Actor Sam Reid plays the grizzled Detective Inspector Len Bradfield, an early mentor for a young Jane Tennison in the new prequel series, Prime Suspect: Tennison. Bradfield is a role of its own—but Reid told us he couldn’t help but sneak a few of the original Jane Tennison’s quirks into his new character as a roadmap for where the future Prime Suspect legend would end up.
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I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
A workplace romance gone wrong… an explosive finale… and a sobering glimpse of the future Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. It’s all there in the stunning conclusion to MASTERPIECE’s Prime Suspect: Tennison.
Tennison: What do I do the next time you push me to be a better police officer? Do I remind you of this? The time you let a murder suspect slip through your fingers? Julie Ann Collins doesn’t care about your score with Clifford Bentley.
Bradfield: Score? Every August for the past 8 years I’ve attended PC Hopkins’ memorial service, and I’ve had to look into the eyes of his widow and tell her I’m sorry we couldn’t do any more.
Jace: While Detective Inspector Len Bradfield, Jane Tennison’s superior officer and burgeoning love interest, may have died in a bank heist showdown, Australian actor Sam Reid is still alive and kicking:
Sam Reid: this is not Marple, this is not Poirot. These are not like, you know, this is real, gritty cases that they are solving, and it’s a reflection on um, society. Um, and you know, that that’s what the show has always been about.
Jace: Back in January, we spoke with Sam Reid about his decision to pick up a new TV role despite knowing he would be killed off, as well as his love of the original Prime Suspect … and the behind the scenes details of a messy makeout scene with actor Stefanie Martini.
Sam: Hey, thank you very much.
Jace: Going into the project, did you know that Len would have a limited life span?
Sam: Yeah I did, yeah. I mean, I signed on knowing that I was only going to be in one season. Yeah.
Jace: What, what interested or attracted you most about the project initially?
Sam: I loved the original Prime Suspect. I was a huge, huge fan of it and um, so I was intrigued to see where they would take it. And reading the script, what I found the most interesting was, the original series explores really fascinating, diverse areas in social topics of the time. It was very confronting, hard hitting television, and this series is more about how does a woman in that period of time, in the 1970’s, how did she become that tour de force? How did she navigate the world? And to become Jane Tennison, to become that kind of hardened superhero of detectives. Also playing a role that was in, that was her position, essentially, and I spent a lot of time actually looking at Helen Mirren’s performance, and going well, if Bradfield is, is somebody who Jane Tennison looks up to, then there’s got to be elements of Jane Tennison, Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison, in Bradfield, and a big part of that was her emotionality and her, you know, her complete devotion to her cases.
Jace: What do you make of their sort of teacher student dynamic initially?
Sam: Well I think he recognizes very quickly on that she, that there’s a spark to her, and that she’s interested in the questions she asks are informed, and she has a passionate approach to the case. More than the average PC, WPC or PC. And he sees that spark and I think he wants to, he wants to nurture that, and he wants her to reach her full potential.
Jace: Does he feel at this point that she does have the right instincts to be a copper despite being a Mandeville girl?
Sam: I think the way that he approaches the questions that she asks…He sort of can’t be bothered to, to indulge her too much. I think it, a lot of it is, just don’t think about it, just get on with the job. Don’t over think things, you’ve got to feel natural in this space. We had a police advisor who you know, very rightly said, it never gets any easier telling parents that their children have died. You know, where you would expect a cop drama, you would expect these hardened you know hackney police officers to be you know, pretty laissez faire in the way they are going to approach that, but it is, it’s a really tough, tough thing to go through.
Tennison: Can I ask, sir? When we get there — I know what your role is. But, once we’re inside. If the mother cries, do I comfort her, how would I do that? Sorry I’m asking too many questions.
Bradfield: No, just — do what feels natural. Grab that envelope from the back seat.
Tennison: You want me to show this to the family?
Bradfield: No, when I give you the nod, just compare it to any family photographs you see. But be discreet.
Jace: The show is very much about Jane Tennison as a young police officer. Uh, what do you think Len would have been like as a young PC?
