Robson Green talks about playing Geordie on Grantchester which returns on Wednesday, March 2nd at 9pm on ITV for a second series. Local Police Chief Geordie Keating works with Sidney, the vicar in Grantchester, as they solve crimes in the quiet village.
What response have you had from viewers since series one of Grantchester?
The response I ’ve had from the first series - ‘Quality written all over it’, and, ‘Class’. There’s an incredibly charismatic lead in James Norton who’s compelling to watch, and relationships that mean something. Within the Grantchester community everybody cares about each other, they’re loyal to each other, they’re kind to one another. But there’s this terrible undercurrent of something uncomfortable - It’s charming with an edge. A word that keeps coming up with people who have talked to me about the series is that it’s charming and the relationships are likeable. If it weren’t for the body count people would want to move to Grantchester because they’re characters with great values and who have something to say. It’s an intelligent drama and it looks beautiful. They audience all go, ‘Oh, I’d like to be with those people; be around those people, and be part of their story.’
How did you feel about returning for a second series?
I was with my mum at the garden centre when I got the call from the producer, Emma Kingsman-Lloyd. My mum bought me a fig tree for my birthday and it died, so we went to get another one. Emma called and said, ‘what are you doing?’ and I said, ‘I’m choosing a fig tree in the garden centre with my mum!’ She went, ‘I’ve got some good news for you.’ And I went, ‘Oh, tell my mum!’ and handed over the phone. So my mum was the first one to find out, before I did, because I kind of knew what Emma was going to say. I was overjoyed that Grantchester was re-commissioned for many reasons - my career, the fact I’m overjoyed that people still want to employ me, the fact that I was going to be working with James Norton again, with Al Weaver, with Tessa Peake-Jones, as well as the talented crew. It’s a real team effort and, hand on heart, in thirty years, it’s the happiest working environment – it’s not even a 10 working environment – it’s just the happiest environment in which I’ve done my job. It’s just so enjoyable, and there was never a morning I woke up and thought , ‘I don’t want to go in today,’ which I’ve done on many dramas. Diederick (Santer), the Exec, and Emma, the producer, and everyone else says that it’s such an enjoyable show, and we’re not just saying it, it really is. Everyone’s happy. It’s fun every day. But also the opportunity has come along for us to do this drama and everybody’s prepped. Still today I don’t know how James Norton is actually doing it you know, because of the workload he has. But he does his prep, and he’s a great captain of a very, very steady and happy ship.
You and James clearly get on very well. Do you te ase and play tricks on each other?
Yes! It’s both of us! I fluff more than James, I don’t know if it’s an age thing. Sometimes when I fluff - I don’t do it often, but when I do – it’s kind of strange, the effect it has on James. Something will happen, and there’ll just be a glint in his eye or my eye and we just go. And it’s unbearable because we start laughing and it’s very infectious. Then we get told off by the director because we have to be responsible and serious and focussed, and that makes us worse. We do tease each other. Imagine what it was like when we filmed the opening sequence, which involved taking our tops off and the swimming in the river! I’m trying to outdo this guy who’s half my age, and he’s basically an athlete in the gym, so that was quite comical.
Did you prep for the swimming scenes?
Yeah, of course. I keep fit anyway, but aesthetically it’s got to be pleasing to the eye for that opening scene. This idyllic backdrop, ‘welcome back to Grantchester’, the two leads are having a swim in the Cam. But yeah, there was many a battle in the gym.
You and James have great chemistry off and on screen, but do their characters develop this series? How does the relationship progress?
It’s strange, the characters and the relationship develop out of us being confident and friends with each other (off screen now). James is a great mate. I was out with him last night and he said, ‘will you take me fishing?’ and I said, ‘of course! I don’t think you’ll catch anything, but you know....’ I’ll take him to some lovely rivers up North. I think the relationship develops because the shorthand is in place and we both understand what the relationship is. But in terms of the endearing off beat relationship that is in the series, the only way forward is to fracture that, to jeopardise it. So the relationship you care about is fractured, and what you need to do throughout the story is work out how we’re going to get them back together again: that’s just the basic arc. What fractures the relationship is that they both hold very strong, deeply held beliefs, and the main one is how they deal with justice. Geordie is for capital punishment and Sidney sees through understanding and reasoning and he believes killing someone never solved anything because in the end it’s not closure, it’s revenge. Geordie’s view is that it is justice because you have to be compassionate not only about the victim but the loved ones of that victim. Sidney thinks about the carnage and the fallout from a destructive act. So those different views make them poles apart and it affects how they interact with each other, to the point where they fall out massively.
Would you say this series is a little darker than the previous series?
