Martin Freeman talks about playing a copper in BBC crime drama The Responder

Martin Freeman as Chris Carson in The Responder.

Martin Freeman as Chris Carson in The Responder. - Credit: BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

Martin Freeman returns to TV screens tonight (Monday, January 24) in new BBC crime drama The Responder.

From the makers of The Salisbury Poisonings, Dancing Ledge Productions, The Responder follows Chris Carson (Martin Freeman), a crisis-stricken, morally compromised, unconventional urgent response officer tackling a series of night shifts on the beat in Liverpool.

Martin Freeman plays Chris Carson in The Responder, which can be seen on BBC One.

Martin Freeman plays Chris Carson in The Responder, the first episode of which can be seen on BBC One. - Credit: BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

Written by ex-police officer Tony Schumacher, his first original series for television, The Responder holds a mirror up to the emotional extremes of life on the front line of British policing – sometimes darkly funny, sometimes painfully tragic, always challenging. 

It covers five nights in Chris Carson’s life – a guy who is struggling to adjust to the modern world as his marriage falls apart.

While trying to keep his head above water both personally and professionally, Chris is forced to take on a new rookie partner Rachel Hargreaves (Adelayo Adedayo).

Adelayo Adedayo plays Rachel Hargreaves in BBC's The Responder.

Adelayo Adedayo plays Rachel Hargreaves in BBC's The Responder. - Credit: BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

Both soon discover that survival in this high pressure, relentless, night-time world will depend on them either helping or destroying each other.

While film and TV audiences have grown used to seeing Freeman in roles such as Tim Canterbury from The Office, Dr John Watson in Sherlock alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, and as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit movies, they will see another side of the actor in The Responder.

Most Read

For starters, the Emmy and BAFTA Award-winner adopts a Scouse accent for the series.

Martin Freeman plays Chris Carson in The Responder.

Martin Freeman plays Chris Carson in The Responder. - Credit: BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

"I haven't played a character with a Scouse accent before and I was incredibly mindful of that when I was reading the script," said Freeman, who starred in The World's End, which was filmed in Welwyn Garden City. 

"It read pure Liverpudlian to me and I knew Tony was from Liverpool.

"He always said to me that the character didn’t have to be from Liverpool – that not all coppers in Merseyside are from Merseyside, but I really felt Chris had to be from the city.

"I also knew that if I couldn't do it properly then I wouldn't do the accent, I would just have done my own version of my own voice.

"I was really pleased when I heard that some of the Scouse actors asked if I was from Merseyside – it was like I’d passed some sort of test.

"I worked really hard at it because there was no way I was prepared to go on telly doing a terrible Scouse accent in Liverpool with a load of Liverpudlian actors.

"There's just no way. I'd get taken to the cleaners and rightly so. Coming from where I come from, you have to earn your stripes no matter where you are and you just can't be doing a bad Liverpool accent."

Martin Freeman as Chris Carson in The Responder.

Martin Freeman as Chris Carson in The Responder. - Credit: 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions - Photographer: Rekha Garton

So what exactly is a responder?

Freeman said: "Responders are the coppers who literally respond to emergency calls coming in.

"In Chris’ case he works nights, and during the course of a night shift he could be called to all sorts of situations – whether it's a report of an old woman who's died or someone has set fire to something or a burglary. It could literally be anything and everything."

As for the character of Chris Carson, Freeman said: "The reason I wanted to play Chris is that he is a great mixture of vulnerability and strength.

"I think there is something about a man of few words that is attractive. There's a reason why people like characters that don't have to over-explain themselves and I think Chris is one of them.

"He's very intelligent, he's emotionally smart, but he's a copper. He finds it hard to be open at home and with his counsellor, and in his job it’s probably wise not to be open, so he picks his moments when he can let off steam and talk to people.

"But those are few and far between and the amount of plates he is spinning is frightening. So much so that if he drops even one of those plates he could wind up dead."

Chris Carson, played by Martin Freeman, in The Responder.

Chris Carson, played by Martin Freeman, in The Responder. - Credit: BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

The story takes place across five nights, one night per episode. The first airs at 9pm on BBC One on January 24, with episode two on Tuesday at 9pm.

The final three episodes are on BBC One over successive nights next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. All episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer.

"There’s a lot packed into each episode and there's a lot packed into each night for dramatic effect as well," said Freeman.

"In fact, a lot goes on across a 12-hour night shift and Chris being the solitary figure he is, he doesn’t want to work with a partner – but that’s where he finds himself, against both his and Rachel’s wills."

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 18/01/2022 - Programme Name: The Responder - TX

Adelayo Adedayo as rookie officer Rachel in BBC's The Responder. - Credit: BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

The scripts of creator, writer and executive producer Tony Schumacher played a huge part in Freeman signing up for the series.

"I'm lucky in that I do still get to play great parts and I get to choose when to work and when not to work," he said.

Martin Freeman plays Chris Carson in The Responder.

Martin Freeman plays Chris Carson in The Responder. - Credit: BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

"So yes, I do have that sense of enthusiasm when I read a great script like The Responder. I haven't read anything like it before and I love being excited by scripts because every time you get a script you do want it to be The Godfather.

"You do want it to be amazing and you live in eternal hope. Then very occasionally when your ability aligns with other people’s skills and when someone has such faith in you, it's lovely.

Chris Carson (Martin Freeman) and Davey (David Bradley) in The Responder.

Chris Carson (Martin Freeman) and Davey (David Bradley) in The Responder. - Credit: BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton

"I have a reasonably healthy ego but there were several times in the run up to filming that I asked Tony, Chris and Lawrence [Bowen] if they were sure they had the right man for the job and couldn’t they get someone better than me?

"Then Tony said that he’d had me in mind when he wrote it and kept seeing me in scenes when he was writing it, so that really relaxed me."

On the show's unique appeal, Freeman added: "I think it’s a drama that doesn't offer answers but asks a lot of questions.

"There is nothing neat about it – it’s chaotic and unsettling and there’s an underlying authenticity to it. We all wanted to make something different that was exciting and unformulaic."