7 Questions with… COBRA's Robert Carlyle and Victoria Hamilton - 'Him being a Tory was very interesting'

A national emergency, political backstabbing and tumultuous personal lives combust in this tense, nail-biting thriller on NOW TV.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 11 March 2020 - 9.44am
Sky UK Ltd

COBRA is available to watch on NOW TV

What's the more unlikely aspect of the new Box Set political thriller COBRA – a solar storm causing a national crisis with a total power blackout? Or the fact we have a charismatic Prime Minister with a desire to do what’s right for the country.

Joking aside, the six-part drama is a true edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster, which presents a very human-story in Whitehall under the most extreme circumstances and pressure.

Robert Carlyle plays Conservative leader Robert Sutherland, a recently elected Prime Minister who suddenly finds himself at the centre of a national crisis, where his every decision could have catastrophic consequences.

Not only does he have the fate of the country in his hands, he’s also got wolves in his own political party and cabinet waiting for their moment to strike. Most notably, the deliciously dastardly Home Secretary Archie Glover-Morgan, played with relish by David Haig.

Luckily for Sutherland, he does have one loyal friend by his side, the brilliantly intelligent and sharp Chief of Staff Anna Marshall. Played by Victoria Hamilton, Anna is wily enough to protect the PM from the antics of the Home Secretary. However, her personal life is more complicated and old relationships are reigniting and stirring up trouble on all fronts.

BT TV caught up with the cast of COBRA at the series launch to ask seven burning questions about the thriller...

1. Can you tell us who you play in COBRA?

Robert Carlyle as the Prime Minister facing the press in Sky One's COBRA Sky UK Ltd
COBRA

Robert Carlyle: Robert Sutherland is the Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservative Party. It's not made explicit but he's probably only been PM for about 18 months or two years. This event, this solar storm that happens, is the first real test of his mettle: he has to hold his party and his country together through this tragic events that unfold.

At the same time he has a daughter who has just graduated from university up at St Andrews. She goes to a party and her best friend takes drugs and lapses in to a coma. So of course the press are sniffing around trying to figure out what actually happened and whether the daughter was to blame in any way for this. The s**t is basically hitting the fan all around and it’s a question of whether he's going to survive. Because as we know all too well from recent times, politics can be a horrible, dangerous game.

Victoria Hamilton: I play Anna Marshall who is chief advisor to the Prime Minister, played by Robert Carlyle.

The worst case scenario happens and the country goes in to meltdown. You meet the Prime Minister and his chief of staff at a point of huge crisis where not only do they have to make virtually impossible political decisions but they are also trying to control and maintain their family life and their personal relationships. I feel COBRA is as much a study of what being in positions of power does to their lives as much as it is obviously a fantastic thriller.

It’s a race against time to save the country from this terrible geographical event and its consequences.

2. Did you find parts of the scripts troubling?

A catastrophe has taken place in Sky One's COBRA Sky UK Ltd
COBRA

Carlyle: Absolutely. Especially as I'm working in Vancouver at the moment. They are very aware here that they’re living on a fault line and there's an earthquake that’s overdue. My kids have had two earthquake drills this year. That obviously makes you worry. But then to answer your question, I'm always worrying! You think, "Jesus Christ. If something like this happened what would you actually do?" You think, have you got any back-up for this? If this was to happen, what would you and your family do to get through it?

[Our] garage is actually full of stuff. Bottles of water and various kinds of powdered food and gas burners and stuff like this. My wife started to put all this together when I was gone and I was like, "Are you mad? Are you crazy?" and she said, "No. We're probably not going to need it, but just in case." So I'm one of the few people that's prepared for something like a solar storm, God forbid.

3. What did you learn from making COBRA?

Robert Carlyle getting out of a helicopter as Robert Sutherland, the PM, in Sky One's COBRA Sky UK Ltd
COBRA

Carlyle:  I've always known that politics is a murky business. With this what really comes across is how much everybody's out to get you. It doesn't matter what you're going through at the time; it doesn't matter what your personal life is like; it doesn't matter what's going on with the country: they're out to get you. There are many, many people trying to climb the greasy pole and they’re willing to do anything to clamber above you.

When we were filming, Theresa May was going back and forth to Brussels trying to negotiate and I felt for her. I looked at her and looked at her face. I mean her voice was gone. She looked like she was disappearing, just vanishing as a human being. As one human being to another, you've got to feel for that.

That's what’s happening with Sutherland to a certain extent as well. People within his party are more than willing to throw him under the bus. The friends that you've got within your political world are very few and far between and so you keep them very close. Of course, that's the relationship then between myself and Anna (Hamilton). Those two are inseparable.

4. In a world where there are so many terrible events, where is the humanity in COBRA? 

Victoria Hamilton as Anna Marshall in Sky One's COBRA Sky UK Ltd
COBRA

Carlyle: It comes through the characters. It's very much character-driven: even though it's called COBRA and there’s this solar storm and plane crashes and all the stuff I think it's the characters that take you through this.

You see that Sutherland has this terrible, terrible sadness for what his daughter is going through. You see he's a Prime Minister, but he's still a father. I really love that part of it because I've got a daughter myself and I could understand that at the end of that day that's all that matters to you.

5. Are these events genuinely possible?

Victoria Hamilton and Robert Carlyle in Sky One's COBRA during a tense meeting Sky UK Ltd
COBRA

Hamilton: Apparently it’s a real thing, a real possibility. In fact when we filming there was a piece in the papers about the possibility of it happening. I remember going into the make-up truck and sending the article to the producers and going, “Oh my God. Oh my God”. You google it and there are 10 examples of how it’s happened or could have happened in the last decade.

6. Anna's wardrobe is spectacular…

Hamilton: Yes! I had great clothes, they looked fab. I loved it. I had an absolute ball but that was mainly because she is such a great part. As a woman in her 40s to be given a part that has so many different dimensions to it is wonderful. It’s such a gift to show somebody who is seemingly that powerful and then to be able to flip that character over and show her vulnerabilities as well and her challenges. I cannot tell you how rare it is to be given the opportunity to play someone like that.

The roles have got much better for women recently, but what’s been happening over the last 10 years is a lot of the time what you get to do now is just very be tough. You get to play the head of something but what you would be showing is ‘Look! A tough, strong woman in charge of things.’ What’s amazing is to get given a part where not only are you in a position of power and you’re intellectually on a par with everybody else, but then you’re also given the chance to show all of the sides of that person.

7. Robert and Anna have such a close bond. What it was like working together?

Robert Carlyle as the Prime Minister, flanked by Victoria Hamilton as his chief of staff. Sky UK Ltd
COBRA

Hamilton: Fantastic. Him getting his head round being a Tory was very interesting to watch! A couple of the rooms we filmed in were in these old houses, with very, very posh rooms full of beautiful furniture.

He said to me, ‘I bet you’re used to this, aren’t you, after two years on The Crown?’ I told him I’ve filmed a painful amount of period drama in rooms like this my whole career. He said, ‘The only time I’ve ever filmed in rooms like this is if I’m playing someone who’s breaking into them to nick stuff’. He’s brilliant.

Watch the COBRA Box Set with NOW TV.