The Singapore Grip’s David Morrissey: ‘Walter is a schemer!’

David Morrissey gives us the lowdown on his character in new ITV drama The Singapore Grip...

ITV is set to transport us to 1940s Singapore in new Sunday night drama The Singapore Grip, starring David Morrissey.

The satirical series explores the build up to the Japanese invasion in 1942, which British forces were thoroughly unprepared for and led to one of the worst defeats in British military history.

Before that happens, however, we’re introduced to the Blacketts – one of many colonial British families living in Singapore at the time. Head of the family Walter, played by David Morrissey, runs a rubber company with his business partner and mentor Mr Webb (Charles Dance), and is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

Meanwhile his wife Sylvia (Jane Horrocks) is trying to find someone suitable for daughter Joan (Georgia Blizzard) to marry, though Joan herself is far more interested in helping her father secure the future of the business. As for his feckless son Monty (Luke Newberry), he’s less interested in the family firm than he is in drinking and chasing women.

We talked to David Morrissey to find out more about Walter, why he wanted to be part of the show, and what it was like filming the series in Malaysia…

This feels like a very different role for you…

David Morrissey: “It is! It’s different for many reasons, and they’re reasons I’m embracing. I think he’s a very recognisable character in our lives today – he’s a schemer, he’s an industrialist, he’s a capitalist in all its glory, really.

“Even though there’s a war that’s about to happen, there’s this glaring thing coming at him at a million miles per hour, he’s sort of completely ignorant of that. He doesn’t see war in any way as a reason to stop trading – he sees it as an opportunity. Even as the bombs are coming over, he’s trying to do deals with other people – he is absolutely driven by making money.”

Colm Meaney as Major Brendan Archer and David Morrissey as Walter Blackett in a garden scene

Walter chats business with his associate, Major Brendan Archer (Colm Meaney) (Photo: ITV)

Could you empathise with him?

DM: “Yeah, I think when you play any character, you can’t judge them. I don’t know whether I have to like him, but I have to empathise with him. A thing about Walter is we start with the death of his mentor, Mr Webb, played by Charles Dance. Walter sees his death obviously as a tragedy and is in grief, but also something else lands in his lap just after that which shows he can prove himself on his own. It’s his chance to sort of come into the world in his own right. He’s always been slightly in the shadow of the other man, and he suddenly goes, ‘this is my turn’. From then on, he has no mentor to talk to, so he’s on his own and he’s out of control – and a war’s happening!”

How would you describe the series?

DM: “It’s very funny, there are things that happen which are ludicrous and funny and touching as well, but it’s played along a backdrop of deep seriousness. There was something quite ludicrous about the British situation in Singapore – they got it completely wrong with the Japanese invasion, they were taken unawares and there was a slight arrogance around that. The Empire had practically gone by then, but they were still living in this empirical sort of world, and there is something ludicrous in that. With the gift of retrospect, we can look back at it and laugh – but for the characters, they’re living in it.”

Walter gives Joan a tour of the rubber factory

Walter gives his daughter Joan (Georgia Blizzard) a tour of the factory (Photo: ITV)

What’s your take on Walter’s relationship with Joan?

DM: “That was one of the reasons I wanted to take the job – I think their relationship is fascinating. There is something going on there that is slightly strange. I don’t think it’s incestuous – but it’s certainly on the wrong side of affection. He admires his daughter above and beyond the normal father/daughter relationship. Without giving anything away, he very tentatively approaches his daughter to see if she would facilitate this power grab that he is planning on, and she goes for it 100%. What he’s delighted by is that she doesn’t say, ‘how dare you’, or ‘please don’t ask me to do this’ – she totally gets it, and takes control of the situation.”

Jane Horrocks plays your wife, Sylvia – and this isn’t your first time working together, is it?

DM: “We were at drama school together, which feels like a million years ago! And we did this film called Born Romantic, which we sort of re-enacted a scene from. We were doing a scene in bed the other day, and I’ve got a picture of us in bed 20 years before in the other film. We look very different!”

Sylvia and Walter Blackett discuss important matters at bedtime

Sylvia (Jane Horrocks) and Walter indulge in a little pillow talk (Photo: ITV)

How did you find filming in Malaysia?

DM: “Obviously the heat is uncomfortable, but it’s great – it’s not like we’re pretending it’s anything else! The hardest thing is filming in heat when you’re supposed to be somewhere else that’s not hot, or somewhere really cold and you have to pretend it’s hot. We’re filming a drama about people in a place like this, so if you’re sweating and hot, you’re supposed to be. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not wrong!”

The Singapore Grip, starring David Morrissey, starts on Sunday 13 September at 9pm on ITV.

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