Sam: Well, he’s quite young to get the job at the moment. He’s in his third year I think, and he’s a DI. He’s in his 30’s and he’s a DI. So I think he would have been very similar to Jane, very eager to prove himself, but he would have gone through, some form of military training, university and then gone into the police academy and would have been a sort of like golden child that his skill and his devotion to the job got him promotion after promotion after promotion, and moved through the ranks very quickly. A lot easier for him obviously, because he was a man, and you know he’s not left to the dishes or anything like that.
Jace: At the pub he drunkenly tells Jane about PC Charlie Hopkins, um, and the incident eight years earlier, and how he broke into the garage to discover that the car that had mowed him down.
Bradfield: Eight years ago we had this young PC, Charlie Hopkins, he’s not much older than you. He died. While doing a routine check on a vehicle with false plates. The driver did it but he mowed him down. What Hopkins didn’t know was that the driver was on his way to an armed raid at a bookie’s. I got information about a garage taken the vehicle in for repairs. So I broke in. I found it. Smashed headlight. Dented bumper. Blood smear. I knew I had him. The driver.
Tennison: You arrested him.
Bradfield: No, no, he saw me go in the garage and by the time I came back with the warrant he torched the car. No fingerprints, no nothing to connect it to PC Hopkins. Bastard got away with it. Sorry, I didn’t meant to be going on about that.
Jace: What does that incident illuminate about Bradfield, and his, his guilt, and his culpability in allowing his killer to go free?
Sam: You know, it’s a wonderful narrative device, because Jane does a similar thing at the, at the Collins House at the funeral, and it’s, it’s this, your heart’s in the right place, you, but you have to follow the rules, and um, it’s not, it’s not in his nature I think. He, he wants to just charge in there and solve it in his own time, in it, in his own way, and that’s backfired hugely. And so he’s had to um, you know, rein in this sort of um, you know, white knight obsession that he probably has um, and, and that’s led to him feeling this guilt. And when he sees it in Jane, and Jane does the same thing, that’s when he, he cannot forgive her for that. I think and he, he really hits back at her in a very very hard way. Particularly after he just told her, this is what I did. And you know, I’m a complete mess because of it, and then she turns around and does the same thing.
Jace: There’s history between Len and Cliff Bentley.
Jace: Len made a promise to PC Hopkin’s widow. Why is there such enmity between these two men?
Sam: Well um, Clifford Bentley is responsible for PC Hopkin’s death. Um, and uh, he didn’t have enough evidence to catch him, um and uh, he knows that. They got him for a different robbery, he got a shorter sentence, um, he’s, he’s um, you know, anti-hero. He’s kryptonite, and I think that character needs it, because the Clifford Bentley force is the thing that ends up driving the whole narrative of the case, essentially, because it completely blindsides Bradfield, and um, you know, leads to his death ultimately.
Jace: What was it like shooting the scene where you square off against Alan Armstrong? What was it like working with Alan?
Sam: It was a lot of cigarette navigation. Alan and I were probably both smoking I think in this scene, and then we were like, trying to work out, where who blows smoke in who’s face. It was very funny, really, but he’s such a wonderful actor, and terrifying, and so I did find it a bit challenging to kind of like face up to him. Originally in the script, it’s a much more violent confrontation, where we get into fisticuffs and push each other around, and and I’m glad that it was taken back a bit to a more realistic meeting of minds.
These, both these men are very calculating, very intelligent, and it was sort of nice, even though they only meet together once in the whole show, it was very nice to see the two of them having a kind of relaxed standoff where they’re just looking at each other. It’s a good kind of entranceway to the rest of the plot I think.
Jace: I mean, you’re sort of thinking, where is this one case going, and this other case, and then they sort of come together. Do you think that, that he represents sort an outmoded style of policing with his sort of threats of sending a welcome party to, to Cliff.
Sam: Oh absolutely, yeah.
Jace: And is he sort of a Gene Hunt type copper?
