Line of Duty season 5: Martin Compston's ‘party flat’ and more of AC-12’s Secrets From the Set

Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure, new cast member Rochenda Sandall and showrunner Jed Mercurio, reveal what goes on behind-the-scenes of the cult show.

By Sophia Moir Published: 25 March 2020 - 2.38pm
Instagram / Vicky McClure Line of Duty behind the scenes

Before Bodyguard, there was Line of Duty - and believe us when we say that if you liked that, you’ll absolutely love this.

The gripping police drama, which originally aired on BBC Two but has since found its home on BBC One, recently returned to our TV screens for series 5 - much to fans’ anticipation after a two-year wait.

Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure, who play the three key members of AC-12, all returned for the fifth series alongside new cast members Rochenda Sandall and Stephen Graham.

Showrunner Jed Mercurio - responsible for creating the "best British drama of the decade" - is once again is back at the helm.

Promoting the new series of Line of Duty, the cast revealed to BT TV and other journalists what it was really like to film the fifth series of the show, confessing the Secrets from the Set. You can also jump to a specific section from the list below.

***SPOILERS for Line of Duty seasons 1-4 ahead***

'Panicking' when you get your hands on the script

Line of Duty season 5 BBC One

With everyone from the Caddy to DI Denton getting killed off over the years, even AC-12 are quaking in their police boots when it comes to finding out whether their character will survive another series.

The trouble is, they don’t get the script for every episode of the upcoming series, so they might not find out whether they’ve made it or not until right at the very end of filming.

Adrian Dunbar, who plays Superintendent Ted Hastings, explained: “We don’t get all the scripts, so the first thing you do is check that you’re not dead.

“So we get a part of the story, which is great, because you go in to shoot the first block, the first three or four episodes, you’re not making decisions based on some arc of where you’re going to end.

“I think it keeps it very immediate, it keeps it very alive in terms of when we’re filming it, so yeah it seems to work.”

Dunbar’s on and off-screen comrade Vicky McClure, who plays DS Kate Fleming, said the cast “panic” when they get their scripts - and not just for themselves, but for each others’ characters, too.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s certain scripts you look at, and you look at your own part first, whereas with Line of Duty you want to look at what everyone is doing," she said.

“We’ve been on this now for seven or eight years and we’re invested in each other, the characters, what Jed’s created, what’s returning, everything. So you don’t want to fast forward, you want to enjoy the suspense.”

One member of AC-12 who’s had his fair share of near-misses through the years is Martin Compston, who plays the third member of the dynamic anti-corruption trio: DS Steve Arnott.

The Scottish actor jokingly suggested that the show’s creator and showrunner Jed Mercurio has it in for him, considering what his character has endured through the four series.

Compston said: “In the first series, I had the fingers in the vice coming off, and then I was framed for murder, I thought it was somebody else’s turn this year.

“Me and Vicky were both filming in Glasgow, and I don’t like reading other scripts when we’re filming something else, so Vicky had read it before me, she went ‘have you read episode 3?’ and I went ‘No I’ve not read it’ and she went ‘Ohhhhhhh’.

“I started to really panic, and I text Jed, and what made it worse is that he went ‘Don’t panic, it will be alright’ and I went ‘What is going on?!’”

Of the secrecy levels around the scripts, Compston says: “The secrecy levels definitely have gone up.

“During the first series you just got sent a pack, now you get passwords and all that sort of thing, you get your names watermarked so we don’t share it and stuff.

“Rightly so, because I think people like the idea of going ‘oh I could find out’, but nobody wants to spoil it for themselves, and I’ve really found that with the media as well. Nobody’s really given anything away.”

Nailing the tricky dialogue - including those interrogation scenes

Speaking of scripts, one of Mercurio’s winning formulas with the show is to keep audiences on their edge of their seats right until the end of an episode with a watertight script.

It’s something he did successfully with Line of Duty series 1-4, then Bodyguard, and now with Line of Duty series 5.

