Case Histories - Jason Isaacs interview
New BBC One series Case Histories is set in modern Edinburgh and is based on Kate Atkinson’s novels. Jason Isaacs play her hero Jackson Brodie, former soldier and policeman turned private detective. Jason talks to us about his starring role.
How would you describe the series?
Jason Isaacs: Well, Case Histories is a game of three halves. There are three different books of Kate Atkinson’s we’ve adapted into six episodes and at the heart of it is a man sorting other people’s problems out while avoiding his own. Case Histories is a detective piece, there’s a detective, he gets cases, he solves them. But it’s more an emotional drama about a man struggling with his past and putting together the pieces of other people’s pasts and avoiding his present. So he runs… a lot.
And what is this detective Jackson Brodie like?
Jason Isaacs: If I could sum it up in two sentences they wouldn’t be best-selling books all over the world and we wouldn’t be telling the story in six hours on telly. He’s a very interesting guy; he almost never does things the way you expect him to. Let’s be clear, I’m not describing myself here but he’s very tough and resolved and smart and sensitive, empathetic, ethical and driven… and kind of damaged.
Did you draw from any other TV detectives when you were preparing for the role?
Jason Isaacs: He’s not really a traditional detective. He’s been in the army for a long time, he was a policeman for a long time and he never quite fitted into any of these moulds. He’s not interested in catching the bad guys and punishing them as much as he is in understanding the human condition. It’s more that he connects with people and he understands who they are and what makes them tick and why they are lying as opposed to when they are lying.
Did you do a lot of research?
Jason Isaacs: There’s not a lot of research you can do. I’ve played a lot of soldiers and I’ve actually come across a lot of policemen as well in the course of my work, but really he’s an unusual idiosyncratic guy and the people who come into his life… there’s not a single one of them that are made up of on-the-shelf characters. They’re all odd and they’re all lost in some ways, lots of survivors of trauma. A lot of the themes are to do with people carrying things from their past that he helps them to unburden, so there wasn’t a lot of research – you have to just try and be this guy in this situation.
So did you try and put yourself in his head?
Jason Isaacs: Acting is a really simple job, it’s just hard to do. You just have to be that person with their background in that situation. That’s all it is. My kids do it all the time when they’re dressing up and playing games. We see throughout the series that Jackson’s haunted by his past, and driven by a personal tragedy. One of most enjoyable elements about it is that he’s quite dry; he sees the humour in everything. I don’t mean he’s a gag cracker, I just mean he’s a dour Yorkshireman who is quite laconic.
How did you feel when you first read the script?
Jason Isaacs: When they first gave me the script it was an odd experience because, having done all the audiobooks, it was like revisiting very familiar territory. Then I remembered how clever they had been, because actually the books are brilliant as books, but if you just transcribe them for the screen they’d be rubbish.
Television genre, particularly television like a detective piece, requires something completely different. So the first two scripts written by Ashley Pharoah, who’s a brilliant TV writer, had completely honoured the spirit and characters in Kate’s books but told the story in a different way, from a very different angle and that’s what those scripts continue to do.
Television is a very linear and literal medium, so in a way you have to obey the conventions of the genre so that you can then do something very unconventional. That’s what I think the producers have managed to do really well.
Is it quite a physical role?
Jason Isaacs: There’s a lot of running around and jumping up and down and diving into freezing cold water and flinging yourself over walls and getting beaten up. There’s a lot of getting beaten up. It saves me going to the gym. I don’t think the public really care how much you get hurt making things but it so happens I’m carrying a bunch of work-related injuries. My Achilles is shot from running down this icy street and I fell over this fence and I keep getting kicked and punched and twisted and then I have to go in the ocean, which was below freezing. Is it possible for water to be below freezing and still move? I’m not asking anyone to play the violin too loudly. It’s a laugh, I like it.
How much do you think Edinburgh plays a role in the film?
Jason Isaacs: Edinburgh has slightly upstaged me and become a major character in the piece, which I’m fine with. It’s a gorgeous city and I came here a lot as a student during the festival and I came here as a professional actor as well for the film festival. You just can’t take your eyes off it. Everywhere you go there is extraordinary architecture and there’s history and beautiful greenery and the sea. So I keep watching the directors, who seem to frame off centre and it’s clear to me that I am in some corner of the screen and the rest of it is taken up by this beautiful backdrop! It’s a great city. We’re not shooting a travel brochure though. It just so happens that it’s very picturesque and gorgeous.
Watch a trailer for the show