Interview with Ridley actor Adrian Dunbar (Alex Ridley)


Newly retired, after twenty-five years as a detective. Seven years in uniform before that. An excellent detective with a first-class brain. DI Ridley’s approach to policing has always been somewhat unorthodox. A discreet and private man, he’s always courteous, with ‘oldfashioned’ manners. But he can also be impatient and irascible with people who waste his time, or with those who don’t match up to his exacting standards. Ridley has a tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, and this can sometimes lead to him becoming too emotionally involved in his cases. This empathy with both the victims, and perpetrators of crime, gives Ridley a rare insight into the psychology of murder.

Ridley’s life changed irrevocably, eighteen months ago, when his wife and daughter were murdered in an arson attack. Ridley struggled to come to terms with the tragedy, and his own culpability. As a copper he was no longer fit for purpose, and his DCI had no choice but to recommend early retirement on medical grounds. He now lives alone in a rented former boathouse. He listens to jazz music on a vinyl turntable and is an accomplished performer in his own right. Tortured by an aching loneliness – and yet afraid to commit to any newfound relationship for fear of betraying the memory of Kate and Ella.

ITV detective drama, Ridley, stars Adrian Dunbar in the title role as the retired detective, who is now working as a consultant, resuming his partnership with former protégée, DI Carol Farman, played by Bronagh Waugh (Unforgotten, The Fall), who is now in charge of investigations.

Ridley is written and created by Paul Matthew Thompson, one of the lead writers of ITV’s iconic detective drama, Vera, and co-created by Jonathan Fisher (Blood, Hollington Drive, Penance).

The series introduces us to charismatic Detective Inspector Alex Ridley, who has retired from the police after years of dedicated service. Ridley’s replacement is DI Carol Farman (Waugh), his former protégée whom Ridley mentored for many years.

Why did you want to play the role of Alex Ridley?

He’s complicated in many ways, quite a distance away from anything I’ve played before, even though it’s me, it looks like me, and there’s obviously echoes of Ted Hastings, because he’s a cop. But there are so many interesting layers to his personality, so many things in his background, his history, especially with all the different places that he goes to and the different things he has to deal with. The complications of the guy, I think, was the main thing that attracted me to it.

Could you talk about how the tragic loss of his wife and daughter affected him?

He feels desperately guilty about what happened, he feels culpable. It’s a very complicated scenario as to why and how all that happened, and of course it’s the driving force that’s brought him back to work. He needs to be on his own because he can’t really deal with people. But at the same time, he needs to be active, he needs to do something, and you feel like the complications surrounding the death of his wife and daughter are the things that are driving him on, and the necessity to find the truth. That’s one of the things about the character that I liked, was the fact that he’s desperate to find the truth in all scenarios, and he keeps on going until he wears away at things and finds out what the truth is. That’s a significant thing about him as a person, is that he won’t let go.

He seems quite instinctive; he gets a gut feeling and dives in. Would that be a fair thing to say?

Yes, that is a fair thing to say. Sometimes he gets a gut feeling about things. Sometimes he’s wrong, but he’s wrong in the right way. He’s like a terrier, and he won’t let things go once he gets a feeling about it. And to that extent, he’ll break some rules. It’s the breaking of the rules that make him slightly left field, a bit of a loose cannon at times, within an organisation that might think, “Look, we have to stick to the rules, otherwise we can’t make convictions.” He steps outside that sometimes, but always because it’s instinct driving him on. Sometimes he’s right. Most of the time he’s right.

So, tell me a little bit about his role. He’s obviously he’s gone back to work as a consultant with Bronagh’s character, whose boss he used to be. How does that dynamic work?

