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7 Questions with Ridley star Bronagh Waugh: 'I want a Ridley album and a Christmas number one'
We talk to Bronagh Waugh about her new ITV series Ridley, choosing a signature 'detective's coat' for her character and co-star Adrian Dunbar's hidden talent for holding a tune.
If you love classic ITV detective series from yesteryear – Frost, Morse, DCI Banks, Vera – Ridley is going to be a must-watch this autumn.
Bronagh Waugh (The Fall) and Adrian Dunbar (Line of Duty) star as DI Carol Farman and retired detective Alex Ridley, who find themselves in rural Lancashire solving compelling cases that require the unique skills of the old mentor and young protegé.
As the series launched on ITV and the ITV Hub this August Bank Holiday, we caught up with Bronagh to find out more about this 'Northern Noir' crime drama…
1. What first appealed to you about Ridley?
I was sent two detective series at the same time, both of them to play the lead female detective in it. The thing that drew me to Carol was that she was a female character who just happened to be a woman, if that makes sense.
One of my best friends is a writer and I often say to him, just write the character as a guy and then just change the name at the end. I really fought to make Carol quite gruff, tired and haggard, because that’s what would happen to her as a boss.
She’s being pulled at work, being pulled by her wife, she shirks on responsibilities as a parent. A lot of those traits are often what we see in male characters and detectives.
I loved that we kept all of that, but she’s a woman. She’s tough, warm, funny, but also gruff. I liked that they allowed and trusted me to do that. I hate it when they ask you to "Soften it a bit" - you would never ask a man to do that.
I based Carol on my mum, who worked in IT in a male-dominated area. Nobody would dare ask her to soften things – I’d like to see them try!
2. Who chose Carol’s fantastic knitwear?
Our costume designer Claire Lynch, she’s brilliant and she came up with some really great suggestions. Originally, I think the producers were veering towards a lot of suits, but Claire and I felt that this show was very rural, it’s set in rural Lancashire, and it didn’t feel authentic to be in suits.
I wanted boots that were utilitarian, that were practical, I wanted a really practical coat and we went through a lot of coat options. We ended up calling the first episode among ourselves, #CarolsCoat.
We went through about 10 choices because we were being so picky. Detectives can have such distinctive coats. Vera has her coat and hat, Lennie James’ coat in Save Me is iconic. So we really wanted to get that right and we went for this Stutterheim, waterproof practical coat. And with the knitwear, I’m a really big fan of the The Killing and Scandi Noir. The producers had coined the phrase Northern Noir for Ridley, so it felt right to have the jumpers.
I hate it in TV shows when female characters have really implausible outfits. It’s freezing and you just think - how do you get anything done? I wanted everything super practical and warm. It’s minus-5 in most of the episodes, so it just felt more authentic and real. More like Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown and Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley. It just feels more real and authentic. That’s what great about British drama. We’re not frightened of being authentic and shying away from the glamour of things.
3. Most crime dramas these days focus on fast thrills and technology – did you like that Ridley went a different way?
We definitely tried to move in a different direction. That corner of the market has been done and nailed quite a lot. It’s quite an American style of telling stories. There has been a real fad or phase for crime drama where you let things run and run and you have to stay with something for years, before you get the satisfaction from it.
There’s something great about being able to watch an episode, finding out who did it and there’s a conclusion. We live fast-paced lives and it’s nice to have a beginning, middle and end. There is a through-line of the series with the relationship between Carol and Ridley which develops, but you can also dip in and out and watch an episode, which is I think how a lot of people watch TV these days.
4. Had you met Adrian Dunbar before?
Strangely, no. Which is weird because in Northern Ireland everyone usually knows everyone else in the arts. It’s such a small country and normally you work together or have at least bumped into each other.
The first day I met him was at the chemistry read and we got on like a house on fire. That chemistry is really important between Ridley and Carol and it was key to as whether the show would work on not.
We just clicked and Adrian and I really connected, which was perfect for the building blocks of the show. We were supposed to have 10 years of history on the show, so we needed to get that relationship just right.
5. Did you know he could sing?
I did not know this and I don’t know how. My best friend’s mum knows him and I said, "Why didn't you tell me he sang?" I guess it’s just an Irish thing, lots of people are very good at singing… just not me. Lots of other Irish people.
I wasn’t in the jazz club scenes so I got a friend to video it for me and I was very impressed, he’s very confident up there, he’s an old pro. I keep teasing him that I want a Ridley album and a Christmas number one. I want him to do a Robson and Jerome.
6. Will we ever see you up on stage with Adrian?
I want to see Carol in the jazz clubs. I think it probably drives her mad. The disorder of it. I reckon she’s more into country and bit of Dolly Parton. She was probably a Hacienda club kid and now she’s heading towards 40 she’s getting into country. Jazz probably baffles her. It would be great to see her in the club, complaining about it, and then after a lock-in, getting up for her turn, you know.
7. And on the night after Ridley, you star in The Suspect on ITV – what can you tell us about that series?
The Suspect stars the brilliant Aidan Turner and it’s wonderful. It’s about a psychologist who often works with offenders and murderers, who offers really great forensic insight into things. And he finds himself at the centre of this murder case and is implicated in the whole thing.
It’s that horror, everyone’s worst nightmare, where you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the audience are also left guessing about whether he was really involved in what has happened. It’s the perfect shroud for a murderer - working as a forensic psychologist. It’s really, really good and Aidan is brilliant in it.
I did it when the baby was a couple of months old, so it was a blur to me and I can’t wait to watch it, because I can barely remember shooting it!
Watch Ridley on Sunday nights at 9pm on ITV and the ITV Hub