fact checking. He came up with a couple of solutions to cases which found their way into the script. Also personally just chatting to someone who does this for a living and finding out what goes on in his head, and watching him do his stuff, was very helpful.
Did you have discussions about your characters with Toby Kebbell who plays Foyle prior to filming?
I don’t think you do discuss how you’re going to play it, obviously it comes from the script, these characters have been beautifully created by our writer. I didn’t know Toby before this, in fact he wasn’t around during pre-production because he was in America so we didn’t have any time to talk through scenes and discuss objectively what either of our characters thought about things, which actually I think was the right way to go about it.
What did Brian bring to the drama’s direction?
Brian is Scottish so obviously he’s brilliant, there are a lot of Scottish people on this job actually, which obviously is why it’s going to be fantastic! When his name came up I was working with Jodie Whittaker who had worked with him on Black Mirror so I approached Jodie and she couldn’t have been more positive or given Brian a heartier recommendation. I thought if Jodie thinks he’s alright then he is probably pretty good! And he was.
Did you see the big scenes coming when reading the script?
No! I didn’t see any of it coming! When Will doesn’t shake Foyle’s hand and walks off, I thought that was a story beat telling us something about Will. I didn’t for a second think that we’d see Foyle again. I thought we’d be onto the next case and we’d see Will being an Escape Artist in some other extraordinary way. I thought it was a courtroom drama, I had no idea.
How do you think David creates moments of high drama in such a relatable setting?
He’s actually writing some wildly dramatic stuff that, in the hands of any other writer would maybe seem ludicrous. But what is great about David’s writing is that the stakes are higher than you can imagine, it’s all quite melodramatic yet he roots it all in a world of complete credibility. I think that’s the great triumph of how David writes, you never doubt it.
Lastly, what would you say to entice a viewer to tune in?
As the show comes closer to transmission and we inevitably have to talk about it, it’s going to be quite hard because you so want people to come and enjoy the surprises, but you don’t want to give any of them away so it’s quite a tricky one to navigate. It’s one of those shows where you just have to say ‘trust me, just watch it!’ You’ll think it’s one thing, and that will be fun in itself, and then it just gets so much better.