Yeah, you wouldn’t expect that from a member of the clergy, or from two best friends. But that’s what happens when you love a person, there’s the flip side, and it can manifest itself in quite destructive ways. There’s nothing demonstrative about their arguments. It’s like, ‘I don’t want to fall out with you, but I’m going to if you carry on like this. I love you as a friend, I love you as a person, I need you in my life, but if you carry on saying the things you’re saying it’s never going to work out.’ It’s that kind of debate. I don’t mind saying it’s an absolute love story between two men who care for one another. Of two guys from different parts of the world like me and James are, really! And in the end we are but men and care for each other. I find him an incredible individual behind the lens and in front of it. It’s amazing because there were other names in the hat for the role of Sidney , with other names maybe it wouldn’t have worked. It’s worked out an absolute treat; it’s just one of those things. The friendship works in front of the lens and you can take risks and you can argue as well. We’ve had differences of opinion and it’s been quite heated at some points, but in a good way. I love the man and he’s an incredible actor and he’s a star in the real sense. You care about the relationship because that’s real life; those characters are real life.
Neil Morrissey joins the cast of this series as well. Had you worked with Neil before?
No, never before, but he’s such a talent ‐ a great actor. He’s the ultimate professional and a naturally very funny man. He has great timing and all those attributes of a fine actor. He can sing, he can dance, he can act and he’s a joy on set and he just fitted in beautifully.
Had you met him before?
Yes I had, but only briefly. I met him in a dressing room in a theatre when he was up in Newcastle. His partner at the time was in a show. So I didn’t know him well but I instantly liked him. I’ve worked with Martin Clunes on Strikeback before, so we talked about Clunesy a lot, obviously, they’re good mates.
Tell us a bit about Neil’s character and the relationship with your character.
Well basically, the common ground he and Geordie have is that they’re both parents. There’s a murder and he’s the father of the victim and therefore he, throughout the series, is seeking justice. In a way Geordie sides with him. He suspects him at first then realises that he’s got to take Harding (Neil’s character) out of the equation. Geordie puts himself in Harding’s shoes. He thinks ‘if it was my daughter I’d want to string someone up too’. So Geordie and Sidney have common ground and common feelings, whereas Sidney can forgive people. He truly believes there is good in everyone. This difference of opinion starts to drive Geordie from Sidney.
In series one Geordie was shot on duty. How has that affected him?
He thinks he’s recovered, but in most PTSD individuals the past will come and manifest itself in strange ways. A gun is pulled on him in series two and he starts having flashbacks. He’s not sleeping and he starts to question his role in life. But also he’s never really talked about a massive part of his life, which was the forgotten war when he was in Burma, and all the carnage he saw there, and the destruction and the loss of loved ones. Combine that with the traumatic effect of being shot... he’s trying to seek help but he’s suffering in silence. It only comes in little spats. His role is never filtered with angst, it just comes out in beats and I think that’s good writing. Just suddenly a camera flash will go off and it sparks something in Geordie’s mind. He has a crisis of self, and Sidney recognises that, saying, ‘you’re not you anymore.’ It’s not this depressive thing though and there’s also a lot of comedy in the series - there are some very, very funny moments, especially when he’s trying to get Sidney a girl.
How does is go when Geordie sets about finding Sidney a girlfriend?
He’s playing matchmaker, but he’s getting women Geordie thinks are right for Geordie, not for Sidney! There’s a lovely opening montage where he’s kind of speed dating for Sidney and telling these women the pros and cons of being with this man: ‘there’s many pros you know, but if you don’t like jazz then forget being with this guy. But knock the jazz aside he’s a keeper!’ These women are auditioning for him, it’s just hilarious.
Do you think there’s part of Geordie that wishes he were the single guy?
Of course, that’s another beautiful part of the relationship - they live vicariously through each other. Sidney wants what Geordie’s got: a family, security and cohesion. But Geordie looks at Sidney and sees this free spirit who’s out partying. A member of the clergy with women falling at his feet and he thinks, ‘well maybe if I were single, that would happen to me too.’ But it doesn’t. They’re both looking at glitter balls that don’t exist, but it’s lovely to play.
How’s Geordie’s relationship with his wife Cathy?
It’s fractured. It’s strained because of what he’s feeling about his place in the environment, in life, and having this crisis. He’s unable to talk to Cathy about it but he’s able to talk to Sidney, which is really interesting. I’ve always found that - the people you should really be telling your deepest, darkest feelings to, about life and everything, don’t generally tend to be family, it’s your friends. So in a way, Geordie uses Sidney as confession and tells him what he’s really feeling about everything.
What was it like being back in Grantchester village and Cambridge?
There are very few parts of the country that are so quintessentially English, and it is. The meadows are beautiful. It’s timeless really. It’s picture postcard. The backdrop of Cambridge and what it represents – the university and everything that is going on there or has gone on there. Grantchester itself is this place that I don’t think exists anywhere else in Great Britain. It’s just this type of idyllic, English village that should never change. It’s a place that makes me think I could live there, easily - the sounds and the smells and there’s no need to be staring at mobile phones. I’m reading a book called The Mark And The Void by Paul Murray, and so many times we’re walking round in places and we want to be somewhere else, because we’re on our phones . We want to be somewhere else whereas the important thing in life is when you go walking around Grantchester meadows, birdsong makes you feel good, the vegetation is alive, the colour makes you feel good, and just the sounds and the smells and the peace, it just makes you feel good. And that manifests itself. In the opening scene, we’re swimming in the Cam and the dog’s swimming along, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and you think, ‘ wow, does it get any better than this?’ That was a lovely day’s filming.