7 Questions with… Shaun Dooley: ‘I really struggled with my mental state’ while filming Innocent season 2

Shaun Dooley opens up about his mental health, the parallels between Covid and the Aids crisis, and how proud he is that he and Innocent co-star Katherine Kelly both hail from Barnsley.

By Becky Gamester-Newton Published: 6 May 2021 - 11.17am
ITV Shaun Dooley stars in Innocent

“I don’t know how to answer that question without getting angry at the state of the world,” says Shaun Dooley.

It’s a recurring theme in our chat with him. He is sat down (virtually, of course) to talk about his latest project – playing DI Mike Braithwaite in the second season of ITV crime drama Innocent, but frequently went off-piste to discuss his thoughts on the big issues of today, blinking away tears on a couple of occasions as he talked about the heartbreak of being away from his family and his frustration at trying to keep his daughter safe in a dangerous world.

He also talked about the state of his mental health during filming, his pride at the success of Channel 4 drama It’s a Sin and at linking up with his fellow Barnsley actor Katherine Kelly.

1. How did you build the character of Mike?


Initially… just working on the script and what anybody says about him in the script, what he says about himself and his environment and his past, creating a kind of back story for the character.

Then I watched a lot of documentaries which helped… I watched a lot of documentaries that were set within CID units. I narrated a series called The Detectives on BBC so I went back and watched those. I just tried to take elements of different characters from that.

I was going to speak to someone about grief. I’ve got friends who’ve had horrific grief. I chose not to, because I feel a big responsibility when you’re trying to portray a character that you do them justice.

You should try your damnedest to be as real as possible. I didn’t want to speak to anybody who’d gone through anything like that because I was scared I couldn’t portray it as truthful as they got through it. And I also didn’t want them or anybody I spoke to to then watch this show and go "Oh, that’s me he’s channelling".

Any job I do, my wife and kids come out and see me or I go home and if I’ve got any time off, a couple of days off, I fly home, I see my family and I go back. We were meant to go this summer with the kids, my wife and kids were coming out, we were gonna do my ancestral home and smash Ireland and all this.

And all of a sudden Covid hit. I’d never been at home for such a length of time without leaving. I’d never spent as much time consistently with my kids, and I do everything to spend as much time as possible.

Then suddenly I was going to be away for two months for the longest I’ve ever been away from them. So that caused a lot of upset.

Those first two weeks in lockdown in the apartment on my own not seeing anybody, I genuinely really properly struggled with my mental state.

I’d have my wife, just put Zoom on and leave it on in a corner, so I felt like I was at home with everybody.

I would just sit there crying. I really struggled with it.

It kind of gave me the basis of where he [Mike] is emotionally at the moment. At the very first scene he is with the CIDs facing a whiteboard and he just breathes out. We really wanted that because we wanted to show somebody that going "f**k, OK. Let’s get back into it".

Then he goes home and puts on his soul music that he loves and weeps. I think that’s was drew me to the character the most, that behind everything was a real human being going through horrific circumstances.

2. Was it nice working with Katherine Kelly, who’s also from Barnsley?


It was really, really lovely.

What’s really lovely is that Barnsley’s not the biggest place in the world.

We both come from a place where I’m sure there’s kids still there - there like I was there - who go "That's not a world for me. Acting and performance and all that is not a world I’m allowed to be in or part of a world that I’m allowed to be in".

Suddenly you’ve got an ITV drama with two people from Barnsley playing two of the leads which I’m so proud of.

I’m so chuffed that has happened because it just might give some kids somewhere the idea they’re going if they can do that, then that’s a path that I can take.

I’m proud of that with me and Kate, I really am.

It was lovely because her dad directed me in the Mystery Plays when I was 16 - she was a peasant girl at Jesus’s feet. In fact that’s the last time we worked together. I know her dad and all that so we’ve known each other for a long, long time.

To get this and to get scenes together - because in Gentleman Jack we never crossed - it’s been a long time coming. It’s lovely. She’s a top lass and I think she’s brilliant.

3. Without giving too much away, were you surprised by the ending of this series?


I was surprised. I watched the first two episodes with my wife Polly and she was coming up with loads of different things.

It drives her mad because I don’t tell her what’s happening, because I like her to experience it as much as possible as a normal human being.

I was surprised. I didn’t guess it when I read it although I know some of my fellow cast members did get it.

I think the audience will be pleasantly surprised by it, I hope. I think there’ll be a lot of guessing over who’s done it.

Even unsuspecting people you might think have done it. At the end of episode two you go, "literally anybody could have killed him apart from Sally".

4. Do you think Innocent adds to conversations about the criminal justice system in the UK?


I want so much for people to be better and for people to be decent human beings. You can only hope that maybe seeing characters being decent, such as Mike, that people will take some of those character traits and enjoy them and go, "I need to be a bit more like that".

I don’t know how it connects especially as far as the vigil [for murdered London woman Sarah Everard] and the current feeling towards law and order and everything and what’s happened through the Commons with the anti-protesting stuff, which is archaic.

I don’t know how to answer that question without getting angry at the state of the world. When it was written that wasn’t in the ether.

