Guilt: In conversation with Mark Bonnar

Guilt - Mark Bonnar

Tell me about your character, Max?

Max is an ex lawyer, who has just come out of prison after being found guilty of, we imagine the manslaughter rather than murder, of a man who was knocked over and killed at the beginning of series one, while Max’s brother Jake (Jamie Sives) was driving the car. Max was pissed and it was his car, so Max eventually, after trying to avoid it for the whole series, went to prison. He’s on his uppers and trying to find a way back, but there are ulterior motives at work.

Has the character changed in the two years since we last saw him?

Well, Max has changed significantly, in that he has seen things on the inside that have changed him as a person. I think he still has the same overall characteristics that he had before. He’s still out for number one the majority of the time but I think there’s a slither more empathy to his character than there was before and he’s certainly not as confident.

At the opening of series two we see Max coming out of prison. As far as we can see he’s trying to find a way to get his life back on track, for which he initially uses Roy Lynch (Stuart Bowman), who took Max’s business when Max went inside, and then he teams up with Emun Elliot’s character Kenny, and they form a kind of legal firm together. But all is not as it seems, as it usually isn’t with Max.

I think his outlook is quite bleak to begin with, but Max is a survivor if anything, and he is very clever and knows how to manipulate situations to his advantage, so he wont be on his uppers forever.

What can you tease about Max’s story arc this time?

All is not as it seems at the beginning…

What is it about the character that you love playing so much?

What I enjoy about playing Max the most is that he can turn on a sixpence if the situation requires, and that’s a very sexy, devilish quality we all admire and sometimes take a short intake of breath and a little gasp to admire. SO even though he’s kind of naughty, that’s what we like about him, so these things are enjoyable to play.

I think he’s very high energy and fast thinking. He is veraciously clever, manipulative and a survivor, who is comfortable in all companies. He is able to turn situations to his advantage and he knows how to transform himself, chameleon wise, to adapt. You can kind of put Max into any situation and he’d probably be able to talk his way out of it if he had to, and I think that’s a fascinating quality to have as a human being. It’s an exciting, immersive thing to be able to play as an actor. Putting that kind of personality into very different situations as Neil [Forsyth] has, especially in this series, to have him thinking on his feet so much, and have so many plates to be spinning at the same time, much more than series one really, is just something that I relish.

Kenny and Max are a very interesting dynamic duo this series – how would you describe their working relationship?

Very much father and son. I think it changes considerably as the series goes by, the dynamic. I don’t think Max can be bothered with Kenny at the outset. I think he’s solely using him for the purposes he’s using him for, to get ahead. He’s got to start at the very very bottom, and Kenny’s the very very bottom, so Max puts up with him, but I think as time goes by, Max begins to respect Kenny and even kind of admire him in a way, and it’s a kind of lovely journey that they go on.

How does he feel about teaming up with Kenny?

Kenny is a means to an end initially but then I think Max’s attitude changes slightly towards Kenny. He begins to like and respect him as the series progresses.

The first series was such a huge success and got everyone talking about it. How much persuasion did you need to do a sequel?

How much persuasion did I need? None whatsoever! It was a joy to do the first series, and the prospect of playing Max again, probably for the rest of my life, would appeal. This series was especially appealing as he gets thrown into very different situations than he occupied in the first series, so it didn’t take any persuasion at all. I was kind of chomping at the bit for Neil (Forsyth) to write another one!

What was it like reuniting with the cast?

It was great. We love Guilt, we love the show and we love playing our characters – myself and Emun, who the majority of my stuff was with this time, had a real blast. I love Emun’s character, I love Kenny. I love where he started and I love what he’s become. He’s a real emotional foil for Max. Max can’t help but like Kenny, certainly towards the end. I think he thinks he’s just a facilitator to use, but by the end he’s very fond of him and admires him, his straightforward simplicity and his own ambition. Albeit, Max would say on a smaller scale than his own.

So you enjoyed teaming up with Emun Elliot again in this series?

