James Nesbitt stars as Tony Hughes in eight-part drama The Missing (BBC1, Tuesday), playing a British man whose six-year old son Oliver is abducted while on a family holiday in France.

Following two timelines – one in the aftermath of Oliver’s disappearance in 2006 and one in the present day – the series follows Tony and his ex-wife Emily (Mr Selfridge star Frances O’Connor) as they continue the hunt for their son eight years after he went missing… 


That’s some impressive stubble you have there!


“Yes this is the best fake stubble in the world! It took two hours to put this on and it’s a bit itchy, but it’s so important because the action switches so rapidly between 2006 and 2014. This stubble is supposed to make me look eight years older, but when you get to my age it’s just feels like one old mess!”


A bit of Botox?


“No not yet! We’ll see how the show does in America.”


What’s it been like to film?


“It’s a gruelling job at times because of the material, but the scripts are so wonderful that it really is a fantastic project to be involved with. We have one director over all eight episodes which is really rare and means we can really build characters and relationships, which will hopefully transmit to the screen.”

Your character loses his child, when you were preparing for the role did it help being a dad yourself?

“You use bits of that, but the scripts are very strong. But this is a kind of story that we are familiar with in Britain and it’s something anyone with children will instantly be able to relate to. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.”

How have you found the shoot?

“Well it helps that we filmed it mostly in sequence. Obviously it’s not possible for the whole thing, but we mostly shot the 2014 stuff in one go and the 2006 stuff after that which really gives you the chance to get into the character… I think if we’d have done 2014 at the end it would have killed us. The 2006 stuff was slightly easier because the emotions are so raw at that stage. By 2014 a lot has happened to them all.”


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What kind of a man is Tony in 2014?


“He has changed enormously into this isolated, driven, obsessed, alcoholic… a wreck, but still hugely driven by the need to find out what’s happened to his son. That was hard at times I have to say.”


Is Tony more tortured because he was the one who lost Oliver?


“Well, that never leaves him. He lives with that for the rest of his life. He says to Emily in the aftermath of the abduction. ‘I was holding his hand and then I wasn’t’. That’s the guilt that will haunt him for the rest of his life and what drives him to try and find out what happened.”


Most parents have had that moment when they lose their child for a few seconds…


“Absolutely, it’s happened to me in the supermarket a few times. A lot of the time they weren’t lost they were running away from me and I find them in aisle 14 by the Haribo. But when it happens to a parent, it’s just a moment of horror. It’s the not knowing which is the worst bit. But I think an actor who didn’t have a child would be able to locate that feeling. Tony’s wife has tried to move on and build some sort of life, but he’s just stuck. It’s a sad story, but also there are bits that are a testament to the human spirit and our instinct not to give up… but, yeah, there aren’t a lot of laughs!”


Did you ever get lost when you were a child?


“Yes I got lost when I was very little at Butlins and was looked after by the redcoats for a while, but I remember that being very frightening.”


What did you mother say when she found you?


“She was delighted to get a break from me I think!”


Were you aware of how the series ends from the start? 


“No, we weren’t actually. That script was delivered quite late, which was interesting.”

Presumably you were hoping for a positive outcome?

“Well you hope for your character that there’ll be some sort of resolution. But then for Tony you wonder if there’s ever going to be a resolution for him because he’s so far gone. He’s gone, but still very focused which is an odd juxtaposition of someone who’s lost everything. Yet the one thing that keeps him going through the eight years is the desperation to find out what happens to Oliver.”


How does Tony go about searching for Oliver?


“I strike up a relationship in 2014 with Julian Baptiste, a retired French detective who worked the case in 2006. It’s an unlikely relationship, but it’s one, they sort of need each other. It sort of rescues Tony for a while.”


What can you tell us about Tony’s life before the abduction?


“I think Tony had a difficult childhood. He had a difficult relationship with his father and saw his father treat his mother very badly. As a result of that he’s incredibly protective of family. He’s prone to violence at times, but will do anything to protect his family. But he’s a loving husband and devoted father and he builds a wall of protection round his family and would go to extremes if he thought that was being threatened.”


You say he’s prone to violence, are we going to see him kicking ass in the way Liam Neeson does in Taken when his daughter is kidnapped?


“It’s not quite the same! As much as I love Liam and as well as he’s done from Taken… And I’ve drunk some very good pinot noir courtesy of his takings from Taken!”