Dougray Scott talks ‘Crime’
Dougray Scott tells us about turning Irvine Welsh's 'Crime' into a stunning TV series, and why it's hard to escape the psyche of a detective on the trial of a serial killer...
Dougray Scott is the Fife-born acting charisma machine who of course has had a long and illustrious career in the likes of (personal faves) The Crow Road, Mission: Impossible 2, Hitman, The Day of the Triffids, My Week with Marilyn, and on it goes. But some sort of peak is being reached, if we dare to say so, with Crime, a new series on Britbox based on the Irvine Welsh novel, and co-created and written by the man himself. Dougray plays DI Ray Lennox, a man with a traumatic past who believes a missing schoolgirl heralds the return of a serial killer called Mister Confectioner. Set in the Edinburgh underbelly milieu familiar to Welsh fans, it is has the grit and narrative flourishes you’d expect – but it also has a depth of feeling you might not. Lennox is on the surface a cool, witty, expert cop, with a caring side that delights in the way his new partner, Drummond (Joanna Vanderham), fires back the abuse spat at her by misogynistic members of the force. But barely under the surface you see a man who feels too much, who is burdened by the murders he can’t stop, and who is barely clinging on to his sanity in the hellscape he sees all around him. Dougray produces a tour de force in depicting the two sides of the man, and well, the series certainly escalates as he comes apart. We managed to speak to Dougray to find out more about this staggering series…
Can you tell us about Crime, and how it came about?
It’s been a long process. I guess it’s an example to me of: if you really believe in something, don’t give up. I’ve been working with the director and producer since way back and they said, we want to do something else with you. And I said, let’s go to Irvine [Welsh] he’s an amazing writer, and maybe he has something he wants to do. So we flew to Dublin, and out of that conversation, Irvine said, ‘Have you read Crime?’ which had just come out in 2008. I hadn’t. So we all read it and everyone just was blown away by it. But we couldn’t quite get anything going and then five years ago met Tony Woods, from Buccaneer [Media], and he’s a huge fan of Irvine. He said, let’s do it together, so we both decided to produce it and develop it. It became problematic to get the story as it is in the novel, which is set mostly in Miami. And so Tony came up with the idea of just doing the backstory, the origin story of the whole case that happens in Edinburgh. We thought would be easier to sell to a British broadcaster. And that’s what happened – ITV commissioned the script, then the series, and then it ended up on Britbox. I think it’s more of a Britbox show, in that it’s equivalent to an American cable show: it’s dark, the language is pretty, you know, of a vernacular, and I think when you’re behind a paywall, you have a bit more licence to be authentic. I’ve worked with James Strong before, I thought he should direct it, and so he came on, and was part of the process of development as well. And that’s how it happened.
When was the actual filming? Was it a lockdown baby?
It was shot in April this year until mid August. It was challenging, but we we managed to do it. Because the commitment of everyone, the cast, and the crew was pretty incredible that we really just got through it. That shows I think.
With the character Lennox himself, he’s a dark and complex guy, how did you approach it?
Well it’s been living with me for quite some time. I read the novel, like, 20 times, and know all the documentaries that exist about serial killers and the books. I’ve read, I’ve watched, I’ve spoken to police advisors, and I think is a question of then relating all that to your own life. And there’s a lot of me in that character. Not obviously, but I understand a lot of what goes on in his world. Then you just take a leap of faith and think, ‘what if this happened to me?’ Then there’s the emotional side, because he lives at the higher end of the spectrum of emotional intensity, shall we say, and that is bubbling under the surface. I mean, you get 10 minutes of a little bit levity at the beginning, and then it’s right into the story and what’s great about it, I think, is it’s more interested in character than it is in plot. Plot’s important, the story is there, and he’s ultimately trying to find a serial killer, but it’s really about his relationship with that serial killer, his relationship with himself, and how his past comes up to haunt but also inform and help his investigation into the serial killer. And what sacrifice he’s prepared to make in order to open himself up to this guy so that he will reveal information that he needs. Ultimately he wants closure for the families. He feels it. And his downfall is also tied up in the plus points for Lennox in that he’s so empathetic. You just see the pain that he goes through every time something happens and he doesn’t get what he needs and how much it matters to him. It’s not just a job for him. It’s food for his soul. And he needs to feel that he’s a shark. If he sleeps, he drowns, so he just can’t. He’s thinking all the time about these cases, and ‘what have I missed? And how do I get what I need to get?’ Yeah, it’s pretty dark, but ultimately, I think it’s a very humane piece of writing.
There’s that moment where he hugs a victim’s mum, and is almost in tears when he has to break some news to her. You don’t generally see that in cop shows, that level of emotional vulnerability…
Yeah, he feels it. You see the effect that has on him, and it’s not a question of ‘I’m really sorry, but she’s gone,’ the affront to his humanity is enormous. He’s with the mother and I think she feels that as well. She comes up to him at the funeral and says, ‘He cares. This man, he cares.’ And that is true. Everything that helps him, also hurts him as well. There’s never a point where he ever feels that he is deserving of any kind of small victory that he achieves throughout the course of the story. Because he always carries with him this cloak of shame that he’s had his entire life. Part of the process of him allowing things out of his dark history, comes about because of the investigation into hat happened to this little girl. And is part of a process of some kind of healing for him. But it’s a sacrifice that he makes in order to achieve something with Mister Confectioner. He’s a very intelligent guy but there’s the lack of ability for him to be able to healthily examine what happened to him, because he’s part of a culture and an upbringing that is very difficult to talk about.
