Guilt stars Jamie Sives and Mark Bonnar are old friends from high school, so it isn’t hard to imagine them as their bickering on-screen characters. Sives explores the intricacies of the series’ tricky plot and more in a new interview.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
We’d warn you about spoilers, but if you’ve seen the opening minutes of Guilt, you already know the biggest plot point: bickering brothers Max and Jake have killed a man, by mistake.
Jake Call an ambulance.
Max Let’s not do anything hasty.
Jake Give me your phone.
Max What’s wrong with yours?
Jake I’m off-grid, Vodafone and I are in this whole….
Max What kind of grown man…
Jake Call an ambulance!
Jace The sibling disdain carries through the murder and well into the worse-than-the-crime cover up — brash businessman Max thinks they can simply walk away, but record store owner Jake carries his guilt with him through the first half of this series.
Max Failure to stop and report an accident, six months. Perverting the course of justice, with a fatality, say five years. Allowing you to drive under the influence, a year maybe? So, six or seven years, on top of the whole disbarment thing. You get all that plus five years for death by careless driving. There you go kid, eleven years on a good day.
Jace Jamie Sives had never worked with his co-star, Mark Bonnar, but the pair of Scotsmen have been friends for decades. Their familiarity and ease with each other off-screen gives their on-screen spats the perfect level of fraternal friction.
Max You have no idea what I’ve done.
Jake What does that mean?
Max It means that I’m keeping things very simple for you. I’ll handle everything else, all you need to do is keep her in check until we get her out of the country. OK?
Jace Like his character in Guilt, Sives is music-obsessed — and he joins us to discuss Game Of Thrones, the complicated web that is family, how to make tension sing on screen, and much, much more.
Jace And this week we are joined by Guilt star, Jamie Sives. Welcome.
Jamie Sives Thank you very much. Nice to meet you, mate, virtually.
Jace Nice to meet you, too. Let’s start at the very beginning. How did you get involved with Guilt? I had heard that Mark Bonnar couldn’t think of anyone else. He’d rather play Jake than than you.
Jamie Oh, that’s nice. I wish everyone thought like that….yeah, yeah, that’s what that’s what I heard. That’s how I heard the story. Yeah. Mark and I went to high school together, so we’ve known each other since we were 12 years old, and kept in touch from time to time and were aware that each other was, was an actor now, but we’d never worked together. So it was a long time coming. And yes, this was being set back in Edinburgh, they were looking for a brother and Mark just thought of me right away, as I would have done him if I was the first one cast in it. But yeah, so Mark was very instrumental in them offering me the part.
Jace As you say, you’ve known Mark for a very long time. I know that there was one occasion in which you skived off a school trip together at Stirling Castle, I believe. But as you say, this is the first time you’ve worked with him. What is Mark Bonnar like as a scene partner, particularly in these very early two-hander scenes in Guilt?
Jamie Well, it’s great, I mean, even if I didn’t know him before. I mean, he’s a very, very accomplished actor and performer. And he’s just he’s a real professional. He’s very, very intelligent and mature and makes sort of very, very informed choices and brave choices in what he does, and he goes for it. He just comes with a loaded gun, Mark, you know, he’s just fantastic to work with, without knowing him like I do. So I felt we already had this chemistry and from knowing each other for such a long time and coming from the same place. And so we didn’t have to work for that and we just kinda let it go. And he’s great at just allowing you to do your thing and just keeping the bar high. You know, he’s really, really terrific to work with and everyone I’ve met who knows him and feels the same, you know, he’s just and he’s just such great fun. He’s great fun. He’s very self-effacing. You know, he doesn’t take it or himself too seriously. He’s very professional, but he doesn’t over or over egg it. You know, he’s. Yeah, I can’t speak highly enough about Mark.
Jace I want to dig into a little more of that. To me, there’s a realness to the rapport, broken though it might be, between Jake and Max. Given that you and Mark are coming to this production with this friendship, how did you work further to develop that level of familiarity that that these two would have as brothers? Was it drawing from your own relationship and friendship, or did you work more through that during rehearsal?
