Your character DS Sean Stone is an intense, blunt and pedantic detective seconded to the Missing Person’s Bureau. How does Sean take to his new job?
“One of my big things was to see how Sean has got on in the police. He’s a detective so he can’t be too much like Rain Man and completely autistic in an extraordinary way. But, nevertheless, that is what’s different about him and hopefully his ability to utilise his peculiarities, plus the missing person aspect, will make Chasing Shadows different from your normal police procedural. It’s a little like psychological profiling, Sean spots patterns in the types of people that go missing, and starts to put them into their own categories. It’s good to play. I’m just really mindful of trying to keep him like a real person.”
You took advice from a former CID detective and a forensic psychiatrist, how did they help in building the character?
“I was given a huge list of the things that Sean might be interested in. It’s kind of a list of anything because if you’re on the autistic spectrum, there are so many things you can become fascinated with. I think everyone’s got it a little bit, hobbies are it, but it’s just turned up to a bigger degree.
“I suggested that Sean would have a real interest in model making, it was one of the things on the list, and I thought it’d be a nice thing to have in his flat. So Sean has all these little Airfix kits that require patience, time and absolute precision. They’re little planes to start with, but as we go on they have a bit more detail, things like little old cathedrals.”
Is this kind of obsessive behaviour something you can identify with…?
“I am kind of a little bit like that actually. That wouldn’t be far removed from the kind of things I have in my house. I collect magic memorabilia so I can understand his obsession and passion for things like that.”
Can you tell us a little bit about Sean’s relationship with his partner, civilian senior analyst Ruth Hattersley (played by ER and Doctor Who star Alex Kingston)?
“It’s a nice dynamic because Ruth’s totally taken by surprise at being saddled with Sean. But it slowly dawns on her how to deal with him. When you’re watching, you might think: ‘Does he like her?’ But we don’t resolve that in these episodes.”
You made the transition from comedy into primetime drama with ITV’s The Widower earlier this year. How are you finding the change in direction?
“I thought I could do it, but I didn’t think I would get it, I thought they’d get a famous ITV face to do it, then Chasing Shadows came straight after. It was a very happy accident that I was in the room when they thought of me for Sean. I’m not an off-the-peg actor, I think, so it’s unusual to have me do this part, but in a good way, I hope!”
You’re making another series of your macabre BBC2 comedy anthology Inside Number Nine. Have you always been attracted to the darker side of life ?
‘Even as a kid I loved things like The Two Ronnies, but I was always cherry-picking the things that were more grisly such as when they did a Sweeney Todd-type sketch. Steve Pemberton and I have tried to write lighter things that are just straight comedy, but we feel there’s something missing if we haven’t got suspense or a twist that surprises the audience. We enjoy writing things that we’d enjoy watching and they’re always the things that make you sit up. You have to work harder at our comedy because comedies where you can sit back and let them wash over you are just not us.”