A Conversation With Adrian Scarborough About "The Chelsea Detective"

A Conversation With Adrian Scarborough About “The Chelsea Detective”

Scott Adlerbeg in conversation with English actor Adrian Scarboroug, star of the new Acorn TV Original show “The Chelsea Detective”

English actor Adrian Scarborough has appeared in films such as Gosford Park, Vera Drake, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and The King’s Speech. On TV he has had roles in Gavin & Stacey, A Very English Scandal, Killing Eve, and many others. Now he gets his first crack starring in a British police procedural, playing DI Max Arnold in the new Acorn TV series, The Chelsea Detective. I had a chance, on Zoom, to talk to him about the series and his part.

Scott Adlerberg:  I just spent a couple days after work watching The Chelsea Detective, the four episodes, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I love those shows anyway, procedurals, British procedurals…Are you a fan of those kinds of shows?

Adrian Scarborough: Oh very much so.  I love them. I think they’re great fun.

Scott:  There are so many of them that are good.  And one thing, with the characters, the detectives themselves, you never know what you’re going to get.  They can be pretty straightforward as people or they can have all sorts of problems, someone like the one Stellen Skarsgard played in River, with all sorts of neuroses. But how is it to play a character who’s not a flamboyant type of detective?  DI Max Arnold doesn’t have a drinking problem, those kinds of tropes. So how did you approach playing someone who’s a pretty straightforward, unneurotic person?  Which, really, is nice to see sometimes.

Adrian: Good, good.  He has his foibles, that’s for sure.  I think he’s a self-indulgent melancholic myself. And he has an addiction to coffee rather than booze.

A Conversation With Adrian Scarborough About "The Chelsea Detective" Inside 1
The Chelsea Detective – Adrian Scarborough and Sonita Henry (from episode 4)

Scott: True.

Adrian: Which I think does the opposite to booze and hopefully makes him get on with it a bit quicker.

Scott: The very first scene when he burns the expresso pot makes him very relatable. I’ve done that many times.

Adrian: And scolds himself into the bargain. He’s not a domestic goddess, I don’t think, is he?

Scott: That was one thing. And his situation with his wife, his relationship with her – they’re separated – was very plausible and believable and even funny, the way they relate to each other.  They get on each other’s nerves, they know each other well, but they still laugh. And what you were saying about his foibles…He seems to misread her sometimes, like when she comes over with good intentions to say maybe he should get another place because he’s living like a student and he gets very upset.

Adrian: Yeah, absolutely. The vibe between the two of them feels very real to me.  And working with Anamaria Marinca is a joy. She’s very twinkly so it’s quite fun having that back and forth with her, particularly when you’re standing on a houseboat that’s swaying in the wind in the middle of a very cold April, trying to keep her hair and my hair under control.

Scott: I remember seeing her years ago in Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, the Romanian Film, which is a great film.  But yes, she does have a twinkle in her eye and there’s a good interplay there between you two.

…working with Anamaria Marinca is a joy. She’s very twinkly so it’s quite fun having that back and forth with her…

Adrian: Well, I have to say I was blessed with a lot of twinkly women, as well. Sonita Henry, who plays Priya and Sophie Stone who plays the forensic officer who is deaf are both wonderful fun to be around. And Frances Barber, who plays my aunt…Try to keep it together when she’s on the prowl.

Scott (laughs): She seems like she has a good sense of humor also. I can definitely see that.  Now, you mentioned Sonita Henry, who plays your partner. I know that one of my favorite parts of these kinds of shows, going back to something like Inspector Morse, where Morse has his sidekick Lewis, and then when they did Inspector Lewis, he’s got Laurence Fox as his partner and they had a great chemistry.  Lynley and Travers was a good one, he’s kind of aristocratic, she’s more working class. So how did you guys approach that, the DI and his partner.

Adrian:  We’re very fortunate that it’s one of the few shows that actually shoots in London, right in the center of London. And that was right in the middle of a pandemic.  But Chelsea sort of becomes a character in the piece, so we knew we had to be very relatable to the city itself.  And what’s great about those two characters is that to a large extent, I think they’re chalk and cheese. She’s very go-getting and he’s contemplative, and they both go about their lives in different ways.

And in their relationships, too, I think. She’s just had a baby and is feeling slightly uncomfortable about all of that, from a family point of view as well as from a work point of view, and he’s just broken up with his wife and doesn’t seem to be doing much to get it back together again even though he’s complaining about the fact that it’s happened at all.

So, I really liked the idea that the two of them kind of raise their eyebrows at one another in the way in which they attack the world.  And that was just clear from the off.  Sonita and I are very different people, she genuinely raises her eyebrows at me quite regularly, and I’m indebted and grateful to her because she’s really encouraging and we have a genuine fondness for one another and make each other laugh, which is always useful when you’re going to be on sets for long periods of time.

