James Nesbitt on Bloodlands, The Hobbit, and Great Directors

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The crime drama Bloodlands, available to stream at Acorn TV, follows Tom Brannick (James Nesbitt), a veteran detective who connects a new case to a previous series of disappearances from 20 years prior that includes his own wife. The hunt for a legendary assassin responsible for tearing apart several families turns into an obsession for Brannick, in a way that is very personal.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Irish actor James Nesbitt talked about why this project appealed to him, how he related to the father-daughter relationship, and his reaction to the twists and turns of the story. He also talked about the Netflix series he’s shooting now, called Stay Close, his experience making The Hobbit movies, and the genres he’d still love to work in.

Collider: This is such an interesting character with so many layers and complexities on top of other layers and complexities. How much of this are you able to read before doing it? Did you have a full sense of the story arc?

JAMES NESBITT: Yeah, I had a very good idea of what was going to happen. How I got into it was that, when I was filming Jekyll, I met producer Jed Mercurio. He also did a show, called Cardiac Arrest, with Helen Baxendale, who played my wife in Cold Feet. So, I was looking to work with him for quite a long time. The years passed and he did Line of Duty, which even though it wasn’t set in Northern Ireland, it was filming in Northern Ireland, so I said to him, “Why in the hell am I not in that?” He said, “We’ll find something.” And then, maybe two and a half or three years ago, he’d set up a new independent production company, and he called me and said, “I think I found it.”

A young writer, Chris Brandon, sent him this piece (Bloodlands), so he sent it to me. It was very good. It was very different, at that time, but then, new drafts came in and we got the commission. I was living with it for a long time. I loved the fact that it was set in Northern Ireland. I loved the fact that, even though it was fictionalized, it had the context of the legacy of the Troubles and that it was examining the balance between the importance of protecting peace with justice for past crimes. I loved that it had the opportunity to show Northern Ireland in a new context, as this new, vibrant, diverse, cosmopolitan city where the generation of students now are the first generation ever in Irish history to have grown up in peace since they were born. And I just loved the thriller aspect of it. It was the opportunity to play a character that, as you say, is very complex and multi-layered. He’s someone who has always wanted to do the right thing, and he’s strong, vulnerable and secretive, but is someone who’s also the father of a daughter, like myself. There were a lot of really attractive elements of it, but it was the writing and it was the character.

I love that the director of Dredd, Pete Travis, also directed this because those are two very different projects.

NESBITT: He’s had such an extraordinary, varied career. He directed me in Cold Feet, years ago, and he also directed Omagh, which was similar to Bloody Sunday. It’s always in my life, the relationship that I have with directors. It’s maybe the most important thing. I can’t imagine myself directing, but if you look at the people I’ve worked with – Pete Travis, Danny Boyle, Paul Greengrass, and Nick Murphy – I’m always constantly talking to them. Tom [Shankland], who did The Missing, was probably the most important director relationship that I’ve had. You need that. You really need someone to be able to push you, pull you back, coddle you, and tell you off. A director has to be all things to an actor. They have to be a parent, a friend, a brother, a lover, everything. If there’s an element of trust and a good relationship with the director, then you’ll allow them to un-peel you, in whatever way is necessary.

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Image via Acorn TV

One of the things that I really loved about this is the relationship between father and daughter. What did you enjoy about that dynamic and getting to explore that side of him?

NESBITT: I’m a father to two daughters. They have had, not the conflict that Izzy would have had with Tom over the years, because Izzy would have been constantly worried, all her life, about her father, particularly not having had a relationship with her mother. But I understand that bond. And also, just how far you’ll go and what you’re prepared to do for your child, particularly in Tom’s context. Tom is a significant, important policeman. I’m not saying that some of them weren’t, but Tom would have seen everything and been quite close to the police process. To have lost his wife, the difficulty with balancing his job with his parenting, I found that a really interesting dynamic. She is the only light, a lot of the time, and she has been the only light, a lot of the time, for him. Northern Ireland was bleak. This is a fictionalized piece, but it was bleak, and the idea that there’s something to live for is so important. And my job takes me away from my daughters, at times a good bit and for far too long sometimes, but I’ve also had the beauty of spending a lot of time with them when I’m able to take a lot of time off. And so, I understood that and I was able to really draw on that daughter-father relationship a lot.