From a masculinity point of view that was interesting to see, that burden of shame and how it relates to drinking and how hard it is to move through…
Yeah, I mean, the masculinity thing is a big issue, and he embodies that sort of alpha male. But at the same time, his sensitivities encapsulate all the females around him. He loves Drummond because she’s a woman working in this very male dominated environment, but by God, she holds her own. And he is very much of the opinion of that women can do as well as and better than men in many occasions. And fuck this misogyny shit. He fucking won’t have anything to do with that in the same way as racism and anything that withholds people’s ability because of who they are, and their heart and their soul. He fucking abhors that. And this young girl that dies, she won’t get to have a birthday, she won’t be able to go to university – maybe she would have been the fucking the person who cures cancer, who knows, every life matters, you know? And that’s these kids who live in these environments. I was born in Scotland, so I get it. I understand why Irvine writes like that, you know?
What was the area you grew up in like, compared to Irvine’s?
He was brought in Muirhouse, which was similar, I think, to where I was in a council estate in Fife. Listen, I love Scotland, and Fife is a great place. I had great friends growing up in Fife, in Woodside on the end of the town, in a council estate, and I mean, they were very rough areas. My mum always used to get really upset with me when I talked about my hometown, but I have fondness for it. I just haven’t been there very much over the last few years. But, yeah, I went to a pretty rough school, fights all the time, similar expectations [to people in the show]. So my heart is with them.
When you’re dealing with heavy subject matter, how do you deal with it? Are you quite good at leaving it behind once you’re offset?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think with this, you really can. You’re thinking about it all the time. My downtime reading was serial killers and documentaries about serial killers. But [during the filming] I was on my own during the week. When I was home with my family, I’d switch off and go take my kid to the park and be involved in that in that world. But it’s very hard to stop thinking about it. And I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t. It was constant. All the time. But that’s part of what I wanted to do, because I was enjoying the fact that we were making this and the character was obviously there around me all the time. You don’t want to make it sound wanky, ‘Yeah, this guy was with me all the time,’ but he was part of me anyway. And it was kind of necessary, to keep on it.
And how was it being on set? Presumably there was excitement of being back after lockdown?
That was great. I mean, listen, we had an amazing cast. We all got on very well, but you know, you have to adhere to the COVID regulations, so socialising couldn’t happen. It’s a different kind of world that you operate in, but being on set was really great. It was great being back in Scotland.
How did you cope with the lockdown, did you write a novel or learn a language?
Yeah I wrote ten fucking novels, learnt Italian, Greek and fucking brushed up my Latin. No, I cycled like a madman every day. I’d go for 20 mile cycle rides. And be with my kids and my wife and did what everyone else did: I bought a barbecue! Since then it’s been straight back to work, and it was intense doing doing this show, that’s for sure.
What else did you in your research in terms of police work?
I looked at a lot of documentaries about investigations, and there was this one guy called Ian Gold that I spoke to a lot. He was brilliant. Giving me information about police investigations. It was all very, very, very helpful.
As a viewer of crime series you sometimes feel you could solve a case, do you get that as an actor? Do you think you’d be good at working a case?
No, I think good cops are fucking brilliant. There’s a process they follow, and I understand the process, and I’m curious, that’s for sure. I think I wouldn’t be lazy, I would be meticulous, and I would be full of passion. I’d be like a dog with a bone. So, in that respect, I’d be useful. Police are great, and the good cops are fantastic, but my affinities with the character were emotional affinities and life experience affinities as opposed to that stuff you have to learn through talking to cops.
What was it like with working with Joanna, you make a fresh kind of double act?
She’s brilliant. We were very conscious of providing all the female characters with great character and both of them, Angela Griffin, and Joanna Vanderham are fantastic actors, really fucking brilliant. It was important because of the times we’re living in, that they’re not token female characters, they have great character arcs. Joanna’s character, Drummond, represents the new face of policing and she shows very clearly why misogyny is detrimental to the police force, because she’s brilliant, and she’s bright. So that was important.
What made you first want to get into acting? Was there any movie or actor who inspired you?
Yeah, DeNiro, Scorsese. Alec Guinness. Brando. Pacino. All those actors. I remember watching Mean Streets and just being completely blown away by it. The Man in the White Suit, things like that. Westerns I loved as well. Then I did play at school, Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams, and I just loved being on stage pretending to be someone else, I really got off on that. And I read Death of a Salesman and my dad was a salesman, so I was like, wow, this is incredible how writing transcends continents and grips you. And I wasn’t good enough to play for Hibs, so I had to do something else.
Crime is now available to watch on Britbox.
Photography: David Reiss
Styling: Holly Macnaghten
Grooming: Lucy Halperin
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