Scott: Sure.

Adrian: I just love that relationship.  We didn’t know quite what it was at the beginning.  We had a chemistry read online, on Zoom…

We’re very fortunate that it’s one of the few shows that actually shoots in London, right in the center of London. And that was right in the middle of a pandemic.

Scott: As everything is.

Adrian: As everything is.  And you wonder whether that’s actually going to work, but it really did.  Still, we felt we should meet in person before filming, before we had our first day on set together, so went for a stroll up the Thames, a socially distanced stroll, two days before we started shooting and told each the story of our lives basically and it was great.

Scott: They have little things between them that two people who work together would have. Just little exchanges of the eyes when they’re questioning a suspect, that kind of thing.

Adrian: They have their shorthand.

Scott: That’s how it works.  You were talking about the setting, Chelsea.  Are you familiar with the area?  Did you walk around Chelsea, explore it a bit, before the show?

Adrian: I’ve lived in and out of London, around London, for the last thirty-two years so I do know pockets of it incredibly well. Partly because I’ve lived in them. But interestingly, I never had been anywhere near Chelsea. It’s one of these places one passes through. But a great thing about the show has been being able to cycle around it.

A Conversation With Adrian Scarborough About The Chelsea Detective

They got me this fantastic bicycle – and I love cycling anyway – so I took myself off on several occasions and just got to know the area, a lot better than I did before we’d started. And it’s wonderful, a beautiful area. The architecture is just extraordinary. Georgian and Victorian terraces and some fantastic Art Deco. And you’ve got the King’s Road which runs all the way down there and the river on the other side with all the bridges and the docks.  And also, you’ve got this dark World’s End estate at the end of it, which is a post War council estate which is pretty bleak. A concrete jungle of a place.  A very different feel to much of Chelsea.

Scott: You have that contrast, which is always interesting. In a show at least. That contrast is something to explore.  As for your character, he doesn’t look like he’s doing too bad living on a boat in that area. If that’s the worst fallout from the separation from his wife, he could do a lot worse.

Adrian: Indeed. How he manages to afford it I don’t know. It’s prime real estate down there.

Scott: I was wondering.  Somebody mentions as well that he’s still paying half the mortgage on the flat he owns with his wife.

Adrian: On a very nice flat as well.

Scott: Sure is.  But getting back to Chelsea. I liked how they tapped in one episode into football, with Chelsea, and everyone’s leaving the game to start the episode.

Adrian: I thought that was a great idea.  Football violence is one of those great unspokens here.  It’s just not discussed and talked about, but there was a lot of it historically.

Scott: Yeah, I remember some of that.  And the racism.  Just touching on that was excellent…So, I was wondering, you know you’re going to do four episodes, how do you approach revealing little bits about his character as the series goes on, in different episodes.  Like the football thing came in the third episode, and we didn’t know that he’s a fan till then. That was something new.

Adrian: I think on those shows you kind of want to know more about people’s home life as you go along. You want to know what makes them tick. And you only really find that out by adding dimensions now and again.  I had a very good friend who worked on a cop show here called Heartbeat, which was set in the north of England in the nineteen forties and fifties, and he discovered after about six years on the show that he was an Olympic cyclist.

Scott: After six years?

Adrian: Yes, exactly, they just lumped that on him one day.  And I sincerely hope they don’t do that to Max Arnold.  I don’t suppose they will. But, joking aside, I like the idea that bit by bit you find out a little bit more and a little bit more. And his backstory is very worked out and clear. We had a lot of discussion about that. And there’s still lots of things that people don’t know about him, and I like the fact that those secrets will hopefully be unlocked at some point in the future.  We’ll definitely find out more about his life as a child.  We haven’t gone much down that road yet.

Scott: Yes. The little bits we heard – that he was dyslexic and how his father read to him – were strong.  It’s good when you have that kind of time like these shows do, and you can go in depth in a way a movie can’t.

Adrian: Absolutely.

Scott: Sounds like there is a plan for more episodes then?

Adrian:  Yeah, they’ve been given script development money for the next four.  We’ll wait and see how it goes down in America.  It’s gone down incredibly well over here, I think, and in Australia, New Zealand, Germany. I know that it’s already been bought by the Norse PBS countries, so, fingers crossed.

Scott: The plots were quite solid, I have to say.  Not just the acting and atmosphere, but the four plots themselves, the procedural aspect.

Adrian: I like the fact that they’re all very different stories. You can’t compare one with the other really. They’re all coming from completely different places. So, yeah. I was interested to pick up the next script and go, oh my goodness, we’re dealing with football violence or we’re at an international school where one of the teachers has been bumped off.  It was interesting to have different energies and feels to each of them. And it made the set a much more interesting place to be for the crew and for the actors alike.

*****

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