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Sunday, 18 February, 2001, 10:27 GMT
Tompkinson goes In Deep
Stephen Tompkinson and Nicci Taylor
Tompkinson with partner Nicci Taylor in April 2000
Stephen Tompkinson stars with Nick Berry as an undercover detective in new drama In Deep, which starts on BBC One on Monday. BBC News Online's Olive Clancy spoke to him.

Tompkinson, 35, is best known for his roles as the unscrupulous TV journalist Damien Day in Drop the Dead Donkey or as Father Peter in Ballykissangel.

In this new show he plays Garth O'Hanlon, an undercover police officer with maverick ways.


It's not a formulaic cop show - it twists and turns and leads the audience down dark alleys

Stephen Tompkinson

The publicity material for the show says that this is Tompkinson "as you have never seen him before", something the actor himself agrees with.

"In Deep is a very gritty drama and not the kind of thing that I'm normally associated with," he said.

"I think if the audience are expecting Balykissangel or Grafters they're in for a surprise."

No safety net

"This is not just another police show, it was seat of the pants stuff for us and the dramatic possibilities are endless."

Stephen Tompkinson with Dervla Kirwin
Tompkinson with ex-girlfriend Dervla Kirwin in a scene from Ballykissangel
As an undercover cop, not only does Tompkinson's appearance change radically with every episode, but also he is playing a character that is entirely self-reliant and works in often bizarre circumstances.

The writer of In Deep, Peter Jukes, spent weeks with real-life undercover police officers that infiltrate hard-core criminal operations, in order to find out what life is really like for them.

Though aware how important their work is, Tompkinson points out that there is an element of acting to their role.

"There's only about 30 of these officers in this country, and they've got no fixed abode and no safety net when things go wrong.

"It's terrifying really. They're always acting, pretending to be somebody else.

Stephen Tompkinson and Nick Berry
Tompkinson with friend and In Deep co-star Nick Berry
"I found that fascinating that here was a real job with lives at risk, but where they act all the time."

"So In Deep is sort of a drama within a drama."

Challenges

In Deep consists of three two-hour films, shot over 13 weeks in and around London. They will be shown on Monday and Tuesday nights as part of BBC One's Crime Doubles season.

Heartbeat star Nick Berry plays Liam Ketman, a family man whose marriage is under strain because of his job as an undercover detective.


In the past my work took over too much, on your own you can become self-obsessed and you can let yourself and your work take over

Stephen Tompkinson

The pair were delighted to have the opportunity to work together according to Tompkinson.

"I've known Nick Berry for six years," he said.

"Our backgrounds are very different but I was in no way apprehensive about working with him - he's a friend and he drew one of the best TV performances I given out of me.

It is certainly a role with challenges.

O'Hanlon is a character apparently devoid of emotional or family entanglements who deals with often extreme violence as part of his job.

Stephen Tompkinson
Tompkinson is to appear in a TV adaptation of Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim
In one episode O'Hanlon becomes part of a paedophile network and is obliged to act as one of them.

In one shocking scene he commits a murder in cold blood.

"I thought the powers that be would come in and try to sanitise and change that ending but they didn't.

"It's not a formulaic cop show - it twists and turns and leads the audience down dark alleys."

It is a gamble for an actor known for his cheeky grin and good looks and will make demands on the audience, but one that he thinks will pay off.

"This is a drama that requires a lot of work, figuring a way through all the lies and misinformation that the two themselves are dealing with," said Tompkinson.

"But I think that will draw the audience in."

Stephen Tompkinson
Tompkinson as undercover officer O'Hanlon in In Deep
Garth O'Hanlon has purposely chosen to have no background and no contacts, but he is ultimately a workaholic.

Besotted

Tompkinson, whose one-time very public relationship with Ballykissangel co-star Dervla Kirwin reportedly broke down under pressure of work, felt he could understand this, though only up to a point.

"It's different - these people's lives are at risk as are the people they are trying to protect.

"But Garth has a work first sort of ethic, and I don't any more.

"In the past my work took over too much.

"On your own you can become self-obsessed and you can let yourself and your work take over."

Tompkinson's partner Nicci gave birth to their daughter Daisy late last year.

Obviously besotted, Tompkinson is sure about the direction his life and career is taking.

"Now that I'm a father I know why I go to work and why I come home.

"It's to provide a great big future for my daughter."

In Deep begins on Monday at 2105 GMT on BBC One.

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