Jamie Yeah, I mean, again, I don’t think we had to work at it at all. From what I can remember, I did not make an active attempt at working on our relationship. Sometimes you have to do that when you’re doing a show or film or whatever it may be, you do have to work on the relationship slightly, or how you how you might feel about the other person, etcetera. And that takes a bit of time. And we didn’t have to do that. You know, we’ve kinda got that for free. He’s a lot smarter than me, Mark. So he was he was in the class above me. We were in the same class in the first year. And then I got found guilty and he remained in that clever class and I got dumped a few classes below. So right, now he’s a lawyer in this. And I’m this kind of dreamy punk record shop owner. So by default, he’s already head and shoulders above me. So we didn’t have to work at that either. He’s the posh kid. And I’m the greaser. He’s a Socs to get all SE Hinton about it, he’s the Socs to my Greaser, right, right from the start. So it was kind of set up perfectly by default.
Jace We meet Jake at the start of Guilt and it’s clear how very different the brothers are from their attitudes, and even their visual signals. Max is wearing a proper tuxedo. He’s swigging from a bottle of champagne. Jake is in a rumpled suit and seems subservient here. What was your initial take on Jake, and how did it shift over the course of playing him, without obviously spoiling too much?
Jamie Well, my contribution was one of, I’m kinda old enough to remember the punk rock scene, although not old enough to be there when it was in full swing in sort of ’75, ’76. But I was there for that kind of second wave that came to the latter stages around about ’79, ’80, ’81. And I was I was a young punk rocker back in the day. And I still know a few guys from that era, the ones that were slightly older than me, but around that first time, and they’ve all gone on to become very socially aware people, you know, most of them are guys that I know. And these guys went on to join unions and, you know, and be in various movements and go on marches and just be really politically and socially aware. Whereas everyone thought back in the day that the people are attracted to punk rock were just people that like swearing and wearing leather jackets and…
Jamie Yeah, anarchists, if you like, in a bad way. Yeah. But actually these guys, I still see them and they’re still wearing the Dickies and the rolled up jeans and they’ve got the little lapel badge. And, you know, they’re still they’re still kinda, you know, playing that drum a bit. And I just thought Jake was like that, you know, he just reminded me of those guys that he was aware and he was whimsical and dreamy and a sort of tired anarchist. And I just thought that that’s how I wanted to picture him, and the writing lended itself to that, them being a record shop and owner and a complete muzo and would be quite happy to talk about who played drums on what album more than anything else. But I just quite like these guys.
Jace The brothers strike and kill Walter as he steps in front of the car. It’s a tragic accident. Jake’s immediate reaction is to want to call an ambulance, but Max stops him. Do you feel like this moment signals that Jake would have done the right thing, that he knows the difference between right and wrong?
Jamie Yes, absolutely. Or else they wouldn’t be wracked with guilt that he’s that he’s racked with, I mean, almost instantly, but definitely the morning after. Yeah, I mean that as a right and wrong case. And the consequence of that is this terrible guilt for Jake. And he’s guilty about a couple of things. He feels guilty about a couple of things, some some longer lasting than others. But this is the most recent thing. And this is his main guilt trip.
Jace Max is practical, Jake is more philosophical.
Jake He played the trumpet. We’ve killed a sentient being.
Max Barely. Terminal cancer. He was dying slowly, we just made it quick.
Jake I mean, how much does that weigh on him in the moment? And how much is connected to the fact that Walter is a musician? Does that strike, no pun intended, a chord within Jake?
Jamie Yes, I think it does. I think we see here that Jake is kind of very subservient, as you say, and I think he knows the right thing to do but doesn’t know how to articulate it, and how to overcome his brother’s orders, as it were. You know, he’s kinda caught in the middle. He knows the right thing. He doesn’t know how to say it to Max.
Jace Orders is the right word there. You know, Jake and Max are fairly estranged at this point. They have radically different life philosophies and very different lives. Max goes so far as to sort of intimidate Jake into going along with this. But why do you think Jake agrees to cover it up? Is it that intimidation, or is there something more at play here?
