7 Questions with… Guilt star Mark Bonnar: ‘I didn’t know if I’d ever work again’

In an exclusive interview with BT.com, the Scottish actor reveals he considered returning to work at the council as the pandemic hit the TV industry.

By Becky Gamester-Newton Published: 11 October 2021 - 2.51pm
Pip Mark Bonnar

Mark Bonnar is one of TV’s more familiar faces, with main roles in popular shows such as Catastrophe, Line of Duty, Unforgotten, Shetland and Casualty under his belt.

His fame grew further when Guilt became a hit for BBC Two in 2019. The darkly comedic thriller saw Mark Bonnar’s Max and his brother Jake (Jamie Sives) attempt to avoid the consequences of a hit and run.

In a BT.com exclusive, Mark spoke to BT.com about the second season – or series, as he’d insist on putting it – of the show.

*Warning: Season 1 spoilers ahead*

1. Season 1 has recently aired in the US – did you expect the show to go global?

It’s gone down really well. The press has been fantastic, and also people get in touch on social media. There's been quite a few positive voices… it’s really nice.

I knew that the themes in the show were universal themes. A lot of people have siblings. A lot of people have problematic or interesting relationships with their siblings. A lot of people in their lives at one point or another have experienced guilt or avarice or greed. So the themes of the show are pretty universal.

Not everybody’s knocked down and killed an old man, obviously! But everyone's experienced similar feelings that Max and Jake do prior to that event.

I'm thrilled that it's as popular as it is. Indeed, it's just about to be aired in France and Sweden as well - and also they're making an Indian version of it, too! So it's kind of incredible that it’s had that breadth of appeal. It's wonderful.

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That was Neil [Forsyth, the writer]’s premise for wanting to write it in the first place. Amongst many other things, he wanted to write a show that was Scottish - but not only Scottish, specifically east-coast Scottish, because that's where he's from, he’s a Dundonian.

What spurred Neil on to write something like this was the fact that he was a bit weary of seeing serious drama that didn't have any comedy in it. If something's drama, it's drama, and there's very little to laugh about in that drama.

He was constantly plagued by the thought that that’s not what life's like. We laugh at funerals and at the most serious of occasions because that's what we do that as humans. I think he wanted to write something that had a broader scope, which maintained a serious strand in the core of the story but was funny, too.

I think that's its appeal. I think that it's a truer representation of many things than out and out, straight drama.

2. Did you expect there to be a season 2? 

I didn't know. I thought that it could exist in and of itself if you wanted it to, and still could of course. But I didn't know what Neil had in mind. I didn't know whether it would be popular enough to warrant a season two, or a second series. I'm not going to call things seasons, it’s a series goddamn it!

But I didn't know if it was going to be popular enough, or if people were going to want more. But it turned out that Neil had more in mind and people did want more. So that's fantastic.

3. Where does series 2 pick up from?

Mark Bonnar BBC/Expectation/Happy Tramp North

It's a couple of years later, and Max has been in prison for what we saw happen at the beginning of series one.

It charts Max trying to get back on his feet, get some of his old life back in some way, shape or form. But he quickly realises that he can't rely on people he might once have been able to rely on.

4. Do you think being in prison has changed Max? Is there some romance in store?

Oh yes. It's definitely changed him, I think.

There is an emotional involvement that there might not always have been with his wife…

5. What was the filming experience like during Covid? 

Mark Bonnar BBC/Expectation/Happy Tramp North

It was the first job back after lockdown. So for many of the cast and crew, it was it was our first filming experience. I think things had started to go back around about October [2020] time. There had to be all kind of things put in place, like insurance.

Logistically, it was a nightmare for many of the production staff, because they have a whole swathe of extra work to do. Apart from the already tricky logistical work they do, they now have Covid protocols on top of that.

It can seriously affect a production if somebody goes down with Covid because… it can be 7 to 10 days of complete shutdown - and that, of course, is a lot of money, when you're talking tens of thousands of pounds a day cost to film. So it's a big it's a big loss to underwrite.

So we were all newbies again in November, so it was quite weird. But it kind of suited what was going on anyway in Max’s life in that he'd been isolated a long time, and then he came out. It was weird but we managed to managed to get it done.

Mark Bonnar in Guilt BBC/Expectation/Happy Tramp North

It’s set in Edinburgh but it's logistically easier to film much of it in Glasgow. We had a couple of weeks in Edinburgh and we had a couple of days in East Kilbride this time.

6. Will there be a season 3?

I very much hope there will be. I think it needs a third. I'm aware I'm being very cryptic – there’s only so much I can say!

7. Did you worry about your workload drying up over Covid?

Mark Bonnar Pip for Beaumont Communications

Yeah, of course. I didn't know if I would ever work again. I did not. None of us knew what was going to happen, did we? It was f*****g terrifying at first, and remains terrifying, to be honest. But we found a way to cope with it - some countries better than others.

But certainly, in the beginning, I was thinking: "What am I going to do? What else can I do?" I mean, there's not a lot else I can do. I can turn my hand to a few things fairly well. I've had experience working for the council way back. I could always head back to the planning department, I suppose!

I have other projects coming up. I'm not allowed to say what it is at the moment, but I'm working on something just now for ITV, which is very exciting, a fantastic story. I'm getting to do an accent for that, which is always fun.

And there's potentially something on the horizon next year, which is very exciting as well. So people haven't got bored of me yet, so I'll keep going until they do.

Guilt season 2 begins on BBC Scotland at 10pm on Tuesday October 12th, and on BBC Two at 9pm on Thursday October 14th. Episodes will also be available on the BBC iPlayer.