Monday, 30 April 2018

Ashley Walkers & Noel Clarke talk "Bulletproof"

Two best mates. Two very different pasts. One rollercoaster mission.

Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters star as a dynamic cop duo in Sky One’s new blockbuster drama. Made by Vertigo Films (the brains behind films such as Bronson and Monsters, and TV series including Sky Atlantic smash Britannia) and created by Clarke, Walters and Nick Love (The Football Factory), the show unites big, emotional stories with blood-pumping stunt sequences as it follows Bishop and Pike, two cops who are best friends and bonded by the same moral code, despite their very different backgrounds.

Set in London, it’s a fun, authentic, action-packed ride around the city as Bishop and Pike tackle the bad guys in their own uncompromising style, all while maintaining their friendship, their relationships and taking on ghosts from the past.

Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family. These two have got each other’s backs, no matter what.

Where did the idea for the show come from?

NOEL CLARKE: I’ll let Ashley start as he actually came to me with it.
ASHLEY WALTERS: Did I? Nah, I’m joking. Yeah, I can’t put a date on it but it was several years ago.
NC: Like eight years ago.
AW: Eight years ago. We’d just met at the BAFTAs or something.
AW: BIFAs. Anyway. We’d always wanted to work together in some way and always wondered why we hadn’t. I was a big fan of Bad Boys and buddy cop movies and didn’t understand why we didn’t have anything like that over here in the UK, so I suggested to Noel that with us being at the top of our game at the time...
NC: And still, by the way...
AW:... that we create something along those lines: a show about brotherhood, with two black leads being good role models for once, because a lot of images and
characters at the time were portraying negative stereotypes. So yeah, we sat down for a few hours one day and thrashed out this idea.
NC: Then I went away and did more on it and it went from a one-pager to, like, a six-pager. And I would send it to Ashley to check, he would give me notes, and eventually we had our treatment, our basic: this is the story, this is what we want to do.

So it was really collaborative?

NC: Oh yeah, yeah. We’ve tried to do various things with it that haven’t worked out in the past, tried to set it up in different ways and different guises, but we always came back to our treatment. And eventually we met with Vertigo and they loved it, Nick Love came on board and the three of us turned it into what you see now.

You mentioned Bad Boys, and we’re used to seeing buddy cop duos in movies and TV from the US. What makes Bulletproof different?

NC: Well the very fact that you never see it here makes it original. I think we have a different sort of humour and sensibility, and it’s still a rare thing for
the police to have guns over here, so it’s unique in that way.
AW: And it’s UK through and through. It’s UK music, it’s UK slang. As much as we started with the Bad Boys idea, I think what we took from that was the relationship between the two leads, and that’s kind of the centre of everything in the show: how these two people love each other, how loyal they are to each other.
NC: You never really get that in cop shows over here, it’s always like your Inspector Morses where there’s a superior and a subordinate and they’re like, “I told you to bring the car round and get me a pack of 20 Bensons”.

There’s definitely not much of that in this show...

NC: No. “Get me a pack of 20 Bensons and a pint before we nick this fella.” These two are brothers, they’re loyal to each other and they’re on the same level. It’s a friendship I’ve never seen in a cop show on British TV. And there definitely isn’t anything that would be considered a mainstream show with two black leads where the whole point is it doesn’t matter that they’re black.

Can you tell us a bit more about your characters and their friendship?

NC: Bishop is a detective and a bit of a wildcard. He loves his job, and apart from Pike that’s all he’s got. So he puts everything into it – he’s almost obsessive when there’s a bad guy to catch. That’s his sole purpose and he doesn’t really care about much more than that, apart from the fact that he loves Pike. If he didn’t have Pike and Pike’s family, god knows what he could do. His overriding loyalty and code of honour keep him on the right side of the law, but there are elements and moments in the show where you think in another lifetime Bishop could be so different. But he stays on the right path, and a lot of that’s down to him having Pike looking out for him.
AW: Pike is the opposite. He starts off like that anyway. He wants to do everything by the book, he’s a family man, married, kids, home – he’s just a sensible kind of guy. He has a huge passion for his job, and for Bishop. He takes care of Bishop and essentially he’s there to stop him dropping off the grid.

Did the two of them meet in the police?

NC: Yeah. I think they probably met way back, like training time, and have been friends since then. They’ve been through everything together: training, uniform, all the way. And they’ve stuck with each other.

And now they work at the NCA?

AW: Yeah, and I think it’s cool the show delves into what the NCA are about because I don’t think a lot of people know. They are a mixture of all different types of police...
NC: Bishop and Pike are OCC... Organised Crime Command, or something like that. Or OCU, Organised Crime Unit. It’s one of those things, but...
AW: Or OCA, Organised Crime...
NC: Association? It’s one of those.
AW: OCO! Organised Crime Organisation!
NC: But essentially they fall under the NCA, the National Crime Agency.

Did you have to do much research?

NC: We had to learn about all the different organisations the NCA houses, and we had police training for a couple of days, we had firearms training and all of that sort of malarkey.
AW: We sat down one day with a lady that we ended up finding out had been undercover for, like, 10 years. Some serious undercover s*** man. Some of these people end up marrying when they’re observing, having kids and families.
NC: That’s deep cover.
AW: That is some deep, deep cover.

You’re both known for work that covers some tough themes. Obviously Bishop and Pike are on the right side of the law, but do you think there are any similarities
between them and characters like Dushane from Top Boy or Sam from the 'Hood films?