Sam: Yeah, absolutely, and I think you know, he’s, he’s advised not to do it over and over again, and you know, going alone doesn’t make the threat any stronger. I’m sure, you know, if you had just gotten out of jail, um and you had killed a police officer, I mean, the whole force would be after you. You, they would stop everything and go after that guy. They are solving a murder case a week, you know. I think Bradford would love to have, you know, a big team of police officers stand outside Clifford Bentley’s house and threaten him. Instead he has to go alone, and yeah. I think he is, it’s a good representation of a dying kind of ideology, of this, this boys team.
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Jace: Immediately after he and Jane kiss, his behavior towards her completely alters. Uh, he becomes quite churlish towards her.
Jace: What’s going through his mind at that point?
Sam: Well, you know, I think one he’s married, so he really shouldn’t be doing that. There, he is estranged with his wife, um, and so he’s not that bad. I mean it’s bad, so, but, but two, I think he does respect her, and I think when he says I admire you, he’s not joking. He means it. And I think you know, there, there may be a bit of paranoia, that she’s … Sleeping her way to the top, or trying to get a promotion, or something like that, that that, that he, that he, that he’s not sure what just happened I think, because they are so drunk in that scenario.
Bradfield: I wanted to thank you for what you did. I know can’t have been easy.
Tennison: It wasn’t. I’m just glad it’s over so now we can, I mean, so you can get on with the case. If that will be all. Good night then.
Bradfield: Good night. Jane. What I said. The other night. That I admire you. I really meant it.
Jace: There’s an instance uh, upon his part, that Jane lied to protect DS Gibbs. Is self-preservation a higher priority than the truth for the Met in 1973?
Sam: It’s that pack mentality. You have to look after the force. It’s the same scenario of when, you know, a police officer is murdered, then everyone goes after the murderer. It’s the same thing here, if, if somebody uh breaks the law within the force, then everyone stands up to protect them. You have to be loyal to your team. Jane does not, she’s new, she’s not entirely comfortable with that idea. So the most important thing I think to remember with this show, is that, you know, this is a man’s world, and she, she is, she is manipulated, and she does have to fight her way through it. I think there’s an important of part of Bradfield of holding on to that chauvinistic mentality. Particularly because that, that makes her grow into this much hardened figure, and much more skeptical.
Jace: Jane is the only cop willing to listen to Ashley’s crackpot theories. One, that ultimately proves to be right. Len says, “Nobody’s ever listened to Ashley Brennan before, we just thought he was a nosy prat with a CB radio.” Are her methods fundamentally different than Leonard’s? I mean, he would never give this guy the time of day, and she is listening to someone who … They would never pay attention to. I mean, is she sort of fundamentally looking at things in a different way than, than they are?
Sam: I think she’s very keen to prove herself, and she’s very, she’s very keen to do anything. She approaches everything, which other people would see as a menial task, or you know, like the office joke, like you know, they’re actually going to see Ashley Brennan with the CB radio. She approaches it with complete vigor, going back to the prostitute and asking her the questions and, you know, even following up the lead with the red jaguar straight away. This is Jane Tennison, you know, she is a bit of a super hero. And as Stefanie’s version of the character says, you know, it, it matters. This matters. And the whole sense of identity is, well, welded to this job.
Jace: He and Jane finally do consummate their attraction, sleeping together at the section house. What line do they cross here, and why is it so damning for both of them?
Sam: I mean, people, you know, a lot of the time there was relationships within the force but what often happened was tha one of them would leave the force because of that. And that period of time it was often the woman, and I think that’s just not an option for Jane Tennison, and also he obviously can’t have a relationship with her because he is married with children. But it blindsides them. I think that’s what he’s paranoid about, is he, he wants to get on with the job, he wants to solve the case, and you know, bearing in mind the whole thing happens over three days.
So the more, the more lingering looks, the more kind of you know, distraction there is, the slower it’s going to take to solve the case, and so there is that sort of back and fro, where he’s drawn to her, and he wants to hang out with her, and he wants to you know, he wants to speak to her, and he wants to kiss her, but the rest of the time he wants her to go away, because she’s a massive distraction for him. Same thing with her, sort of if anyone found out that they were together, than she’d be completely dismissed as you know, somebody who’s getting favors from the boss because they’re sleeping together.