Jamie I think he just I think he just kinda bows to the greater knowledge in his head, you know. I mean, I think that Max symbolizes everything that disgusts Jake, you know, just his obviousness and the way he’s chosen to live his life and is Satan’s little helper and being a lawyer and being a capitalist and all the nice frills that he has disgust Jake. But he knows that he’s got them because he plays the game and he knows the right thing to do in order to prosper. And he probably thinks that he’s going to come up with the right way of getting us out of here, although Jake doesn’t quite think it’s the right thing to do, the moral right thing to do. But he thinks if he’s gonna get out of this sticky situation, then Max has got the answers and he may have always had the answers in their relationship, you know.
Jace Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors…
Jace The complications begin to add up quickly here. Jake has lost his wallet, which turns up at Walter’s. They have to attend Walter’s wake and they meet Walter’s American niece, Angie. What does Angie represent to Jake?
Jamie I think he’s been solitary for some time. I think that. I think that his most natural state is to be on his own, I think he is more comfortable on his own. And I think the moment where I mean, although Angie’s a very beautiful woman, I think that the moment when when she talks about stacking vinyl vertically, is the moment that really that really hooks him, I think her face and all those other peripheral things opens up to Jake in that one sentence, you know? When they say the same thing, right at the same time, almost.
Jace Angie’s played by Irish actor Ruth Bradley, and I love Jake and Angie’s scenes together. There is a sort of delicious playfulness to the two of them that’s very unexpected amid this sort of murder.
Jake What’s interesting about this is that it’s Mike Garson on the keys.
Angie Wow, you guys use interesting in a totally different way.
Jake It’s interesting because he went straight from this to Aladdin Sane, which is of course Bowie’s best album, for four…arguably five reasons, starting with…
Angie It’s top three. Maybe.
Jake Oh, no, no sorry, this isn’t a debate, this is me trying to deepen your understanding of the music.
Angie I’m happy to tell you his best, if that’s helpful?
Jake I’d have to warn you, that would be high risk.
Angie I’ll take the chance.
Jace What did Ruth bring to your shared scenes?
Jamie She’s just the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. She’s really lovely and just so sweet and so funny, and she’ll laugh at an egg boiling so it doesn’t matter what you say, she’ll laugh at, which is great, always good. And yeah, she was just wonderful, and a great professional as well. We did some chemistry tests, a few, for the want of a better term, with some actors, and Ruth came in and was just fantastic, just not playing anything, just apart from the truth, you know, not having a little twist at the mustache, as it were, and being arch in any way, she just played it in all honesty. And it was just so lovely and beautiful and warm. And she was fantastic in those readings. And she’s just great company. She’s lovely.
Jace Jake and Angie end up sleeping together, which is really not ideal when you’re trying to get away with killing and then covering up the killing of this woman’s uncle. Is this just another example of Jake’s poor decision making?
Jamie Yes, absolutely. You know, he’s lost his wallet. And now he’s gone back to the scene of the crime and fallen into bed with the niece. I mean, that’s just, those are, I think Max calls them “other steps” or something. I can’t remember, in the car, only I can’t remember what else it refers to. You know, “do nothing more than what Max says.” And I’ve just done the complete opposite of that. Absolutely. That’s Jake being his hapless self. You know, he just can’t, you know, it would be him that leaves his wallet. It would be him that does this, you know, and I think that’s a continuation of how he’s been his whole life, as far as his brother is concerned.
Jace I mean, he is for all of his good intentions, he is a bit bumbling, will say nice. Yeah, he’s kind and he’s thoughtful, but he’s sort of thoughtless at the same time. He doesn’t ask questions about his music shop. He takes Angie at face value despite the risk that she brings. I mean, do you see him as a bit of a lovable but naive oaf, sort of out of his depth at this point?
