“Human”, “real” and “flawed” are just some of the words Morven Christie repeatedly uses to describe her police officer character in The Bay.
The Scottish actress, who you might recognise from dramas such as The A Word, Grantchester and The Replacement, chose her latest role because she believed in the script.
And not in a “I’m rooting for this project” way - which of course she was too - but in a “I can actually see this happening in real life” way.
Christie plays Detective Sergeant Lisa Armstrong, a Family Liaison Officer assigned to a missing persons investigation in the coastal town of Morecambe Bay.
At first it seems like any other case – tragic, but all too familiar. DS Armstrong is trained never to get emotionally involved, but there's something very different about this particular case.
She realises she's got a personal connection with this frightened family; one that could compromise her and the investigation.
To promote the six-part crime drama on ITV, Morven Christie revealed to BT TV and journalists the secrets from the set of The Bay...
Catch up on The Bay with the ITV Hub app, under the Players & Apps tab on your TV box.
Working with Police Family Liason Officers for authenticity
Police officers and detectives of various degrees of seniority have appeared in countless recent crime dramas, with Line of Duty, Marcella and Luther all being high-profile examples.
But the role of a Police Family Liaison Officer (also known as a FLO) is rarely seen in TV dramas, and so Christie spent time with female FLOs to gain an insight into how they work, to portray DS Armstrong authentically on screen.
FLOs are usually assigned to any situation where a point of contact between the family and the police is deemed essential, such as any murder investigation, or a case of a missing child.
Of the research she did for the role, Christie, pictured above (second right) with the rest of the cast of The Bay, explained: “We spent some time with some pros, and asked a lot of questions about how you act when you’re around someone who’s just been given really devastating news, and how you form relationships with them in this strange sort of middle role of being support, but also investigating them.
“So it was kind of, how do you play that family situation, how do you be really straight with people, and be clear about the fact that you’re asking them a lot of really personal questions, and yet maintain this relationship where they’re open to you?”
Christie learned that there was a certain amount of hostility towards Family Liasion Officers.
“Certainly in the conversations that we were having, we were talking to people that worked within the Met [Police in London], so a lot of the time the types of crimes and things were very different," she said.
"There’s often quite a lot of hostility towards the idea of police being in your house with your family and asking you questions, so there were lots of conversations about how you get past those elements.”
She further got into the mind of a typical Family Liaison Officer once she learned that it was a role you volunteered for within the police.
“One of the things that really got me was just talking to people about how they got into it, and that this was something that within being a detective, you could just develop an interest in and voluntarily go and train in," she explained.
“It’s a voluntary role within the police investigative service, so that really fascinated me because it means that the people who are drawn to it are the people who have the facility for dealing with victims of crime and families, and have an aptitude for that, and an interest in that.”
Hearing stories first-hand of female Family Liaison Officers who juggled the job with caring for young children also improved her understanding of the job role.
The appeal of the flawed central character in the script
It’s safe to say that Christie is drawn to complex female characters, and she tells us that she was intrigued by the role of DS Lisa Armstrong as soon as she read the script.
“I just bought this person, from the first couple of pages I was like “Oh, I’m in!”. This is just someone I believe as being real, and in a world I believe as being real," she said.
“I think one of the things I said when I first met Lee [Haven Jones, the director], one of the things I loved about the script was that this was about a different community that we weren’t seeing on television all the time, and she, as a character, has grown up in that community, so it means a lot to her, and these people mean a lot to her.”
The fact that DS Armstrong makes a huge mistake early on in the script was another alluring factor for Christie.
“She’s just a human being, isn’t she? At the beginning of this, she’s having a spectacularly sh*tty day. So that’s quite appealing, that’s quite arresting, the idea of being introduced to a leading character as she’s making some quite dramatic mistakes, you know?
“She has to unpick things, sort of unravel things, to cover up things that she’s just done on a night out. That’s quite interesting, but alongside that, she’s actually really good at this job, her natural warmth of people, her love of family, but I also just found her really believable.
“It’s not about a superhero female cop, It’s about a real human being that messed up, and gets some things really right, and some things really wrong, as we all do, and is trying to make it better, while also trying to hide what she’s got wrong. I just think that’s a very human story.”
Nailing the Lancashire accent - and staying in it between takes
Having been born and bred in Scotland, Christie’s everyday accent is still wonderfully Scottish. But her accent in The Bay is certainly not that, having adopted a Lancashire twang for the role.
Christie confesses she listened to recordings of women from the Morecambe Bay area to familarise herself with the accent.
“One of the things I found difficult was that it’s really not that far away geographically from the Lake District, where The A Word is set. My big thing is that I didn’t want the accents to be similar, because the accents are not similar.
