Nicola Walker on how divorce lawyer Hannah Stern's personal and professional lives collide as legal drama The Split returns...
When we were invited on location for The Split, we figured we’d be off to the swanky London offices that double for Noble Hale Defoe, the high-flying family law firm at the centre of the BBC1 legal drama.
Instead, we’re on London’s Hampstead Heath where the opening scenes for series two are being filmed, as the show’s central character Hannah Stern (Nicola Walker), sisters Nina (Annabel Scholey) and Rose (Fiona Button) and their formidable mother Ruth (Deborah Findlay) scatter the ashes of the siblings’ late father Oscar following his death at end of the last series.
“It’s all very sad,” says actress Nicola. “But then I also keep laughing about how our writer, Abi Morgan, has written a scene where a load of lawyers dispose of their father’s ashes on Hampstead Heath. I’m sure it’s illegal!”
It’s three months on and, while Hannah and Nathan’s (Stephen Mangan) marriage appears to be back on track, she still can’t forgive her husband for his past “indiscretions” and is now having a full-on affair with old flame Christie (Barry Atsma) in secret.
Could the divorce lawyer’s own marriage be in jeopardy? We chatted to The Split star Nicola, 49, to find out more…
Does Hannah almost feel her affair with Christie is ‘fair game’ after her husband Nathan cheated on her?
“I’m not sure Hannah truly knows what she’s doing. On the one hand, she’s justifying it to herself that ‘this is different’ because it’s Christie and because she’s loved him for a long time. But, at the same time, Hannah’s guilt-ridden; she and Nathan are still living together and she still loves him, too! It’s all very complicated.”
What is it about Christie that Hannah can’t keep away from?
“Hannah’s known Christie since she was practically a baby. It’s all connected to her being 19 and a different version of herself and how she never got to see who that person might be. It’s a fantasy. He’s untouched by having three children, jobs, school runs and shouts of: ‘Who’s bought milk?’ For Hannah, Christie belongs to a time when there were all kinds of possibilities.”
Hannah deals with infidelity every day in her work as a divorce lawyer…
“She does, which means she knows exactly how to conduct an affair without getting caught! In her job, she’s learned some pretty important rules about covering your tracks and deleting messages… like always remembering to get rid of the ones that are in your trash!”
How is Hannah getting on with her mother Ruth and her sisters, Nina and Rose, this series?
“Family life is still at the heart of this show in that the most important story running through it is the relationship between the sisters and with their mother. There’s a lot of secrecy this year. They’ve all got secrets that mean they don’t come together. So for the first half of this series, they’re not really supporting each other because they’ve all got their own problems.”
Donna Air (Byker Grove) and Ben Bailey Smith (Brief Encounters) play the main ‘couple at war’ this series. What’s their story?
“Fi (Donna) and Richie (Ben) are the perfect media couple that seems to have it all. They’re ‘Instagram perfect’ when, in actual fact, behind closed doors, it’s all falling apart. In her job, Hannah’s seen lots of very messy divorces that are emotionally manipulative. But when Fi comes to see Hannah, she’s immediately concerned that Fi is in an abusive and toxic relationship. As Hannah gets heavily involved, Fi’s finally got someone in her corner. And that’s when things start to turn very ugly…”
Would you say this story is particularly relevant in the #MeToo era?
“The issue of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) is at the heart of this series. These are signed documents that are considered very useful for people who want to protect themselves and keep up a wall of silence around their actions. We explore exactly what they are – and why they shouldn’t exist!”
What feedback did you get from the public about the first series of The Split?
“It’s funny, I know Stephen once had someone shout out on the street: ‘How could you do that to Hannah?’ Then I’d be in the supermarket and the lady on the checkout would say: ‘Are you still seeing Christie?’ and I’d have lots of other women telling me Hannah should ‘have an affair with the Dutch guy’.”
And now she is! Surely this isn’t going to end well…
“Well, as we all know, you can’t keep a secret like that forever and things do come out. In this situation, there is only one way for things to go… and that’s down! Because of her job, she’s knows exactly how this will end up. There are always major consequences for all involved because that’s the nature of affairs and divorce.”
The Split returns on Tuesday February 11 at 9pm on BBC1.