Interview with Broadchurch Producer Richard Stokes

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Q: Broadchurch is an award-winning TV drama phenomenon and a town millions feel they know. How was that brought to the screen?

Broadchurch creator and lead writer Chris Chibnall lives near the Jurassic coastline in Dorset and he would take walks along the cliffs for inspiration. When I joined the project I stayed with him so we could walk the locations he had in his mind for the script.

I then had the town, the people in it, where it was, all of those images in my mind that Chris had used as inspiration to write the first script. You can’t always put those into a line of dialogue or a line of stage direction. But you want the people making the show to be aware of the same sources of inspiration. So to be able to walk the cliffs and the beach, visit the coffee shops, all those places he had in his mind when he was writing that script, was a huge advantage.

Q: Was it always intended that the series would be a fresh take on the TV detective drama?

What Chris wanted to do was say, ‘This isn’t a traditional detective drama.’ He wanted the audience to fall in love with the area as much as he had, to see how beautiful it was and how bright it can feel. That whole idea that you can have these very powerful, moving, dark stories in bright, beautiful sunshine was something really important to Chris. He wanted that sense of the extraordinary, the tragic and the terrible to happen in a rather beautiful and moving environment.

Q: Was there a lot of public and press attention during filming?

We did get some. But we moved quite a lot. So by the time people realised we were filming and tried to find us, we’d be on the move to somewhere else. David Tennant was rather wonderfully left very much alone. Of course there were people who wanted autographs, asking him to sign things. But generally we were left alone to carry on and film as we needed to.

Q: Does Olivia Colman make a good cup of tea?

Often Olivia Colman would come into the production office. She’d be making herself a cup of tea and say, ‘anyone else want a cup of tea?’ And for the first couple of weeks we’d all leap up and go, ‘No, no, no Olivia. We should make you a cup of tea.’ And then it came to a point about two or three weeks into filming when we went, ‘Yes, a cup of tea would be lovely.’ So she’d just make the production team cups of tea and we’d make her a cup of tea. It really genuinely felt like we were all part of the same gang.

Q: Was Pauline Quirke’s screen dog really her own?

Yes. Susan Wright’s (Pauline Quirke) dog was originally written as a little terrier. Then Pauline said, ‘I do have my own dog.’ Because she was going to be away from home she needed her dog Bailey, a lovely chocolate labrador, to come with her. So Pauline sent us photos of Bailey and in one of them the dog had a comedy party hat on. Chris Chibnall saw the photos, laughed and thought, ‘That’s absolutely perfect.’ So Bailey was cast as Vince the dog.

Q: How did you go about keeping the secret of who killed Danny Latimer?

We got the cast and crew together and showed them a trailer of what we had done so far, which everyone loved. Then we were going to tell them who the killer was and what had happened.

But that morning a few people had come up to Chris and said, ‘I don’t want to know what happens until I’ve got the actual script. I want to find out as I’m reading it.’ So at the very last minute we decided not to tell everybody. They were initially quite surprised and frustrated. But then they thought, ‘Actually, that probably is a good thing.’

Q: Who else knew the secret before the script for the final episode was released?

It was a very small number of people. In the very first script meeting there was me, executive producer Jane Featherstone, Chris and Chris’s script executive Sam Hoyle, who helped Chris as a sounding board and editor in terms of plotting through everything. There were the four of us in the room.

Sam and Chris obviously knew the ending and Jane said, ‘So who did do it?’ And Chris looked at both of us, smiled and told us. And we went, ‘Oh my God, that’s brilliant. Of course, when you think about it, that’s who it must be.’ Then we absolutely kept it to a minimum. None of the actors knew. Even when they were being cast, we didn’t tell them.

Q: What can you tell us about the US re-make called Gracepoint, also starring David Tennant?

I’m not involved but James Strong is directing the opening episodes while also working on preparation for the start of filming on Broadchurch series two. So I get stories from him and also from Chris Chibnall and Jane Featherstone who are executive producers.

Q: Is there anything you can say about Broadchurch series two?

What I would say about series two is, ‘If you really want to enjoy it, don’t ask the question.’ Simply because that thrill of seeing something on telly that is a genuine surprise is so rare these days. So don’t ask what happens in series two. You’ll enjoy it much more as a result. And in the meantine you can watch series one again on ITV Encore – or discover it for the first time.

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