Interview with Pete Postlethwaite

June 26, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Pete PostlethwaiteThe wonderful Pete Postlethwaite is back on our tellies in his latest role as hardened career criminal Hooch in the BBC’s brand new five-part crime thriller, Criminal Justice written by the highly acclaimed Peter Moffat.  The series centres on Ben Coulter, who is prosecuted for murder when he wakes up in bed after a drink/drug-fuelled night next to a woman who has been stabbed to death.  Finding himself at the hands of the criminal justice system, we see Ben (played by Ben Whishaw – Perfume, I’m not There) struggle with prison life, befriended only by Hooch.

Here’s what Pete has to say about it…

“It’s all about Ben getting involved in the criminal justice system, and how you actually defend somebody in this situation. There are complications between the different barristers and the lawyers, how they manipulate each other, how they play the game,” he says of his first TV drama since 2000’s The Sins.

“It’s been a while – it’s funny seeing myself on telly again,” admits Pete, whose career on the silver screen since The Sins has included roles in The Constant Gardener (2005), Valley Of The Heart’s Delight (2006) and the 2006 remake of The Omen. He says this move away from TV has not been deliberate, though: “Not at all. Either I’ve been doing other things or I haven’t read anything – or been asked, perhaps – for TV. Whenever I get a good script I don’t care whether it’s telly or theatre or big screen – I’m not bothered.”
And Moffat’s script certainly fitted his criteria and immediately caught Pete’s eye, and he didn’t hesitate in accepting the role.
“It fulfils everything. I only read the first two scripts to start with and the writing was so compelling that I thought, well, if Moffat can keep this up, this is going to be something extraordinary.”

Hooch becomes Ben’s only ally in the prison and tries to protect him from the bad influences inside, including Freddy Graham, who, it soon becomes clear, practically runs the prison wing and even has the guards turning a blind eye when he most needs it. Ben is lost and confused and trying to come to terms with his new life and, without the help, care and companionship of his cellmate, who tells him to “play the game”, he would surely not have coped.

But, says Pete, while on the surface Hooch may seem to be a good guy, there is more to him than meets the eye: “Hooch is as complex as all the other characters, I think. That’s what’s great about the script – no character is linear. They’re all complex human beings in their own right. The interesting thing with Hooch is that he, too, is incredibly compromised. He’s in a terribly compromised position and he hates it but he feels that’s the only way he can continue.  

“I’ve got a back story for him. I think he was horrendous, absolutely the pits. He was very dark and I think he is carrying that with him. That’s why he’s a listener, that’s why he listens to other people. He says at one point, ‘Being in here and being a listener is like being a priest. People talk to me like they’ve never talked to anybody before in their lives,’ and he feels that is a very positive thing to do.

“I think he finds redemption at the end though, and peace and atonement,” he adds, although he admits that “Ben feels incredibly let down by him, eventually”.

Pete Postlethwaite is full of admiration for Ben Whishaw, who plays Ben: “He’s quite an actor, quite a chameleon,” he says. “He’s very, very good and it’s a stunning piece of casting. And he really goes through it. I know towards the end of the shoot he was like a wrung-out dishcloth, poor lad. He was physically and emotionally drained.”

While Pete admits it was also a tough shoot for him, because it was filmed over a short period of time, he believes that this just adds to the drama: “In a way, it forces you to think very clearly and very quickly. There’s a kind of energy that’s created and I thrive in those situations.” ■

Don’t miss him in the high energy Criminal Justice in its five-day consecutive run as it debuts on BBC 1 on Monday 30th June at 9pm.