Glancing over four decades of TV and movies, Adrian Dunbar was upbeat.
“This is a great time to be an actor,” he said.
He said that quite convincingly – well, actors can do that – and the facts back him up. Right now, Dunbar, 61, has deeply nuanced roles in two British shows that reach the U.S. via streaming.
In “Line of Duty,” he plays an honest-but-troubled cop; in “Blood” and its jolting new seque (shown here)l, he’s an earnest-but-troubled doctor.
Yes, there’s a trend there. Scriptwriter Sophie Petzal said she was a “Line of Duty” fan and wrote “Blood” with Dunbar in mind. “This was a character who called for enormous warmth and charm,” she said, “but also an inscrutability.”
Shows like these are similar to the new golden age of American drama … which copies the British model, using short seasons and complex characters. Dunbar’s shows each have six episodes a season.
In the first “Blood” (SPOILER ALERT, skip this paragraph if you’re still planning to see it), Cat Hogan was visiting her little Irish home town. She soon suspected that her dad – Dr. Jim Hogan (Dunbar) – had killed her mom and was having an affair with a younger woman. In the final, painful minutes, he confessed a mercy killing. (END OF SPOILER).
“It was such a good experience,” Dunbar said. “I was thinking, ‘Can’t we do something again?’”
Fortunately, Petzal had something in mind. Now we jump ahead a year, with Jim’s offspring in different places: Cat has returned to the city … Michael is bitter and distant … Fiona is understanding, but has her own problems, including a degenerative disease and a hard-to-trust husband.
Fiona has a car crash and there’s a startling discovery. The rest leaps between interviews by the police detective – “he’s got a personal vendetta” against Jim, Dunbar said – and the events that got us there.
Jim has lost his medical license and is floundering. “He felt his life was going one way,” Dunbar said. “And now he can’t do that any more …. His integrity has been called into question.”
This is a layered role an actor can savor. Dunbar, 61, grew up in a Northern Ireland town of 14,000, the eldest of seven kids, and went away to drama school in London. He’s had small roles in praised movies – “The Crying Game,” “My Left Foot,” “The General,” etc. – and even had a role that was deleted from “The Phantom Menace.” That makes him an autograph goal for “Star Wars” zealots.
But the real impact hasn’t been in movies. “TV has changed tremendously,” he said.
His “Line of Duty” character is complex. “His marriage is falling apart, he lives in a tiny apartment” but he does honest work. “People really want to know there are people who do their civic duty.”
And his “Blood” character is the stuff that drama buffs savor. Petzal, 29, said she grew up in the English countryside, with plenty of time to be alone and pensive. She started writing for a kids’ drama, did episodes for several other series, then was ready for something deeper.
“We can all look to our own families,” she said. “Dark (stuff) happens.”
Well, maybe not that dark. But if it does, it fits neatly into this era of TV drama.
– “Blood, Series 2,” www.acorn.tv, which also has the first series and “Line of Duty”
– First two episodes arrive Monday, March 9; the others are one per week, through March 9