Interview with Ron Donachie (Don Carpenter)

Category: Press Pack Article

Don’s prone to responding to any given situation with one word: “fantastic”. How do you prepare to deliver each one?

It's not as easy as it might seem! Vin Diesel says he's never worked so hard in his life as when all he had to do was to stand in a booth for days going, “I am Groot” for Guardians of the Galaxy. I kind of see his point, although the “fantastics” are great fun.

Did this second series feel different to the first?

Very much so. There's a much darker feel about it, a real sense of jeopardy and impending danger. The potential for violence must be an ever-present part of life for prison officers, so although it hasn't lost any of its warmth or humour, underpinning that is the murder of a young boy that everybody was fond of. People are on edge and frightened. For Don, rather than just coasting towards his pension and avoiding things, it's forced him to realise that he must be more proactive, even if it's only for self-preservation. He must play a bigger part on the wing than has been the case for years.

Does he find himself quite enjoying that?

I think he does because the path he had chosen must have been very lonely. In series one, except for his relationship with Ali (Faraz Ayub), he doesn't really have anybody to talk to. He gets on well enough with Jackie (Laura Checkley) because she's very personable, but they're not close. He has no relationship with the prisoners either, so I suspect that re-engaging with the world has taken a burden off his shoulders.

Initially, Don seems to be one of the least affected by the death of Toby Phillips (Jack Bardoe). Is that because he's seen a lot of death in his life anyway?

I think that's probably true, his background as a paratrooper and experiences in the Falklands have probably prepared him for that. I imagine that men and women who have gone through that sort of thing have to form carapace so they can cope, and he certainly maintains that ability to just stand slightly to one side and not be emotionally distraught by things.

What does Don think of the possibility that there’s an undercover officer on the wing?

How could they be so stupid? The man's life is worth nothing if the other prisoners find out – they will kill him. From Don's point of view, that's an astonishing error but also, by extension, it puts all the rest of them in danger as well. It injects a frisson into the way the prisoners behave. Scores get settled and people get hurt. He thinks it's a bad idea, although dramatically, it’s great!

What does he make of Leigh's (Nina Sosanya) new touchy-feely management style?

I think I'm right in saying that Leigh never actually calls Don by his first name, and I don't think that’s an accident. Her desire for proactive, reformative custody isn't necessarily congruent with his view of the world, so when something goes badly wrong, you do get a “fantastic” at that point – he's just going, “you never learn…” But if that's what she wants to do, fine, although he thinks she'll just go back to being who she is. He's quite a shrewd observer of people and knows her for who she is.

What were you most looking forward to about coming back?

Seeing my friends again. It was an unusually, comradely job and I think that shows in the series. Also, I was looking forward to seeing where I could go with Don Carpenter, because he was very enigmatic in season one, very closed off. But the tortoise can’t stay in its shell forever, you've got to let his neck out. The way they’ve done that really works this year.

Do you feel oddly at home on that set now or do you still feel the weight of it?

Both. It's tremendously good to work on. I've done TV in real prisons, and this really passed for season one, but the art department have really roughed it up even more for season two: simple things like Sellotape left sticking on notice boards or broken electric switches, all the signs of a crumbling institution as it inexorably becomes dysfunctional.

What’s coming up next?

I've just filmed one thing and I've got something else I’m about to move on to, but I can't tell you any details. Otherwise, I'm doing a bit of music.

So: The Jailhouse Sessions?

Well, I'm actually working with one of the supporting artists on it with his brother. They’re terrific musicians, so we get together every couple of weeks. It’s good fun, although I’m not sure we’ll ever release anything.