Spooks’ star David Oyelowo discusses his new role in Complicit, as a British spy tempted to use torture to stop a terrorist attack!
You star as MI5 agent Edward Ekubo in C4’s new one-off drama. What can you tell us about him?
“My character Edward is tracking this potential terrorist called Waleed Ahmed (Four Lions’ Arsher Ali). He finds himself in Egypt, where they have a different means of getting information from would-be terrorists. In this particular instance Edward believes a chemical attack in the UK is imminent and if he doesn’t act soon, hundreds or thousands of people could die. Edward’s central dilemma is whether or not he should follow protocol or get the information he needs by whatever means necessary – one of which is torture.”
What brings him to this point?
“Complicit is set in post-9/11, post-Guantanamo Bay world, where the secret services are under a lot more scrutiny. In a bid not to have another Guantanamo Bay happen again, the layers a government agent has to go through before pulling the trigger on any big decisions have become deeper. In this film, Edward feels he has to make a snap decision – but he can’t because all decisions have to be sanctioned to prevent mistakes.”
Is it a difficult moral dilemma for him – or a decision that comes easily?
“Fundamentally, I think torture is wrong. But what you see with Edward is that, moment-to-moment, his opinions about what to do shift. He is trying to stick within the lines that are mapped out for him. I love the moral dilemma that Edward’s posed with and the fact the audience are dragged along with him and forced to put themselves in his position.”
What sort of man is he?
“We show him as a patriotic Englishman and Londoner. We also show that he has a young daughter. Edward is a man who is doing his job because he believes in it and therefore his remit is to protect British people on British soil.”
What attracted you to the role when you first read the script?
“There were so many things. I gravitate to work that’s challenging. And playing someone who is in every scene, going through what my character goes through, is a huge challenge. But I also love what Complicit has to say. Not only is my character tracking a possible terrorist but there’s also a subtle commentary on the class system within the UK. The writing by Guy Hibbert [who penned the award-winning Omagh] is utterly compelling.”
Did you do any special research for the role?
“I was so fortunate to work on BBC1’s drama Spooks for three years playing MI5 officer Danny Hunter. Although Spooks was a really heightened version of what an MI5 officer does and this is more realistic, I did come to Complicit with a nice foundational knowledge. In Spooks we got to interview actual MI5 officers, because we wanted the show to be rooted in reality.”
What makes Complicit more realistic?
“Spooks was more Bond-for-the-telly. Complicit is more realistic. A lot of spy work is watching, waiting and boring bureaucracy! I think Complicit portrays this in a compelling way – it’s the greasy work of being a spy. David does a job that has far-reaching ramifications. He’s an ordinary man doing an extraordinary job.”
Complicit starts on Sunday February 17 at 9pm on Channel 4.