Why did the actor who shot to fame in Trainspotting panic about her new Line of Duty role?
By Emma Brockes | Irish Times
Kelly Macdonald’s roles are typically quiet and fraught with internal conflict, and entailing journeys that are more reflective than active. As a grieving mother in The Child in Time, a gangster’s wife in Boardwalk Empire and the titular role in The Girl in the Cafe, the 45-year-old has, over the past 25 years, become known for the kind of thoughtful performances signified by the image of a woman staring out of a window. All of which makes our encounter today doubly surprising: that Macdonald, appearing via Zoom from her home in Glasgow, is here to talk about Line of Duty, possibly the least reflective television show ever made; and that she is a complete hoot.
Her role in Line of Duty has, over the course of the Belfast-filmed show’s six seasons, become a coveted one in British television – that of the guest star brought on as a no-good cop to be investigated by AC-12, the show’s now iconic anti-corruption unit. (Previous incumbents in the just-how-bent-is-she role include Keeley Hawes and Thandie Newton.) Line of Duty’s twists are renowned and the embargoes fierce, and, following the roller coaster of season five – in which we grappled, briefly, with the possibility that Supt Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) was bent – we meet Macdonald in season six as DCI Jo Davidson, getting stuck into a case. And that is pretty much all, ahead of transmission, the BBC will permit either of us to reveal, which makes Macdonald crack up every time she thinks of it. “It’s hilarious that they sent me a list of things I’m not to talk about, when I can’t remember any of it.”
They sent the first episode while I was on the train and I managed to download it and immediately got freaked out at the intensity
This is partly down to scattiness. Macdonald forgets words, dates, times. She has been known to rock up to auditions having failed entirely to study the script. “I’m horrible,” she says, cheerful in a chunky knit sweater, which is, she says, one notch up from her customary lockdown hoodie. “I’m just rubbish at reading the emails.” At home she’ll look up from whatever she’s doing and catch her sons, eight-year-old Theodore and, in particular, 12-year-old Freddie, regarding her with incredulity. “My son sits over there, plugged in on his iPad, and I’m on the phone and I just see the way he looks at me. I still remember thinking my mum was a fool, such a fool, about technology.”
It is there in her performances, this guileless good humour. Macdonald once described acting as “not brain surgery” – not a view shared by most actors at her level – a delight in the absurdity of it all that has been visible on screen since her first, explosive role, as Diane in Trainspotting. That was released in 1996, when Macdonald turned 20, and, as it turned out, Diane – brazen, impulsive, outrageous – was atypical of the work that would follow.