There’s a great book called The Power [by Naomi Alderman] – I recommend everybody to read it, it’s stunning, and they’re making a TV series of that at the moment which I think it’s great.

I just hope we can start looking at things with different angles and start reassessing ourselves - and especially men can start analysing how they behave and how their fellow males behave and dealing with stuff head on a bit more and taking responsibility for our kind.

I’ve got a son and three daughters and I’m bored of saying to my oldest girl: "You can’t go up to the park, because it’s not safe. I know it should be safe, and we’re trying to make it safer but as your dad I’ve got to keep you safe".

It’s so wrong because all that does is perpetuate the idea that instead of training the lion and getting the lion back in the cage, we’re going: "Well there’s a lion up there, so you can’t go up there".

We don’t tell people "Oh your dog bites, I’ll keep my kid away", we go "Train your dog, stop your dog from biting". And we just don’t do that with fellow human beings. We should.

5. How grateful do you feel to be in demand at the moment, having also been in It’s a Sin which aired earlier this year?


When I sat down with my children to explain to them what was going to happen for two months, their dad was going to be away for such a long time, I said: "Our worry right now is that one of your parents is going away and you’re not going to see them for two months and they’re going away to work".

The worry that the majority of people have right now is that their parents aren’t working and they’re going to be at home. I said of the two worries, this is a brilliant worry to have.

That was really good for them because they could see the other side of the coin.

I am so grateful and feel guilt at the same time for working because there are so many people out there that literally life has been put on hold for a year and have nothing whatsoever coming in and no help in an industry that puts more into the tax coffers than any other industry and have no help whatsoever. Especially the kids in theatre.

Luckily for me I was about to hit three big jobs in a row [Dooley also had a role in Netflix’s The Stranger] that were all going to happen, so had I not had them I would have been in the situation of everybody else because nothing new was happening.

I had these three jobs lined up to go over the summer and the rest of the year that meant that as soon as they could happen, they went.

I was petrified that they were going to recast Innocent because I just suddenly thought "everybody is now free, and you’ve got the pick of whoever you want out there". I said to my wife: "I wouldn’t be surprised if suddenly it’s someone else better than me because they’re now available".

Luckily they held onto me. But I am grateful, and the voiceovers as well that kept coming in and I built my own studio that I could take down in lockdown and I had the money to spend 400 quid on a mic and earphones and the equipment.

I genuinely don’t know what the state is going to be of especially regional theatre and also the amount of working-class actors who don’t have the financial backing to survive this year. I think we’re going to lose a lot of working-class creatives in this industry over the next few years I think.

It’s down to people like me and others to try and support when we can when it’s getting back to getting people working again I think – because the Government are not going to do it.

6. How did you find the reaction to It’s a Sin?

Channel 4

It was written and filmed without any knowledge of what was coming up. I think it was heightened because you were watching characters who had an illness that meant they had to be separated and isolated from the world.

But yet as a society we had no empathy. So the people who’ve got Covid and Mrs Briggs who’s suddenly over there with Covid and has be isolated from her family, we feel empathy for and we go "That’s not fair - we’ve got to get their loved ones to them, we’ve got to get food to them, that’s not fair, they should not be isolated, they can’t die alone".

We’ve all been saying this. People can’t die without seeing their families and yet 30 years previous we were quite happy to let those boys die alone – God I’m getting emotional – and die without seeing their families. And families were quite happy to let their boys die alone and pretend it was something else.

As a connection from the world we’re in now with this pandemic - that was huge I think.

But what got me the most is I took the job purely on the name of Russell T Davies and Nicola Shindler. The agent phoned me and said: "You’ve been offered this, we’re gonna send you the scripts". And I said: "Just say 'yes’".

Because the quality you know you’re going to get from them two, you would be insane to say no to. It was a straight "yes".

I then read the scripts, cried through the scripts, went to the readthrough, cried listening to those amazing young actors knock it out of the park even in the readthrough and the life that they had, the energy and life. And then filmed it, wept in the filming, and then broke my heart watching it even though I knew what was coming.

What’s been amazing has been the reaction from everybody across the board, it’s not just been the LGBTQ+ society, it’s been everybody. Anybody on the street has pulled me up over it. It’s just had such a bigger impact than what I expected and also for the HIV testing and awareness that it’s brought. I’m so proud to be part of that show.

7. What do you think you’d be like as a detective in real life?


I’d be brilliant! I would be such a good detective. Honestly, I would be amazing.

I watch all these detective shows, I’m like "Yeah yeah" and I’d be really good in interview. I’d be so good in interview.

I think that’s why we love this genre. We love this genre because all of us think we can solve the crime.

We all listen to Serial and go "Yep, I’m all over this". We all have an inherent desire.

I think it’s because we grew up with so many detective shows, we all have this inherent desire to fix it, to solve it.

I think we all think inside of us is a really great detective and a really brilliant pop star. Between those two, I’m not sure which one I’d be better at. They’re all hidden deep inside me.

Innocent season 2 begins on ITV on Monday May 17, airing each night at 9pm until its concluding episode on Thursday May 20. The series will be then available on ITV Hub and BritBox UK.