Steve Coogan and the makers of the new Stephen Lawrence sequence: ‘This story is ever more relevant’


Steve Coogan can be the first to confess that he has not ceaselessly portrayed good guys. “I don’t often play decent people. I normally play people who are dysfunctional,” says the actor. But all that is altering along with his newest venture. Previously finest identified for his flawed characters – Alan Partridge, Tony Wilson, Paul Raymond, Stan Laurel, a billionaire not completely dissimilar to Sir Philip Green in Greed and “Steve Coogan”, a distorted model of himself in The Trip – he is now taking the function of “good cop” DCI Clive Driscoll in Stephen, a potent new ITV drama about the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s killers.

Coogan, 55, spent many hours on a video name with Driscoll, the detective who proved instrumental in convicting two of Lawrence’s murderers, in preparation for the function. He says merely: “I wanted to play a decent person.”

But the function of Driscoll was additionally unattainable to show down. “You can’t not do it,” says Coogan. “When someone offers you something like this, it’s both a privilege and a responsibility. It was an honour to play and celebrate common decency, and I couldn’t say no.”

Co-written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce (Hilary and Jackie) and his son Joe (Treasure), the three-part sequence and is a sequel to Paul Greengrass’s enormously influential 1999 movie The Murder of Stephen Lawrence. The story is etched into our collective reminiscence. On 22 April 1993, Lawrence, a younger black pupil who needed to develop into an architect, was brutally stabbed to loss of life in an unprovoked assault by a white racist gang whereas he was ready for a bus in Well Hall Road, Eltham.

Even although his mother and father, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, had been conscious of the id of their son’s killers, the unique investigation didn’t reach convicting any of the suspects. The mother and father’ subsequent and outstanding marketing campaign for justice prompted The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, led by retired choose Sir William Macpherson.

In 1999, the inquiry reached the landmark conclusion that the Metropolitan Police had been institutionally racist. It triggered widespread modifications in the regulation and police practices and radically altered our understanding of racial inequality in the UK. Six years on from the inquiry, although, the Met had been no nearer to securing any convictions for Stephen’s homicide. While The Murder of Stephen Lawrence centered on the crime itself and the woefully insufficient preliminary investigation by the Met, Stephen recounts Doreen (Sharlene Whyte, Small Axe) and Neville’s (Hugh Quarshie, Holby City) subsequent tireless battle to attain justice for his or her son.

The sequence reveals how Driscoll gained over the initially sceptical Doreen and Neville and then, in shut collaboration with them, mounted an investigation that lastly, 19 years after his loss of life, resulted in the convictions of two of the gang who killed Stephen.

The TV drama reunites many of the creatives behind the unique movie, together with govt producers Mark Redhead (Bloody Sunday), who produced the drama in 1999, Greengrass (the Bourne motion pictures), who wrote and directed The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, and Quarshie, who reprises the half of Neville.

Jorden Myrie, Sharlene Whyte and Hugh Quarshie as Stuart, Doreen and Neville Lawrence


Redhead explains why he was so desirous to return to the case. “It remained an incredibly important story and Neville and Doreen became incredibly important figures in our national culture. I kept up with them after we made our programme and went to the trial in 2012.” Then he learn Clive’s e-book “and was really moved by it,” he continues. “The story remained amazingly relevant, and I felt it needed completing. So I went to ITV and said, ‘I’d really like to take this forward’, and they embraced it very quickly.”

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Coogan, who is speaking to me on Zoom, reveals he was significantly drawn by the proven fact that Driscoll is very far faraway from the stereotype of a maverick TV detective.

“There are so many clichés about a cop who does a good job by breaking the rules, but this was a policeman who did a good job by sticking to the rules and laboriously going through them point by point in a very quiet, disciplined, dogged way,” he says, a considerate presence who in particular person reveals none of Partridge’s trademark bumptiousness. “It’s a story we don’t often hear and it’s important.

“In light of all the awful things that happened, it’s important to remind people in any drama that there are decent people in the world. The world isn’t full of cynics. There are decent people trying to do the right thing in the face of hatred and cynicism. Clive Driscoll decided to help two people he didn’t know just on the basis that it was the right thing to do.”