Jamie Yeah, I think so. I think so. I think he’s living in the past. He’s not quite grown up. You know, he’s all those things and more. He’s harmless. Anyone who’s harmless in my book is great, you know, I’ll take them any day of the week. And yeah, he’s just completely he doesn’t want to get involved in finances. He’s not wired that way. His brother’s a lawyer. ‘Yeah, of course. Yeah. You can take care of stuff.’ And, you know, I think he just wants that easy life. And I find it quite attractive. I’ve often thought of running away and just getting a job in a bookshop or a record shop and just getting on with it that way. But yeah, I think he’s not grown up until this happens. This is obviously a catalyst. And meeting Angie is a further catalyst to him, to him, you know, turning his life around and taking a grip of things and not just swimming along in the past, you know,
Jace is that why he tries to convince her to stay, even though she could expose them, that sort of catalyst and desire for change, is that what…?
Jamie Yeah, I think so. Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, he’s fallen in love. I don’t think he’s been in love in a long time, if ever. You know, he’s not had time for that. You know, he was in a band and he’s been doing his thing, I think he’s kind of just set in his ways. I don’t think he’s been in love for a long time and that can sometimes supersede anything else in life.
Jace Angie as we learn, may not be all that she seems. There’s the old photo that Jake finds of Walter’s niece, who looks nothing like Angie. What does Jake make of Angie’s excuses here, is he just eager to believe her? Or is he wondering if there’s more to Angie than meets the eye?
Jamie Yeah, that’s just what I was about to say. I mean, he doesn’t press the issue, ever. You know, he just poses a question because he doesn’t want to miss a trick, you know, because Max would be very angry at him if he knew that he that Jake didn’t kind of see through the photo of someone clearly who doesn’t it doesn’t look like Angie, etcetera. It’s I mean, Max knew these things that if I had ignored these things and Max got wind of it he’d be going nuts. So I think he does out of it just to cover his tracks, ‘Let me pose the question.’ But I think he’s eager to take any answer, really. He doesn’t press her on anything, does he?
Jace You’ve likened Guilt to Twin Peaks and there is this kind of weird quirkiness and black humor to Guilt that resonates deeply with me. Is that in keeping with your own sense of humor, the sense of awkwardness and creeping anxiety that lies beneath the surface within Guilt?
Jamie Yeah, yeah, absolutely, yeah, I was a big fan of Twin Peaks back in the day. I love it. I love most David Lynch stuff. But I really loved Twin Peaks, and I loved Fargo as well. It was kind of smacked of Fargo to me as well when I when I first saw them, when I first read it and had Robbie and Neil’s vision of it and the whole production team’s vision of it. So, yeah, I think it sits easy with me the way that the humor is wrapped into it, because people are humorous in the most trying of circumstances. You know, there’s always humor peppered in there for one reason or another. So I think it’s nice to see a drama that’s unfolding in a very serious way. And there’s a, you know, death, a tragic death in the middle of it. But there are still moments of humor. And that’s how life is, isn’t it?
Jace Given that we don’t want to spoil the end of Guilt, this is a bit of a tricky question, but what was it like stepping back into Jake’s grungy clothes to film a second series of Guilt earlier this year?
Jamie Well, most of those grungy clothes of Jake’s are mine, actually, they were mine, I brought them along. That leather jacket that I wore I picked up in New York in 2005 or 2002?
Jace Oh wow.
Jamie …or something. So yeah, most of that stuff apart from the little corduroy jacket with a fur collar that everyone wanted and I just kept and I haven’t worn since, but I just kept it just to stop other people getting their hands on it. But yeah. Yeah, those clothes, those clothes might change slightly for the second season. They’ll be a variation of a theme, but you might not see the exact same items.
Jace I mean, you came to acting via a rather sort of untraditional path, you worked as a scaffolder, you worked in a paper mill as a postman, you worked the door at a pub in Edinburgh. Which of those jobs was your least favorite?
Jamie My least favorite was the last job I did, which was six years, and an insurance company dealing with group pensions, company pensions, and I just sat in front of a VDU they were called back in the day, a computer screen, I think, a video display unit, you know, video on the computer screen, it was a long time ago. So I just sat in front of one of them and number crunched for six years. It almost killed me. It’s what made me run off and become an actor. That’s what did it.
Jace I mean, I wanted to ask you next to me what then made you decide to pivot to acting? Was there a specific moment or incident where that desire clicked? And you said, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m leaving this insurance company behind?