When you read this entire piece and you realized where the full journey would not only take your character but all the characters, what was your reaction? How many times were you surprised by all the twists and turns and misdirections?

NESBITT: My reaction was, “Oh, my God!” What was important was, can it be authentic? Can it feel real? That’s what I loved about it. Jed is a real master of twists and turns, and the extraordinary happening to ordinary people, or sometimes the ordinary happening to extraordinary people. I just felt that I was invested in it, the minute I read it, and the show did extremely well here. People are on the edge of their seats at times, but they’re also invested in the different stories and have different kinds of relationships with the different characters. And Niamh is the audience’s eyes, in a way. She’s the straight one. There’s the vulnerability of Izzy and the love that she has for her father. And Tori is a brilliant woman whose life has been hugely impacted by The Troubles. Jed, along with Chris Brandon, the writer, were painting on a very big canvas and just throwing a lot of stuff at it and trying to make sense of it. I’m not going to lie, it was brutal, at times.

Do you know what you’re going to be doing next?

NESBITT: Yeah, I’m filming at the moment. I just started filming an original Netflix series, called Stay Close, based on a Harlan Coben book. That’s reuniting me with Richard Armitage, who was also in The Hobbit, and I’m also working with Cush Jumbo. We’re filming that up in the North of England. It’s written by Danny Brocklehurst and directed by Daniel O’Hara, who directed me in Stan Lee’s Lucky Man. I’m very much enjoying it. I’m playing another cop, but he’s not quite as troubled as Tom. He’s a little more optimistic, so that’s a nice, pleasant relief.

RELATED: ‘Lord of the Rings’ Timeline Explained: Middle-earth from ‘The Silmarillion’ to ‘The Hobbit’ & Beyond

What’s it like now to adjust to shooting in a COVID world?

NESBITT: For a start, I’m COVID tested twice a week and we rehearse in masks, but we’ve adjusted to it. I think people are so grateful to be working again that they’ll stand on their head in a bucket, as long as they can work. The world is different and I can’t wait for that to end for everybody, but I just hope that people remember what it’s been like and don’t forget the responsibility that we have to look after others. I hope that sense of community and collaboration, which has gotten a lot of people through this, doesn’t disappear. But also, I’m looking forward to having a pint of Guinness in a bar.

james-nesbitt-the-hobbit

Image via New Line Cinema

What do you remember about the experience of making The Hobbit movies?

NESBITT: It’s mixed. I love New Zealand. I always say that there are only 13 dwarves in The Hobbit and I was one of them, so I’m grateful for that. But it was a difficult process, at times. There was a lot of hanging around. There was a lot of make-up. It’s all of those complaints that people have heard about before. I’m wary of saying it because people will, “My God, you’re complaining about it?” But it was an adjustment for me. I’m someone who’s always quite active. It was also incredible. New Zealand was wonderful. My family had the most amazing time. My daughters ended up having bigger parts than me. It was incredible just to be with Peter Jackson and to see his mind, which is just extraordinary. I’ll always treasure it. It’s incredible, the letters you get from people of all ages, all over the world, to whom it means something. It’s a privilege to have been part of that.

Is there a type of role or a genre that you don’t feel you work enough in or that you would still like to do?

NESBITT: I’d like to do more period pieces. I do very few period pieces. I did Jude. I played a small part in that. There are so many period pieces and I really love the idea of playing a villain in a period piece. I want to do a big lavish musical. I did a musical on stage, a couple of years ago, and I’m desperate to do a big Sweeney Todd, or something like that, on the screen. And I’d like to work in America. I did a play in America a long time ago at the Long Wharf, and I loved it so much that I’d like to do a bit of filming there. The problem is that I’m quite busy. But there are still plenty of boxes to be ticked, hopefully.

Bloodlands is available to stream at Acorn TV.

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Christina Radish
(4760 Articles Published)

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.

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