Stephen Graham on tackling the toughest role of his career in The Virtues and why he finally feels he’s earned his stripes

After his stand-out performance as ill-fated undercover cop John Corbett in Line of Duty, Stephen Graham is now tackling one of his most hard-hitting roles to date in Channel 4’s intense drama The Virtues.

Directed and co-written by Shane Meadows, who Stephen worked with on the award-winning This is England, the four-part series sees the actor play recovering alcoholic Joseph, who is haunted by fractured memories of his traumatic childhood in care.

Stephen Graham talks to TV Times about his harrowing role in The Virtues…

TV Times: Tell us about The Virtues

Stephen Graham: “It’s about a man who has been sober for two years but when his son is taken away, it destroys him. Unfortunately he has a drink and his repressed memories start returning. It reminds him of how his sister Anna [Helen Behan] was ripped away from him when they were in care. When he sees her again in Ireland, all his emotions flood back. Then he starts piecing together his life to see why he is a broken man today.”

TVT: Is this one of the most challenging roles you have played?

SG: “Yes, because normally people perceive my characters as violent or aggressive villains. But Joseph is a quiet, gentle everyman and a sensitive soul. It has been really great to try to find that side of the character.”

TVT: You’re going through such an amazing period in your career; do you ever pinch yourself?

SG: “Constantly! It has taken me a long time to get rid of that working class mentality where I am waiting for someone to say, ‘Excuse me mate, you don’t belong here’ and to think, ‘I deserve to be at this table’. I was filming The Irishman [Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming gangster epic with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino] recently. I phoned my wife [No Offence actress Hannah Walters] from America in bits saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I’ve got a scene with Al Pacino!’ Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be on set with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.”

Martin Compston and Stephen Graham in Line of Duty

Martin Compston and Stephen Graham in Line of Duty

TVT: What reaction have you had to Line of Duty and does it feel like a badge of honour to have been killed off by Jed Mercurio?!

SG: “Absolutely – I’ve joined that group with the likes of Danny Mays and Lennie James! But it has gone proper nuts. I’ve had people who have never been in my audience demographic coming up going, ‘I didn’t want you to die!’ It has been lovely for me to be able to show what I can do and portray a great character.”

The Virtues begins on Channel 4 on Wednesday 15 May at 9pm