Jamie Not directly and I was kind of going through a mid-twenties crisis, which I believe does exist, it did for me anyway, and I just thought things were not going to turn out really very well for me. So I just then I had to think of something different to do. And whilst I was thinking of something different to do, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go along to these little acting classes. And Edinburgh, at a thing called the Edinburgh Acting School. That was just about two hours every Wednesday night, culminating in a little kind of show at the end of 10 weeks. And I just went along with that, just with him, that just for something to do whilst I thought about what great change in my life I was going to embark upon. And I’d never done any acting before that. And nd I just I quite liked kind of got under my skin and I just thought, ‘Gosh, should I just try this?’ but I knew nothing. I was completely green about it, you know, and I just thought, ‘Right, should I try and become an extra or get in the back door somehow in Scotland?’ and try to do that? I had no idea what was how to do it, you know, or ‘Shall I go to drama school?’ But I was right at the end of that back. But back then you could, you know, the cut off age for starting drama school. It’s different now, they allow all ages now. But back then there was a cutoff age and I was nearing that cutoff age. So I just blanket bombed all these drama schools up and down the UK. And I got auditions for about eight or nine and I turned up to about five and I got recalls for two and I got into one.
Jace And that was the Drama Center, London?
Jamie Yeah, the Drama Center in London, and I just thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to do this, I’ll go to London and do it,’ and I got in this place and that was it was it was it was lovingly known as the Trauma Center back then. It doesn’t exist anymore. So it was quite a school with extraordinary people running it for good and for bad. And had I known it was quite what it was like beforehand, I might not have gone. But I was quite desperate, so maybe I would have gone anyway. But yeah. And I went along to that and did the three years there and got an agent and I’ve never had to do a real job since. I’ve never had to lift anything heavy.
Jace Many listeners will remember you as Jory Cassel in the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. What was it like working on Game of Thrones, and did you have any idea that that first season would become such an out of the gate global cultural phenomenon?
Jamie Absolutely not, absolutely not. I was not, I’m ashamed to say I was not aware of George R.R. Martin and his books then I’m not really a reader of fantasy books or any kind of science fiction or anything like that. Science fiction movies, yes, but not books and certainly not fantasy, I’ve never been a fan of. And so I had no idea that he was America’s Tolkien. You know, I some some of the young guys, I think Alfie Allen and Kit Harrington had read and were aware of of his work. But no, it’s like anything you make, you’ve no real hard and fast idea of how it’s going to turn out. And so, yeah, I had no idea it was going to become the phenomenon that it became, you know, I mean, it’s quite incredible. And it was fantastic to be a part of that first season. I mean, it was just amazing. And that first episode and I think I mean, I think I’m there in the first or second season of the first episode. I mean, it’s wonderful to be able to have been a part of it.
Jace Jory died in a particularly gruesome way — spoiler alert — with a dagger through the eye wielded by Jaime Lannister. How much fun was that death scene to shoot?
Jamie It was great. Yeah, I mean, it’s always good to get a good death, and I think that became that became quite iconic, not my death, but the fact what became iconic was everyone wanting a good death. And those huge polls that I’ve noticed online of people discussing and debating, which is the greatest death in Game of Thrones, it’s quite funny. But no, it was great fun to do. It was great fun to do, a bit of fighting and get stabbed by dear Nick. Yeah, it was good fun.
Jace You met Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones. How did that friendship change your career and what shared tattoo you both have?
Jamie Gosh, you’ve done your homework, haven’t you?
Jace Oh, I have.