He’s asked to come back in episode one because of a case that he had something to do with many years ago. So instead of being in isolation, he decides it’s time to go back and do something and try and restart his life, about a year and a half after the death of his wife and kids. Everybody thinks it might be a good idea if he did that, including Bronagh’s character, Carol Farman, but at the same time they’re wary of what might happen because they know that he’s a bit of a loose cannon. It’s hard for him, being a bit old school, to suddenly start taking orders from somebody who’s been his protégé. So he disregards the fact that there’s a chain of command, and he explains at some point in the series that, “Look, guys, I’m not really in the police any more. I’m a consultant, you can’t really boss me around.” But at the same time, of course, he is working with the police, so there are parameters within which he has to operate. So there’s a tension there between what he feels he can do and what he’s allowed to do. But he’s happy to be back with Carol. They have a very comfortable relationship, a very easy relationship. The tension really exists with the character Terence Maynard plays, DCI Paul Goodwin, because Goodwin, as we begin to find out, is somehow implicated as well in the evening when Ridley’s wife and daughter were killed, so everybody’s mixed up in a storyline that plays out over the four episodes.

Your chemistry with Bronagh was great. Did you guys know each other before?

I didn’t know Bronagh, she’s done so much work, but I didn’t know her. So personally, it was my first-time meeting with her. So we eased into working with one another. It was important to both of us at the start not to try and make too many decisions about how we were going to be as a pair and let that all happen organically as we did the scenes. It’s interesting, over the course of the four episodes, to see how that develops. Even though she was my protégé and so forth, circumstances have changed entirely. And so therefore, we have to re-establish ourselves as a double act if you like. We had a fantastic time. Bronagh, of course, has a baby, so she couldn’t come out and socialise very much, which was a bit sad, but we had a lovely time together, and worked pretty hard.

Ridley co-owns a jazz club. Is that the music that you love? Was it your idea to bring that element to the show?

Yes, I wanted there to be something interesting about Ridley beyond the police work. I really wanted to do something with music in it, so I suggested that he owned a jazz club. And then I did some research regarding jazz and the north of England and so forth. I came across Richard Hawley, who I didn’t know, and started listening to his songs. Subsequently, we contacted Richard and we found three of his songs that we really liked, because I thought they really suited my character. And so we went and recorded them and fitted them into the show. And I think that element really works. I also wanted a place within the show every week that you’d go to that was a bit warmer and a bit more glamorous.

It adds a warmer colour to everything. And also he had a business partner and friend there, Annie, played by Julie Graham, who he has a nice relationship with. We have a very good rapport; I think the people will like that.

When I was quite young, as a teenager, I had a three-piece country band, and then for a while I played as an Elvis Presley impersonator.

Yes, going around places doing that, and playing bass guitar. Beyond that, about 10 or 15 years ago, I put another band together doing country and jazz. So always through my life, I’ve been interested in music and interested in all types of music – folk music, jazz, rock music – so I’m music mad really. So when I came across Richard Hawley, I really thought, “This man’s music suits this character really well.” It’s very masculine. It’s very yearning for something. Just the character, I think. So yes, I’ve always had a relationship with music. I’ve always been involved in it, and I hope I always will.

Did you enjoy filming in the north of England?

I didn’t know Manchester; I didn’t know the areas around Manchester. But I absolutely loved working there. It was great. I had a great time in Manchester – there were some really interesting areas that we went to, and some beautiful places as well. We filmed in the winter, so it was cold, and it was bleak. But all those things will add to the atmosphere of the piece.

Do you understand why detective dramas are so popular?

Yes, I get it, they become addictive, because you get involved. It’s not just the investigation, everything that happens around them is of interest as well, which I like. There are all kinds of other things around the edges that make them work, that make them different. And that’s really what I was looking for, and what Paul (Matthew Thompson), the writer, was working for. There are a few things that make this stand out a little bit from the rest, although some of the things are very familiar, of course. However, there are a few things about it that make it slightly different, and I think people will enjoy that.

Would you make a good detective?

I don’t know. After all these years of playing a cop, if someone was to say to me, “Right, do a real case,” I’d probably know all the right questions to ask, and I’d probably be a lot sharper than most people would be if I was actually facing a case. However, that’s only because I’ve done all these shows for years. I don’t quite know whether I’m that kind of person myself!

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Lee Clarke
Lee Clarke
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