AW: I think that’s the whole point about life. There are similarities between criminals and the police, similarities between what you do and what I do. All that changes it is your focus and intention. As Noel said, things could have been different for Bishop. He’s got a badge though. And there are times during Bulletproof where Bishop and Pike do bend the rules in order to get their man. Does that make them right or wrong? I don’t know.
NC: Sometimes if the bad guys are going to go that far, you have to go just as far to get them – that’s where Bishop and Pike lie, I think. So there are definitely similarities with some of those characters. But I wouldn’t say this is a ‘road’ show, it’s more mainstream and broad. But they’re cool characters.

Do you have any favourite action scenes from the show?

NC: For me, the action is exciting, but the most important part of the show is the camaraderie and the love the characters have for each other. That’s what’s going to make this stand out. There’s a moment in the teaser that everyone mentions when Bishop looks at Pike and says, “I don’t know what I’d do without you”, and then Pike nods. That’s what the show’s about, their brotherhood, and the action comes from the fact they’ll do anything they can to look after each other and get their man.

It must be good fun filming the action though?

NC: Yeah, yeah, it’s fun!
AW: It’s fun. It’s scary at times as well though. I wouldn’t want people to think it’s 100% glamorous. You know, I was thrown off the top of a forklift truck, he nearly lost his leg the other day.
NC: Yeah, we do our own stunts mostly.

Tell us about the leg!

NC: We were doing a stunt fight, that we’d rehearsed a few times, which called for my leg to be out sideways. The stuntman was supposed to go over the leg and get
thrown down, but instead of going over he just came down and my knee bent sideways. I ended up with a bad sprain, but that was a close moment. We’ve tried to do as many of the stunts as we can to give the audience what we feel is fair for them. We’ve only really used stuntmen when we’ve been told it’s unsafe for us to do it.

You mentioned it’s important to ground the action to scenes people can relate to, and the relationship between fathers and sons is a theme throughout the series. Was it important to you that was included in the show?

AW: I don’t think we sat down and tried to make it a theme, but with us both being fathers it’s naturally something that’s important to us. From the beginning this has been about providing positive role models. I always say my job is 80% inspiring other people – 20% is the fun, the filming, the money and whatever else, but my
actual job is to represent to people what they could be if they put their mind to it and work hard. So that was always going to come through in the show because it’s what we are about.

It’s a great cast, isn’t it? What’s it been like working with everyone?

NC: They’re all right.
AW: They’re all replaceable.
NC: We like ’em but they’re all replaceable, it’s our show! No, it was great. You know, we’ve got good heavyweight people like Clarke Peters, which says a lot...

When we spoke to Clarke he was very complimentary about you guys...

NC: Oh great, he’s lovely, man, I love him to bits. We tried to make it as fresh as possible, so they’re not all faces you see on TV a lot. We’ve cast actors from Europe, for example – it just gives a different flavour and feel and I think that’s important.

What do you do to switch off when you get home after a shoot?
NC: We chill out. We’re in the same block, so he goes to his apartment and I go to mine. I’ll watch some TV and he’ll watch some TV or do some music. Then I’ll go, “What you doing?” And he’ll go, “Going gym”. And I’ll go, “I’ll come the gym”, and we’ll go to the gym together. Occasionally we’ll go to dinner. So, yeah, we hang out, but other than that we just relax.

That must help with your chemistry on screen?

NC: Yeah, you know people say our chemistry is, I think someone said palpable and beautiful. It really comes across that we get on with each other.

And as you said, that’s what people are going to buy into with the show.

NC:I think so, yeah.
AW: I think we’d be in a really bad place if we didn’t get on. I don’t think you could do this show and pretend. I think people would sense it. The show relies on it, definitely.

So aside from the camaraderie between the characters, is there anything else you want people to take from watching the show?

AW: We’ve been doing this for such a long time, and we were kind of pioneers for a lot of what’s going on now, whether it be in music, film or TV, for black actors in the UK. But this show is a game-changer. That’s one of the main things for me.
NC: It’s another glass ceiling gone.
AW: Yeah. You know, we’ve broken a boundary here. We conceptualised this show, we’re producing it, we’re starring in it. And that’s kind of unheard of. For many years when we tried to push this idea the main knockback was that there were two black men in the lead roles. So it just shows where we are now.
NC: That’s a good point. There were conversations at times in the past where we were told, “If you replace one of you, we’ll make the show”. We’ve literally been told by people that if it were one of us and X or one of us and Y, we could make the show. And we’ve always had the stance that that’s not going to happen. It’s either both of us, or I’ll be in my coffin with the treatment like that [crosses arms over chest]. And sticking to that has paid dividends. And it’s doing good things for us, but it’s more about what it could do for the people after us. I’ve talked about this before, but in the playground when I was young, if you wanted to play TV shows like, say, The A-Team, the other kids would be like, “You’re Mr T”. And I’d be like, “I wanna be Murdock”. And they’d say, “Nah, you’re Mr T cos you’re black”. So I’d be like, “Fine, well let’s play Knight Rider”, and they’d say, “OK, you’re KITT. The car’s black, you’re black, you’re the car. I’ll get on your back and you gotta run around and carry me...”
AW: [Laughing] Oh my god...
NC: That was my life. That was our lives. But now, people can be Black Panther. Hashtag Wakanda forever! They can be Bishop and Pike. In their own show. And I think that’s important. Aspire to inspire.

Finally, can you sum up Bulletproof in three words?

NC: Innovative, inspiring...
AW: Are you looking for another I?
NC: Nah I’m not.
AW: Original.
NC: Innovative, inspiring and original!