Inside Line of Duty: How it became the best British drama of the decade

Craig Parkinson talks about the addictive drama which is airing again on the newly-launched channel dedicated to crime.

Line of Duty has been one of the biggest hits in the world of crime dramas to air on TV, and now there’s another chance to get hooked on it with the new Sony Crime Channel.

Following the work of police anti-corruption department AC-12, the programme stars Adrian Dunbar, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure as the core team who investigate a series of strange cases about fellow officers while searching for the elusive insider coordinating it all who is known only as H.

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We caught up with Craig Parkinson, who starred in the first three series of the drama as bent copper DI 'Dot' Cottan, to find out why viewers old and new should tune in.

Why should we watch L​ine of Duty – even if we might have seen it before?

“Someone was telling me the other day, ‘I was talking to a friend of mine and she’s just about to start watching season one and she’s never seen it and I’m so jealous'. I remember people speaking to me about season two and saying, ‘I never saw series one’. What? You have to start with series one, and you get to see Lennie James (Tony Gates) who is the master of series one.”

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Do you often get r​ecognised as Dot?

“It does happen all the time, people shout out to me on a daily basis, generally while I’m walking around the supermarket. People are usually very nice because Dot was that awful character, but there was some sort of redemption at the end of series three for him. I think people felt slightly sorry for him, but only slightly.”

Is it more fun playing th​e bad guy in a crime drama?

“For Line of Duty, it was definitely more fun to play the bad guy. Dot was basically two characters – he was the copper in the cop shop, and the villain when he wasn’t. That’s amazing fun for an actor. It’s certainly one of the greatest characters I’ve ever played.”

The show is ​known for ruthlessly dispensing with characters – is that something that worries its stars?

“I don’t think it worries anybody, because anybody worth their salt would want to be involved with Line of Duty because of the quality of the storytelling. Anybody involved is really grateful, but on the other hand, it does ruin you when you start reading other scripts.”

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What was your favo​urite thing about playing Dot?

“I think being deceptive, and that you could never rest on your laurels as an actor because you had to be spinning about seven different plates. He could be saying something in one scene, but he really means something else. It is great fun and it is hard work, but so rewarding and enjoyable.

“I did miss it, because when you’re involved in something for around six years you are going to miss it, but I’m really proud of what we did, where we went with that character, and when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

How close are​ you to the rest of the cast? You knew Martin Compston already…

“I’d done about three films with Martin before Line of Duty. In fact, before we both auditioned together, we ran each other’s scenes before we went in for series one.

“I keep in touch with everybody. I know what Jed’s (Mercurio, show writer) up to, but it depends on whether he writes me the part. If and when he does, to be honest for Jed, I’d happily sweep up in the background of a scene, because he’s that good.”

Do you still w​atch the programme now?

“I watched series four and loved it – my heart was in my mouth, just like when I was reading the scripts. Slowly, after about two or three episodes, I could switch off and I became an audience member. It was tough because you’re seeing your family on screen and thinking, ‘Why has nobody set a place for me at the dinner table?’.”

Does anyone in the cast know the identity of H?

“Everything’s a big secret with Line of Duty, there’s one person who knows what everything is and that’s Jed. That secret will be with Jed until he needs to reveal it.”

Line of Duty is kn​own for its complex storylines and dialogue. Why do you think that doesn’t put viewers off?

“It doesn’t patronise an audience, it makes them work hard, and people obviously want that because it’s been such a connection with audiences. To have three or four people talk police jargon round a table for 25 minutes in one scene became a real key player in the series. People want those scenes and crave them – who would have ever thought that would be so captivating and enthralling? It’s something else.

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“It’s the Kilimanjaro of dialogue, it’s so difficult to get your head around. Luckily, we all lived together in the same flats, so we would go to each other’s apartments and drill it and run it and run it until we knew it backwards. Then we’d shoot it all in one take with no cuts, so it becomes like a play.”

What do you think makes a great crime series?

“I think not being two steps ahead of the story. If the story is two steps ahead of the audience, then it can hook you in. It’s about pulling the audience along for the ride, but not knowing whether they’re going to turn left or right. That’s what excites me, that’s what audiences want and what they get from Line of Duty.”

What are you working on next?

“I just finished working with Karl Pilkington for his Sky comedy which was a total joy – he’s a brilliant guy and really good fun to work with. Then I voiced a little fat rabbit for Watership Down that’s going to be on Netflix and the BBC at Christmas I think.

“Everything depends on the script, but at the moment for me to do any other police drama would be a bit too close to home. Who knows in a couple of years?”

Line of Duty will air on the brand new Sony Crime Channel, which launches on Tuesday, February 6 and will be available on BT TV channel 60.

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