It’s been a joy – me and Emun have worked together, probably five time. And we’re very close, as are me and Jamie, we’re very close on and off set, we’re a sort of brotherhood. It’s always a joy to work with Emun because he cracks me up, and I think what he’s done with Kenny this series is remarkable, because it was remarkable what he did in the first series, him being an alcoholic, and then suddenly becoming an ace detective. But this series, as there is for all of us, there’s a whole new strand to Kenny’s persona in the shape of Rochelle and his relationship with her, and it’s fantastic to see that blossom, you know? Yeah, it’s just a joy working with Emun, always.

How does this series differ from the first?

Well there’s a raft of new characters. Probably because of what’s happening, the pace of the second series is different to the first. It’s more of a slow build, whereas in the first series, you had a hectic beginning and then a various degrees of scrambling to cover up, but in this series it starts with Max as low as you can get and he scrambles up from there, hopefully.

Mark Bonnar

How have the events of series one changed Max?

He’s spent two years inside, which has really changed him. It would change anybody, but it’s given Max new impetus. The fact that he’s even in there in the first place gives him a new impetus. As he comes out, we subsequently find the reasons behind that impetus are very strong, not altogether legal, but I think he’s invariably and indelibly changed from the first series. In the first series he had it all, in this series he has absolutely nothing, so in a sense we see him at his most vulnerable and naked. He’s back to surviving on his wits, really, in a different way.

Do you think Max is capable of feeling guilt? It feels like a more apt title for the second series would be Revenge!

Oh! I think yes, I think he is capable of feeling guilt, he’s a human being like all the rest of us. I think he buries things like that very deep, because he thinks those kinds of things get in the way of other, more important tasks. But I think if you probed deep enough, you would find guilt there, of course, although I think he’s intensely practical and is able to put things, that would otherwise slow the rest of us down, to the back of his mind. He just gets on with looking out for number one!

There are perhaps even more strands to this than there were in series one – do you think this is a more ambitious and complex series?

I think that’s definitely the case. It has more story strands to it, it’s a kind of different beast in that way. Max is put into situations where he either finds himself there or is there by an act of grace, or engineers situations that are very different from series one, and that’s part of the joy of this series as well – there’s potentially more of an emotional journey for Max.

Are you like Max in any way, or do you feel like he’s a very long way away from you?

Well, he’s in me, as every character I play has to be really, they’re all in there, otherwise it wouldnae be me playing them! But I think he’s – as every actor would answer this way, I suppose – certainly a grossly inflated part of some of my characteristics – at least I hope they’re grossly inflated.

There’s a sense of dark humour and comedy to this subject matter at times – is that something that appeals to you, in this role and when you’re looking for parts generally?

I think always – I think that’s life, isn’t it? We all have drama in our lives, but what you do when you’re confronted with drama, often, is lighten it by humour. You cope by laughing – not at certain situations, but in certain situations. The most obvious being giggling at a funeral – that’s what we as humans do, so I think it certainly appeals to me if I’m lucky enough to be offered a part, where there might be humour spread throughout the seriousness because that’s more human to me.

Are you particularly proud to be involved in something so successful that has been produced in Scotland, with a Scottish team?

I’m very proud to be a part of it. The reaction we received following the first series was that people were proud that Scotland had produced it, and that we showed we could produce something that is grown up, thought provoking, funny, and looks spectacular. I think it punches way above its weight, and that really instilled a real sense of pride in a lot of people in the business, as well as elsewhere.

The feedback that I got on Twitter was really fantastic, people likening it to the likes of Fargo, and those darker elements that it has, that look that it has, that very specific widescreen was sort of a first really for a Scottish drama, to all intents and purposes, so I think there was a real sense of pride about it, which made me proud to have helped to bring that to the small screen.

Without pre-empting anything that might happen in this series, would you like to come back for a third run and play Max again?

Of course! You wouldn’t need much tempting, you’d have to beat me off with a stick!

Where to watch Guilt

Guilt seasons one and two are available on BBC iPlayer.