Compston admits that the script for Line of Duty, which can include lengthy interrogation scenes - like that with Keeley Hawes (DI Lindsay Denton), above - can be tricky to learn at times.

He explains: “It’s a bizarre mix when you get the script of satisfaction of pressure of knowing as an actor your only job is to not f**k it up, because the scripts every year are so strong.

“Every year I think ‘He’s not going to do me again’, and then as you heard that beautiful 'Oh' at the end [of the episode] there, he kind of got everybody. So it’s very satisfying, but it’s been a learning curve.”

But the scripts can be especially challenging when they include a lot of information to relay to other characters.

Compston said he tries to get in the mindset of a police officer for these scenes trying to relay complex information as an officer would in real life.

He said: “Sometimes I think Jed just throws in these challenges. There was one line this year where I have five acronyms in one sentence, and I know he’s just doing it to torture me.

“We’ve all sort of learnt over the years that there’s no real cool way to say exsanguination [being drained of blood], so you kind of just go, ‘well actually it’s just information, you’re just a police officer passing it on’, so once you kind of get over that.”

In the first episode of series 5 alone, there's the line: "Is there a UCO embedded in the OCG that carried out the heroin hijack?".

Unless you've seen the first four seasons, you won't know that this translates to "Is there an Under Cover Officer embedded in the Organised Crime Group that carried out the heroin hijack?", the jargon really challenging you to keep up when you're watching.

And those interrogation scenes? Like the die-hard fans, Compston can’t quite believe how thrilling they really are.

He says: “There’s this thing of these mammoth scenes where it is just information, and somehow they’re thrilling, and you have that unbelievably annoying ‘meeep’ [of the recorder] at the start.

“I remember when I first saw it I was like ‘well that’s gonna get cut’ and then when you watch it you go ‘wow, the pressure that builds, it’s like the bell at a boxing match’, and it’s just cutting between everyone when it starts.

“It’s been very brave since series 1, and I think we were very lucky to start out on BBC Two where we could really find our identity before we went to a bigger audience, then you’ve got Vicky McClure hanging off a lorry with a machine gun [in series 3], so it’s got a bit flashy at times.

“But we’re grounded in reality. There’s maybe some spectacular verging on unrealistic scenes, but we always react to them in a realistic manner, the way the police would, so I think that’s what people love about the show.”

Winning over the police - and the public

Naturally a TV show rooted in some semblance of reality - police forces up and down the country have anti-corruption units, although they’re not called AC-12! - is opening yourself up to criticism from genuine front-line coppers.

But the cast themselves have had nothing but support from the police, according to their anecdotal evidence...

Dunbar shared: “I think the police like it, because we are so procedural, because it is so incremental. I can tell you they like it because I was on Highgate West Hill [in London] the other day, and the police came down the hill on blues and twos [blue flashing lights and two-tone sirens], and when they saw me at the bottom of the hill, they screeched to a stop, rolled down the windows and went ‘OIII!’”

And the public? Well if you thought they’d want the cast to share all the insider secrets, you’d be very much wrong, fella, because frankly nobody wants to know what happens until the show airs.

Dunbar confessed: “Well you know you’re never going to get anything out of me. The interesting thing is, you’d imagine that the public want to find stuff out, but actually the reality is that people come up to me and say ‘I love the show, it’s fantastic, but don’t tell me anything!’, because I do think that people like to watch it in the moment as it goes out live.

“I think they like to be there knowing everybody else is watching it at the same time, they’re all going through those moments together, then the next day everybody gets together and talks about it. I think it’s got to that place where that happens, so I think people actually don’t want to know, which is really interesting in itself isn’t it?”

Martin Compston's Belfast party flat

The cast all relocate to Belfast for Line of Duty filming, saying goodbye to their friends, family, and normal life for months on end (usually August-December each year).

But the three lead cast in particular try to create a makeshift home life during filming, and they must be best mates off-screen too - because they live next door to each other!

And it sounds like McClure is very much the leader of the three AC-12 musketeers.