“I just spent some time there, some time with a dialect coach, we recorded a bunch of women from Morecambe and I just based the accent on a sort of amalgamation of their accents.
"But I think with this accent, I really like it, and that helps, because it’s a satisfying accent. I just really like the accent.”
Christie committed to the accent 100% and was rather method in her approach in that she didn’t come out of it between takes.
“I spent a lot of time talking in it. I tend to just stay in whatever accent it is all the time, because I find slipping in and out of different accents quite difficult. I find it makes me self-conscious about the accent, so I just stay in it quite a lot on set.”
The dramatic setting of Morecambe Bay
Christie is a huge lover of the outdoors, and confessed in a 2017 interview with The Telegraph that “she prefers the freezing cold of the Highlands to any other place on earth”.
The stunning setting of Morecambe Bay, a small coastal town in northwest England, was certainly a factor in Christie’s decision to join the project - and contributed to her happiness while on set.
She tells BT TV: “It’s always nice to film outside. I don’t care where I am, as long as I’m outside, and Morecambe is awesome.
“I think [the location] appealed to me because it was different, it didn’t feel like a generic city drama. It felt like an environment that has a character of its own, and that maybe we’re not seeing on TV very much, so that really appealed, and yeah it’s just innately cinematic, that big seascape, and the colours, it’s quite moody-looking, it’s dramatic.
“There’s some amazing skies, and sunsets, not always in a beautiful sunny sort of lovely way, but in a sort of moody, intense way. I love all that, a bit of weather drama.”
Keeping the plot a secret on set
The first episode of The Bay is a classic 'Whodunit' setp, and the audience are none the wiser by the end of it.
Morven told us that she asked who the perpetrator of the missing person was after reading the first episode in the script, so she could play DS Armstrong as authentically as possible.
“I didn’t want to get in a situation where, you know if you’re playing a character for the first six episodes, and for the first four, you’re the Family Liaison Officer looking after the family and you’ve got this awful connection with the father," she explained.
"And then suddenly in episode six it turns out you abducted these twins, well that’s a different character than the one that I’ve been playing for these last four episodes.
"I just needed to know who did it. I didn’t need to know all the answers of how and where and why and what, but I just needed to know who. So I did.”
She admits herself she “didn’t have a clue” who it was after reading the script of the first episode.
“First episodes do that, they lay out a load of people on a dish, and obviously as time goes on, threads gets pulled in different places. There’s a lot of potential suspects. I can’t say any more than that! I didn’t have a clue who it was.”
The ‘big reveal’ was kept a secret on set from whoever didn’t want to know, but equally there was a transparency on the production, she says, where the answer would have been offered up if someone wanted to know.
She says: “Nobody was running around [the set] going 'This is what happens' but at the same time I don’t think there was a cloak of secrecy around it.
“One of the best things about this production was that there was a transparency to it, in terms of everyone being on the same page, so if anybody really wanted to know, they could ask and be told.
“But I think people really enjoyed the theories, so people really didn’t want to know. People were like 'Oh, I think it’s this person'. That’s as much fun for the cast sometimes as it is for the audience.”
A potential second series
Season 1 of The Bay was written as a six-part drama, but director Catherine Oldfield has said in interviews that she can see it going on for as many as six seasons.
For Christie, she had a “wonderful” time on set and would be open to reprising her character in subsequent series.
Asked by BT TV whether she can see herself playing this character for five more seasons, she says: “Oh God, who knows? I don’t know. I loved her, I loved playing her, I loved the accent, I loved the crew. It was a really, really fun job, I really enjoyed it.
“But I think anything running longer, it just becomes about maintaining a quality or upping the quality, and you can never really know that, so that’s just something you would come to at the time.
“If they turned round and said they wanted to do a second series I’d be like “Yes!” I had a great time. There’s something really satisfying about having the capacity to explore a character really deeply as well, over a long period of time, that’s actually a really satisfying process.
"And bearing in mind, we would shoot this for three or four months of the year, that still leaves eight other months where you could do shorter-form projects.
“As long as the stories and the scripts continue to be compelling, yeah, you learn something new about characters. Also Lisa starts this show by getting herself into quite a pickle, and that’s going to end up somewhere. It’s not going to stop being a pickle.
“There will still be some unpicking of some complex moral things. I think there’s a lot of scope for all of the characters actually in other series, and I had a wonderful time, so I’d be well up for it.”
Catch up on The Bay on the ITV Hub app, which BT TV customers can find under the Players & Apps tab on their TV box.
Images: ITV / Rex Features