Mystery, murder and an extreme dedication to getting a Scottish accent right – Christian Cooke (Where the Heart Is, Doctor Who) reveals his painstaking devotion to BBC2’s new two-part thriller, Stonemouth (premieres Thursday, June 11)…
What made Stonemouth such an appealing project?
“I really liked the script and was really drawn to my character, Stewart Gilmour. It’s based on Iain Bank’s novel and I could hear his voice in it, which I really hope that comes across in the two parts. It’s a real character-driven piece and quite novelistic.”
This is your first British TV project in a while. How has it been?
“I hadn’t done television here in the UK in a few years, or played a lead role in three years, so diving into Stonemouth was quite labour intense and challenging. I didn’t just want to do anything, so I was waiting for something like Stonemouth, which is original, based on a novel, and with a cool director, Charles Martin.”
What makes Stewart such a meaty role?
“Stewart’s interesting. He’s well educated, ambitious and has a good grasp of the world. If he hadn’t been exiled from Stonemouth he would have left anyway because he had dreams and aspirations that were bigger than the town. He had a good childhood in a beautiful place, but he was a dreamer and he would have gone on and conquered the world if what happened had not happened. He’s got a solid moral compass, which you discover through the two episodes. He’s quite brave as well!”
Can you tell us a bit about what brings him back to his childhood home Stonemouth?
“You learn early on that his best friend growing up, Callum, has died, and because of this he’s given a free pass to return for the funeral by Callum’s dad, local gangster, Don Murston. This is Don being lenient towards Stewart, who’s been in exile in London for the last couple of years.”
Why did Stuart leave Stonemouth in the first place?
“He didn’t have a choice. It involved the love of his life, Ellie, who is Callum’s sister and Don’s daughter. Had Stewart not made a stupid mistake years ago, he’d be married to her now. And now he’s back he wants to suss out if there’s a future with her.”
Is she interested in rekindling their romance, given he wrecked the relationship years before?
“It’s definitely not a nailed-on thing. That’s what I like about Stonemouth, even as the two episodes conclude it could go either way. Despite her pain and heartbreak, Ellie (Charlotte Spencer) still cares about him. She never wanted him to get hurt in the first place. I think she is pleased to see him back, but she’s got her own pride and principles.”
Can you tell us more about Peter Mullan’s character, Don Murston?
“He’s the local, feared and respected gangster, who has his hands in lots of different pies. Stonemouth is this nice beautiful Scottish costal town, where tourism thrives to a degree and everybody knows everybody. It hasn’t changed much in 30 years. But within it, Don Murston runs things – both legally and illegally!”
You’re from Leeds originally. How was your experience of acting in a Scottish accent?
“It wasn’t easy! I think I did it well in the end, but it was definitely hard work. Luckily I’ve a few Scottish actor friends, one of which is in the show – Kevin Mains – and I got help from the Scottish cast. I also had a dialect coach in London before I left to start filming. In Scotland I stayed in accent for the whole two and half months, because I felt it was the best way to go about it!”
Did you find yourself breaking into the Scottish accent after filming had finished?
“I did, yes! I’d go to start sentences and speak Scottish. Essentially it’s muscle memory, so your tongue gets used to going to this place in your mouth!”
Watch the trailer for Stonemouth