Jamie They had this they had this readthrough in Belfast, in the Paint Hall, the big, huge warehouse that became a studio in Belfast was called the Paint Hall, I think is where they painted ships, this big, huge hangar like you, you can imagine. it’s now became Titanic Key and there’s a big Game of Thrones tourist attraction. But it was the Paint Hall back then, and they had this big, huge, big circular table, they made a circle of all these tables and had a cast of thousands come in to read episodes one, two and three and four or whatever it was. And this dude walked in the door and there was a seat next to me. And I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, I hope he doesn’t sit there.’ He’s just this enormous guy with a single earring and braces and a pair of old taggerty boots and a lot and a hat at a jaunty angle and a ponytail. And it was like I just heard him coming in before I saw him. And he sat there next to me and turned to be like one of the most beautiful guys I’ve ever met. You know, he was just, he’s brilliant. We just hit it off. And although we didn’t have any stuff together, we hung in Belfast a lot. And I was helping him learn his Dothraki, reading his lines with him. And then I went out to Malta to do the sunny stuff out in Malta. And he wasn’t coming out for like three weeks. He was told to stay in Belfast and learned Dothraki. And I thought, ‘Thank God I can get rid,’ of him because we tore it up in Belfast, we had a ball. And I thought, “Right, I’m going to go over to Malta and just run along the beach and eat fruit and yogurt and get fit and healthy.’ And I got there a day, and then the phone rang and Jason went, ‘Hey buddy! I’m here’. So he told them, ‘Why don’t I learn Dothraki sitting the sun in Malta, not in Belfast?’ And he wasn’t doing anything for a couple of weeks. And then, yeah, then I was back in it with Jason and we had a ball out there. And we’ve become you know, he’s one of my best buddies and we’ve worked together since. And he’s in London right now doing Aquaman. I’m going to see him on Saturday and we’re going to go out on Saturday and I haven’t seen him for a while. But no, that’s a big thing that I’ve taken from Game of Thrones is meeting someone like him, who I think is just, um, I’m so, so excited that he’s in my life. He’s just a great man.
Jace And you both got the same tattoo.
Jamie Yeah, we do, we do, we have a tattoo on our arm, both him and Zoë, his stepdaughter, we were together and the three of us went and got this tattoo and London and we wrote it. So I, I wrote mine on paper and Zoë wrote and Jason wrote his and it’s the same words but it’s our own writing. And then they transferred it on and tattooed it.
Jace That’s amazing. I mean, you’ve been you’ve been busy. You just did Guilt. You just wrapped on another crime drama, Annika, where you played as Michael McAndrews opposite Nicola Walker’s titular character. What can you tell us about Annika? And which is ultimately more fun because you’ve done both playing a criminal or playing a copper?
Jamie Annika was a radio play, I think 15 minute eps on radio. And Nicola has been doing that for seven years, written by Nick Walker, which is almost Nicola Walker. Which is a bit weird, but Nick Walker wrote it, and he wrote the TV show and it was great fun to do, we had a ball doing it. And a good friend of mine, Phil John, directed the first block and he actually asked me to do it. That’s the fourth time I’ve worked with Philip John, he’s wonderful director. And so, yeah, I had a great time. And Nicola Nicola, I mean, you know, there’s nothing I think every people have used every positive adjective to describe Nicola. She’s just, she really is fantastic and has become a good friend. And I can’t wait to work with her again if we can do another series of it. And that would just be great. But to answer your question, I think playing baddies is always better than playing goodies. It’s much, much more fun. I either play the nice supportive husband or I play an utter psychopath. I can’t quite find the middle ground yet.
Jace That’s a bit like Nicola Walker too, though.
Jamie Nor in life. Yeah, that’s a bit like her, too. Yeah, you’re right. Yeah.
Jace She’s either like a goodie or an absolute psychopath. Her characters, which is amazing.
Jace Jamie Sives, thank you so very much.
Jamie Thank you. Lovely to meet you.
Jace And you!
Jamie Thank you, Jace. Lovely talking to you.
Jace Mark Bonnar’s Max is the gruff older brother to Jamie Sives’ bumbling Jake. And as the mess around Walter’s murder piles up, it increasingly seems like even Max can’t keep it all together.
Max We had a good run, Cameron. You had a very good run. But it’s time to take my brother and his shop out of the equation. I can still do what I need to do, but he needs to go.
Cameron Max, I’m afraid that you’ve fallen for a deception. This is not really me. And this, us…it’s not really me either. I am simply a legitimizing presence. And behind me, Max, behind me is reality. And you don’t want to know what reality is. And you certainly don’t want to meet it.
Jace Bonnar reflects on the full first season of Guilt here on the podcast September 12.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simpson.
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