Jace: And, it is revealed despite this, yes, he is married with children. Did you know about that twist from the beginning, and did it change how you saw the character?
Sam: Yeah, once I found out, yeah, you, you actually, you feel more guilty I think. You’re just constantly carrying around um, uh, the shame. And I think he’s a man riddled by shame, riddled by guilt, and is very hard on people, when, you know, they make mistakes. Probably as a reflection on himself.
Jace: I mean, should it change how we the viewer should see his character?
Sam: I hope so, yeah, I hope that people, you know, sort of they fall for him in the way that Jane will fall for him in the first couple of episodes, and then I think he, he does become … He should be a representation of men at the time. And, and this is a world in which she’s had to navigate, and this is a reason why, why she’s hardened up, why she becomes so callous, because she’s had to deal with you know, this big love affair that happened so quickly, and he turns out to be nothing like what she expected.
Jace: Now, you said you were a fan of the original Prime Suspect, which I feel like aired before you were even born. But why do you have this sort of abiding love for the original? It was sort of an obsession of mine, but why are you so obsessed with Prime Suspect?
Sam: It came out at a time when television wasn’t really like that. I mean, I know I obviously wasn’t watching it at the time when it was on, but when you watch it, you get the feeling wow, this was like a complete game changer. And just, you know, the opening credit, that silent prime suspect coming up in white writing on the black background, just after the first opening scene where they go into the most controversial issue that could have been aired about at the time, you know, with its race, sexuality-
Jace: Child prostitution.
Sam: Child prostitution, parents, you know, murdering their children. It, it would have been such a shocking event when it was on, and Helen Mirren is so wonderful in that role, and you know, the cases are so fascinating.
Jace: Why do you think that Jane herself has remained so popular? I mean, their endeavor obviously spun off of Inspector Morris, but it’s rare I think for a female detective to sort of get her own prequel series. Why do you think the character of Jane has endured for some long? Besides obviously Dame Helen Mirren, but the character itself I think is so fascinating.
Sam: Well I think at that time, I think there wasn’t a character like that. There wasn’t a female character in the lead of a show where she was brazen, where she, where her sexual partners were just, you know, pieces of meat on the side because she had a job to do. Where she commended a room like that, and it, you know, I think it was a long, it was a little too late, like you know. We crave strong female characters, we need them, and uh she’s such a bastion of, of that world.
Jace: In addition to this, you’ve appeared in a number of period roles. Is there a particular period that you’re most comfortable in?
Sam: Every period comes with its, um, hassles. The costume particularly. So, I’m not a huge fan of a cravat, which I’ve had to wear a few times. I’m always trying to convince costume to give me a Velcro cravat, which no one will ever do. You know, I was never a big fan of the 1970’s, but watching the show and seeing the music that they’ve used, you know, that’s pretty cool. And the cars we got to drive were pretty awesome. But I think I like the 1890s the most.
Jace: The 1890’s were a good time.
Sam: Yeah, it was, it was a really interesting time in history, because it was, you know, the birth of the industrial revolution. Everyone was dirty. Just like, you couldn’t avoid it, and so there a, there’s a sort of like, everyone’s sort of got syphilis, and everyone’s covering it up, and yeah.
Jace: Soot is covering the syphilis, basically.
Sam: Yeah, so that’s a really fun period to do.
Jace: Astronaut’s Wives Club marked your first series regular role on television. Um, would you consider doing another American TV series?
Sam: Yeah, I had a great time. Great time doing that. It was obviously with Lone Scherfig who I did The Riot Club with, who was, it was a big draw, the reason why I wanted to do that project. I did a mini series called Hatfield and McCoys with an American project as well, and I had a wonderful time. I mean, I love working with Americans. American actors are amazing I think, incredibly professional people. It’s, you know, I love working here.
Jace: Whose career would you most like to have? Phrased another way, who are your acting heroes?
Sam: Oh, Gary Oldman, yeah. Gary Oldman. Whenever I’m having a bad day on set, I will sit and read Gary Oldman interviews. It always makes me feel better.