Compston explained: “We have some sort of space [away from each other] but Vicky makes sure she organises mine and Adrian’s lives.”

Dunbar agreed: “We just do what Vicky tells us. We have three flats. My flat is the flat where they come to eat because I cook. Vicky’s flat is the flat we go to to learn lines, and Martin’s flat is a party flat. That’s basically how it works.”

Vicky adds: “You’re kind of desperate to get back [after filming], because it’s Christmas, and I want to decorate my house! I think we wrapped on the 16th [of December], which was a bit of a push for me.

“If we wrapped in April, it would be kind of weird. We’ve all got our families, and it’s always nice to get home.

“I’m a home-bird and the good thing is, I love these two guys to bits, we do look after each other, we do cook for each other, we do help each other with lines even if we’re not in that scene, we have a laugh.

“That to me is the most important part of any job , because if you’re working with people you don’t necessarily get on with, it’s hard work. So as much as Line of Duty is hard work, the dialogue and the hours, apart from that, it’s the dream job.

“It is nice to get home, but I miss them, I really miss them! [To Martin and Adrian] It was really bad the year before, do you remember? I was pretty emotional! It was a bit dramatic, I’m an actor, it’s what I do.”

New cast members upping the ante on set

Line of Duty season 5 cast members BBC One

Series 5 of Line of Duty introduces the new characters of John Corbett (played by the acclaimed Stephen Graham, from Save Me and This Is England) and Lisa McQueen (played by Rochenda Sandall, of Girlfriends and Broken game), both above.

The arrival of Graham on set in particular took the pressure of the production up a notch.

McClure explained: “I’ve worked with Stephen a lot, and he’s one of my best mates, so I’m very lucky that I’ve known him this long, but knowing he was coming on the show, the minute I heard about it I just went ‘oh God, we’re all going to have to pull our socks up again’.

“You know, he’s a powerhouse, he’s something else, and you can see that from the minute he steps on screen so I was absolutely buzzing. I’ve got to say, there’s not an awful lot with me and Ste in this, which is fine, I’ve done my bit with him.”

Of Graham’s character, Compston adds: “He’s the most dangerous guy we’ve come up against, by far, and Stephen’s just a force of nature as an actor, you know? So, it was great to have him on set, because it sort of lifts the game when he’s on.

“I saw the first episode, and Rochenda and Stephen together, they’re genuinely scary. It’s kind of weird because I know what happens, and I’m going ‘oooof!’

“But it’s good, because us three go straight back into the AC-12 groove, but you’re thinking ‘you’re really up against it this time’. I think a few bullets will fly.”

Sandall, on the other hand, couldn’t believe it when she got the role and described the cast and crew (pictured below with Graham and Compston off-set) like a “massive family”.

She revealed: “As an actor, it’s a total dream come true. I couldn’t believe it when I even got an audition for the show, let alone get the actual job. Everyone on it is a massive family, it’s really like coming into open arms. We had such a laugh, didn’t we?”

And her story about how she celebrated is pretty epic - she went on a mad Ikea haul, as you do.

She confessed: “I was on the way to Ikea to buy some wardrobes when I got the call [to say I got the role], so I went for the more expensive wardrobes.

“I totally lost it in the car, and then I went all around Ikea and I bought loads of unnecessary candles, and a stuffed elephant for my nephew.

"Then I went and had some Swedish meatballs just to top it off, and a glass of wine. It was fantastic, truly a celebration.”

Of her character, Sandall says: “You don’t necessarily find out her personal back story, you never really see the true self of Lisa, you see a few little snippets, but we decided her backstory together.

“She probably ended up in this line of work, because it’s quite unusual for a woman to be in this line of work, by shipping drugs across county lines as a teenager, and because she was so good at it, she’s raced up through the ranks.

“I do wear a balaclava, but I’ve got a special girlie one. [jokes] when I take it off, glitter falls out! I got one to fit my barnet in, yeah. It was great pulling it off for the first time. Epic.”

Catch up on Line of Duty seasons 1-5 with the BBC iPlayer app.