James Nesbitt has revealed that the TV drama The Missing was so emotional to film, he still gets teary-eyed talking about it.

James stars with Frances O’Connor in the BBC1 thriller as a couple, Tony and Emily, whose five-year-old son Oliver vanishes while they’re on holiday in France.

Then comes Tony’s absolute determination to find his boy – and the pain, heartache and bitterness that brings with it.

James grew close to his TV son, played by Oliver Hunt, and they hung out on set and went out for ice cream. By the time they shot the scene where little Ollie disappears, his vanishing truly shook his make-believe father.

James revealed: “I can still see it, looking down and him not being there. From that point, I was able to access almost everything I needed. And talking about it now, well, I haven’t done that before in an interview: almost start crying.

“I still find it emotional talking about the role. But it was painful, terribly painful to play.

“There was a lot going on I wasn’t really in control of. I think I should give an awful lot of the credit to my subconscious rather than my consciousness.

“In acting roles in the past, I had used my own parenting to locate pain, and I know losing my own daughters would be the end of me. But the more I tried to locate that dread for this role, I found I couldn’t. It was too awful to imagine. When I tried to access it, the shutters closed tight.”

The drama has sparked some criticism for its dark subject matter.

“I know some parents will say, ‘I can’t watch that’,” says James. “Parents have always had this fear: ‘What if I lost them?’ But if you’re able to vicariously project your own horror of your kids disappearing onto this programme, well, it’s almost therapeutic.”

The Missing continues on BBC1, Tuesday, November 25, 9.00pm.