A person of the regulation: Coogan’s character in ‘Stephen’ is Clive Driscoll, the detective who secured convictions for 2 of Lawrence’s murderers


One level Coogan is eager to bolster is that Stephen is not a “white saviour” drama – it is Neville and Doreen who propel the narrative. “It’s important we don’t lose track of what the story’s about, which is an imperfect justice that was arrived at for Neville and Doreen. It’s their story,” the actor says. “Hugh and Sharlene really did the heavy lifting; all I had to do was react to what they were doing.”

Coogan has performed actual individuals earlier than, together with Wilson, Raymond and Martin Sixsmith in Philomena, the true story a couple of journalist serving to a girl discover her long-lost son, and he says he prefers that to dreaming up a personality himself. “In some ways, playing a real person, I think, is easier than playing someone you have to invent. Because a real person has lived a real life for you, and they’ve done all the research. All you have to do is honour who they are in the way you play them.

“Clive was a very attractive person to play,” continues Coogan. “He has a sense of humour, he doesn’t go around with a shield and sword of truth. He just quietly does his job. I thought, ironically, it was nice to celebrate someone who wouldn’t celebrate themselves in this story.”

The actor delves deeper into what makes Driscoll such a very good cop. “The old Sweeney school of policing has had a bad rap – quite rightly. But Clive talks about ‘common sense coppering.’ I said to him, ‘how come you didn’t end up becoming one of those coppers that took backhanders?’

“And he said, ‘well, my mother was a single parent and she was honest, decent. I thought I’d be letting her down if I did anything other than be honest’.”

Twenty-eight years after it occurred, the homicide of Stephen Lawrence sadly stays extremely topical. Given the foreign money of the Black Lives Matter motion, which is powered by persevering with, egregious examples of police racism, this notorious case nonetheless strikes a chord in the present day.

A photograph of the actual Stephen Lawrence, handed out by the Metropolitan Police

(Met Police through Getty)

Sharlene Whyte is saddened that this case stays related. “I’ve got an 18-year-old black teenager who’s outside and having all the dealings with police, so it’s quite tricky out there at the minute,” she says of her personal little one. “The idea that Stephen wouldn’t come back home after going to see his friends just terrifies me. It’s just made me realise that I’m not sure, sadly, how much things have moved on today.” She provides that Stephen’s case, “just highlighted that I’m so precious about my son at this age”.

Quarshie has very comparable worries. “I’ve got a son who is now Stephen’s age, and every day when he goes to college, I feel that concern which sometimes spills over into anxiety – with all of the knife crime in London and so on.

“The pleasure and pride you take in your children and their achievements, just watching them grow – sometimes tiptoeing a few paces behind is that anxiety, especially if you are a parent of a black or mixed-race kid. You know they will be subject to more stresses and tensions growing up than white kids.”

Redhead, too, deeply regrets that Stephen, which was made with the full assist of Doreen and Neville, nonetheless has up to date resonance. “When I pitched it to ITV four years ago, it was relevant, but it has sadly become more relevant and timely as time has gone on. There is a line that Doreen has in our drama in her speech at St Martin-in-the-Fields with the prime minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others in attendance.

“She says she is really grateful they are there, but she really wishes they weren’t and she wishes she wasn’t there. That’s my feeling about this. I wish this drama was not necessary, that we were in such a place that it would not be necessary to keep returning to this story, but it is important.”

Redhead continues: “I know of some younger people who have never heard of Stephen Lawrence, who don’t know the story at all. You have to keep reminding people of what this story is about and why it is ever more relevant. We also reflect the fact that Stephen is not a unique case.”

What do the forged and crew hope that viewers will achieve from watching Stephen, then? “I hope that people take away from it that doing the right thing sometimes makes sense, and there are lots of reasons to do the right thing,” says Coogan.

“Often people are faced with choices and choose whatever’s the most expedient, what’s going to reward them. But perhaps if you do the honourable thing, that’s always the best choice, because so many things roll out from that which benefit everyone. Being good makes sense.”

Unfortunately, the case is nonetheless not fully closed – different suspects haven’t but confronted trial for Stephen’s homicide. “There was a moral imperative to tell this story,” Quarshie concludes. “That also fuelled the original Paul Greengrass drama and that has been carried on into this later story. There was a sense that this is a story that needs to be told and we wanted to tell it in the right way. I think we can be proud of that. It was the right thing to do.

“But it ain’t over until it’s over. They have convicted two of the killers, but not others involved. We hope justice will be done one day.”

‘Stephen’ begins on ITV at 9pm on Monday 30 August

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