Jace: That’s a very specific thing.
Sam: Yeah, I don’t know what it is. I think it’s because he’s so candid about his experience, um, and sometimes if you’re working with a director who’s particularly challenging, or you’re not really being listened to or sometimes there’s a tendency, as an actor, you can feel a little bit like a puppet, you know, manifesting somebody else’s vision. It can feel a bit daunting. I’ve just read some wonderful interviews where Gary Oldman, you know, very eloquently describes that feeling, and works out ways to navigate out of it.
Jace: Do you have a favorite scene from the season?
Sam: I think probably the day that I enjoyed the most was… Stephanie and I have a scene …when we first kiss, and we have to be drunk in the scene, and the director … Snuck us a bottle of vodka, and he said, you know, okay, I think you guys have to be actually drunk to do this.
Bradfield: Although seriously, I’m very…
Bradfield: No, sorry can’t be doing that. I’m your superior officer, and we’re both very drunk.
Sam: It was a very surreal experience, because we were shooting on a quite a busy street on London, so there was, you know, a full audience of spectators watching, and Stephanie and I were getting progressively more and more drunk through the night, and then we’d kiss, and there’d be a big cheer from the people on the other side of the street watching, and it was just very surreal, that whole thing, so I think that was probably one of my fun days.
Jace: What do you hope that viewers take away from this project?
Sam: I hope they fall in love with Stephanie, for one. I think, and I hope that people take away the beginning of, watching this incredible woman become the most important detective character that I think England I has. I mean, more than Inspector Morse, if I can say that, you know, because this is not Marple, this is not you know, Poirot. This is real, gritty cases that they are solving, and it’s a reflection on society.
That’s what the show has always been about, and that’s what Linda LaPlante’s writing has always engaged in.
And I, I hope that they, you know, fall in love with Stefanie, and, and go along that journey with Stefanie again, because it’s worth telling.
Jace: He faces off with John Bentley at the bank, and we expect that he’s going to be the hero here that catches the Bentleys and solves the case, but he doesn’t. In fact, he dies quite horrifically in an explosion. What should viewers make of that surprise twist, and what is it saying about sort of our expectations of his character and characters like him?
Sam: This is a show that’s exploring why Jane Tennison is the human being that she is. It’s a much more character driven piece. It’s, it’s not exploring the procedural um, you know, elements of a regular cop show. It’s exploring like, what brought this woman to be this, this, this woman that she grew up, she grows up to be, or she evolves into.
I think that’s more what’s interesting about that, and that’s why he has to die. You, you cannot have, Stefanie drew me a picture um when we finished, um of Jane and Bradfield, like you know, what if he didn’t die, and Jane and Bradfield are like sitting on a beach together, watching the sunset. It’s a very beautiful picture, you know, but that’s not her story, and you can’t, you know we can’t, we can’t avoid that. I think it would be a real shame if he didn’t die, and you know-
Jace: Jane Tennison doesn’t become Jane Tennison because a guy blows her off.
Sam: Yeah, it’s not because he blows her off, it’s because he blows up. I like that.
Jace: Fantastic. Sam Reid, thank you so much.
Sam: Thank you.
Jace: That was actor Sam Reid, discussing the season finale of Prime Suspect: Tennison in an interview that we recorded in January.
Later this week, watch your podcast feed for a special season-ending bonus episode of MASTERPIECE Studio with Prime Suspect: Tennison star, Stefanie Martini.
And next week on the podcast, we return to the seemingly idyllic Cambridgeshire countryside for a conversation with Grantchester’s Al Weaver, who plays timid, closeted curate Leonard Finch in cloistered 1950s England.
Al Weaver: I think he’s um, uh probably, probably the biggest journey of everyone, I think. Um, yeah, I mean he’s kind of come to terms with who he is and what he’s getting there. That’s what we’re sort of doing discovering and exploring in the um, in the third season.
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MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen and Rachel Aronoff. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Special thanks to Barrett Brountas and Susanne Simpson. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.
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