What is Parodi’s background?
He’s a military police captain, a career army guy rather than one of the people who joined after 9/11. He has his misgivings about the operation in Iraq but puts his head down and does his job. The army is tasked with security while the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA; a transitional government led by the US) had a much more ideological mission to remake Iraq as a free-market liberal democracy within a very short timeframe. Parodi wants to do things “by the book”, but the situation on the ground tests his ability to do everything as protocol would determine. I imagine he’s a Republican, but he’s not a crusader, he’s here to do his job.
Is it possible for anyone to abide by protocol in post-invasion Baghdad?
I don’t think he’s been tested like this before. Temple (Bertie Carvel) says that Parodi’s job is to “stop Chuck from beating up Chad”, mediating intra-army conflicts, and certainly nothing as sophisticated, corrupt and challenging as the plot he uncovers. Because the whole world of Baghdad has been turned upside down, a general theme in the series is of people forced to make up the rules as they go along. Everybody bends their sense of ethics.
What was your way into the character?
I have a very different life and worldview to Parodi, but he’s very forthright. He’s in this world of mystery and lies and people playing roles, and he’s determined to be direct and honest, which I can relate to. My first instinct is always to make things as uncomplicated as possible. My attitude towards work is, let’s keep it simple, but it rarely stays that way…
How does he get on with Temple and Khafaji?
He hates Temple from the get-go but loves to mess with him. Temple is a great foil, he’s so easy to rile and so superior, but as the plot unfolds we become outright enemies. With Khafaji (Waleed Zuaiter), it strikes Parodi as far too early to be standing up an Iraqi police force when we’re barely securing the country. So Parodi’s attitude is very suspicious and dismissive. But I loved sparring with Bertie Carvel, he’s such a playful actor, and Waleed is terrific.
Until very recently, Iraq hasn’t been on the news agenda for a long time...
Right, we’re very good at forgetting stuff. The news cycle has sped up to such a speed that it’s impossible to hold onto a sense of history. There is real transformation happening in both the UK and US, I would say for the worse, and the argument could be made that this would not have happened without the debacle in 2003. The squandering of trust in government was really damaging to political life in both countries.
So is Baghdad Central an act of remembrance, of reminding people what happened?
There’s more to it. It’s important to remember the setting is military and political, but the subject is domestic and petty criminal. It’s a family drama set in a warzone, but it’s also part of the great British tradition of detective shows. Khafaji is doing Poirot backwards in heels – he’s got his own family struggles and fighting a corrupt range of parties. A lot of people don’t want him to do his job.
Did you have any action sequences?
Yeah, some were really fun and some were really sobering. There’s one scene where we roll up in Humvees and raid this house, but all we find are a group of women in black, in mourning and terrified of these machine guns in their faces. I found myself very affected by that. On one level the soldiers have a protocol of how to clear a room that mitigates danger as much as possible, but then you see it from the women’s perspective, how surreal it is to have a group of heavily armed men pointing guns in your faces. That stuck with me.