Q&A: Jason Isaacs
British-born actor Jason Isaacs may be most recognized for his role as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films. Other film credits include Abduction, Peter Pan, The Patriot and Armageddon among others. On television, Isaacs has been seen in Brotherhood, Entourage, The West Wing and more. In 2008, Isaacs was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the Best Actor in a Miniseries category for his work in The State Within.
Actor Jason Isaacs, portraying Kate Atkinson's tough private eye Jackson Brodie in Case Histories, talks about his tough/sensitive character, what upstaged him in the series, and the physicality of the role — being a "walking, jangling ball of ibuprofen."
Select a topic from the list below to see Isaacs's thoughts, or choose Show All to see the entire interview.
The Character of Jackson Brodie
What is Jackson Brodie like?
If I could sum it up in two sentences they wouldn't be bestselling books all over the world and we wouldn't be telling the story in six hours on television. He's a very interesting guy; he almost never does things the way you expect him to. Let me 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.
What are your favorite elements of him?
The most extraordinary characters come into his life and they ask him for help and he really ought to be saying no; he ought to have learned his lesson. But he finds it really very hard not to help people out.
In preparation, did you draw from other TV detectives?
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 fit into any of these molds. 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.
Can you describe Jackson's relationship with Louise?
Jackson and Louise Munroe were partners at work when he was a cop and he was very good and she learned a lot from him. I think Amanda Abbington (who plays Louise) is a little bit younger than me, so I would have to guess Louise is younger than Jackson. He slightly disgraced some other policemen and made himself very unpopular and that's why he resigned before he was kicked out. She nonetheless knows he was a really good cop.
She not only respects him but there's a small fire burning for him somewhere and obviously there's a huge one in him for her. However, she knows it'd be a disaster to be involved with him. She'd never let herself do that and she's not going to do it to her kid either or to her career, and he thinks that if he even tried she'd slap him down so fast that he'd never come up for air again. So there's this thing between them that ought to happen but I'm not sure it ever will. Louise helps him out often because she knows he's doing something right, that he's sorting things out, and often outside the law in ways that she can't as a cop. She helps him out because her heart is in the right place as well.
Making Case Histories
What did you feel when first reading the script?
When they first gave me the script it was an odd experience because having done all the audio books, 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. The television genre, particularly television like a detective piece, requires something completely different.
So the first two scripts written by Ashley Pharoah, who is a brilliant television writer, completely honored the spirit and characters in Kate Atkinson's books but told the story from a different way. It's odd though when you like the books so much you think, "Why don't we just put the books directly on the screen?" If you try to do that, it's clear it's not going to work and you have to respect the medium and its different requirements. 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.
Playing Jackson Brodie is very physical, isn't it?
There's a lot of running around and jumping up and down and diving into freezing cold water and flinging yourself over walks and getting beaten up. There's a lot of getting beaten up — I'm constantly getting beaten up. It saves me going to the gym. I don't think the public really cares how much you get hurt making things but it so happens I'm carrying a bunch of work-related injuries, but hopefully I'm not in too much real danger. I'm a walking, jangling ball of ibuprofen. I'm not asking anyone to play the violin too loudly. It's a laugh, I like it.
How much does Edinburgh play a role in the series?
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 and I came here as a professional actor as well for the film festival. You just can't take your eyes off it. Right in the center of the town you've got this extraordinary epic hill at one end, and the castle the other end and a huge park. 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 center and its 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.
How did you get into acting?
Oh bloody hell. I don't know. I think I was probably always a liar; I just get paid for it now. I went to university and I was a bit out of my depth, socially. I was surrounded by a lot of very posh people. They all sounded like Hugh Grant and I didn't. In the first week I auditioned for a play, drunk, in the day I was joining all the clubs, I was joining the wine and cheese and parachuting club as well. I just loved it, I just loved everything about the group of people you were suddenly very intense with and how you were unpicking what made human beings tick, together, and there was a place to go to every night, as opposed to the bar. I haven't ever really fallen out of love with that process, researching who people are, what they do and why they do it and telling stories.
How do you feel when you're performing?
In the moment of acting you don't feel like anything, you feel like the person, as much as you can. It's all a trick of the imagination. As far as I can, as much as I can force myself to or allow myself to, I feel like Jackson Brodie when I'm being Jackson. I feel as much like the character as I can allow myself to relax into, so I feel angry, upset, driven, curious, whatever the hell it is. I feel like them. I mean that's the game of it. It's a game, it's all play. It's not something you put on, it's something hopefully you allow out.