Spooks: Nicola Walker

Nicola Walker as Ruth

THE interview notes are buried somewhere in my archives.

I first met up with Nicola Walker back in the late 1990s when she starred in The Last Train and Touching Evil.

She is, of course, now best known as Ruth Evershed in Spooks.

While still finding time for stage roles, including another at the National Theatre in London this Christmas.

I spoke to Nicola again recently for the new series of Spooks.

My feature was used in the MEN on Monday but has yet to go online.

So let’s put that right below – followed by some edited extracts from the rest of our conversation.

Next week Ruth goes undercover, as you can read in my previous Spooks blog here.

**********************************************

SPOOKS star Nicola Walker was thrilled to see action away from MI5 HQ in the new series of the spy drama.

She plays intelligence analyst Ruth Evershed, mostly based on The Grid, Section D’s high security offices at Thames House.

But viewers can look forward to Ruth fighting the good fight in action scenes to be screened towards the end of this ninth season.

“I get to go out and have quite extensive fight sequences, which I’m excited about,” explains Nicola. “Not in a brave way – in a really messy way because that’s not what she does. And I love them for doing that, for sticking someone out, getting themselves into trouble and having to defend herself.

“It involved a two day stunt sequence, the best one I’ve ever had on Spooks. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Just brilliant being thrown into bookcases and proper balsa wood being hit over your head. All the stuff that the proper spies, the gorgeous young spies, get to do. Finally the desk spook – I got out and got to do it.”

Were there any mishaps during filming? “No, none at all. I was totally over-excited. People were saying to me, ‘Are you OK? Do you want to put knee pads on?’ And I said, ‘No, no I don’t. Let’s just do it again.’”

Harry and Ruth

Spooks (BBC1, tonight – Monday Oct 4 – 9pm) finds Ruth and Section D chief Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) at odds as the team battle to stop the release of a lethal nerve agent which would kill millions.

Nicola, 40, returned to Spooks last year, after leaving in series five to have son Harry, named after Firth’s character. “Uncle Peter often talks about how actually my son is his child,” she laughs.

“Peter has got a great sense of humour. You can’t always show it on screen but I think you can tell. That’s why people like his character. He’s someone you’d really like to have dinner with and he’d tell you stuff he’s not meant to tell you, as well. Peter would make a dreadful spy.

“We do laugh a lot and that is quite addictive, that atmosphere on The Grid. The adrenaline rush of acting with Peter, where you are flying by the seat of your pants and laughing your head off every day when you go to work. That is a draw to get you back.”

Nicola’s return kept viewers guessing about whether Ruth and Harry would ever get together. Within the first four minutes of this year’s series, he had proposed and she had turned him down, later explaining: “We couldn’t be more together than we are now.”

The former Touching Evil and The Last Train actress adds: “But with all their human frailties, it’s not as simple as that. They continue to have to address the fact that they adore each other.

“But equally they’re individuals who are incapable of doing anything about that. So it doesn’t go away but it’s changing and it gets quite messy. Like love affairs do when they’re not quite going the way they should.”

Fans certainly aren’t shy about voicing their opinions. “I did a theatre play after the last series and quite a few of the real proper Spooks fans came to see it and had chats about the show.

“They’re very honest. They don’t mince their words. If they like something, they say it. And equally if they don’t, they’re quite upfront about it. It can be quite brutal. But it’s always really intelligent and passionate and involved. So the show is doing something right.”

There has been speculation that this could be the last series of Spooks, mainly based on the fact that it’s been around for so long. But the Kudos production has upped its game yet again and the signs are that a tenth season is likely to be commissioned.

“It’s Iike a shark, it’s kept moving. I think this series is much better than last year. If they never made another I would be really angry, because you think, ‘Well, a series like Spooks, if it was the last one, it would be a spectacular last one.’

“I don’t know. I think Kudos are a lot cleverer than that. But then I’m just an actor. What do I know? I’d be very surprised if this was the last one. No-one told me. I’d like it to be Kudos that decides.”

Nicola has also filmed a guest role for an episode in the next series of BBC3 hit Being Human. She plays health visitor Wendy who stumbles into the house occupied by the comedy drama’s resident werewolf, vampire and ghost.

“She thinks she’s having a bad day. But because she doesn’t know anything about the people in the house, she doesn’t realise just how bad a day she could be having.

“The cast were telling me things about the show. And I was going, ‘No, no, no, you don’t understand. I know everything about it. I’m a fan.’ I had the best time.”

***********************************************

Extras:

1. Former Home Secretary Nicholas Blake (Robert Glenister) series nine episode one description of Ruth as: “That dogged brilliant bitch.” Her intelligence work ultimately led to his death:

“When that came out in the readthrough, there was an audible gasp from everyone in the room. I think it’s an accurate description for that character. For him, Ruth is exactly that. I think it’s very funny that Ruth would be considered a bitch. It’s quite a violent term for someone. But she’s definitely dogged, she doesn’t let go. She’s a terrier of information. So he is right on that level. And if she’s not on your side, you’re in trouble. That’s what happens to him.”

2. Her scenes with Peter bookended the first episode. Line at end when Ruth says: “We couldn’t be more together than we are now.”

“I think what they’ve done, which is one of the reasons that I really respect the writers on Spooks, is that they’re ahead. They know an audience is going to say, ‘Well, come on, what are they doing? Are they going to do anything or aren’t they?’ So they addressed it in the first four minutes of episode one and then the scene on the roof, which does seem to tie it up. But with all their human frailties, it’s not as simple as that…”

3. The issue of Ruth and Harry has to be addressed?

“I think it does with those two characters. They’ve worked together for a long time now and they’re grown ups. I think it’s quite interesting that they both realise that, actually, it isn’t possible. We talked a lot about that, what would happen? Would Ruth fall on her sword? Would she leave The Grid because it just wouldn’t work? And I think that speech is very accurate. What would they do if they did get married and settle down? I think what happens is there’s a mutual understanding that it’s something that they can’t keep picking at and they can’t keep talking about. It develops in that way, in quite a grown up way, which I really enjoyed playing, actually.”

4. Her return to Spooks last year?

“It’ll never be as easy to come back to a show as it was to come back to Spooks. In my head I had left. Especially with a show like that, you don’t presume you will ever be invited back, even if you’re not killed on screen. It’s not the kind of show that invites you back. It doesn’t do it. But it was very simple, actually. I went into the Kudos office one day to show everyone my son, like you do when you’re a proud first time parent. And as I was leaving, Jane Featherstone (Kudos Creative Director) said, ‘Why don’t you come back next year?‘ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.‘ And that was it. It wasn’t complicated. Jane asked and I said yes. It was as simple as that. I don’t think that happens very often. I take that as a great compliment, being asked to go back to a show like Spooks. I really did. I had a really lovely time, I must be honest.”

5. Kudos is a company that makes quick decisions?

“Kudos don’t mess about. Also, you don’t know how long you’re going to be there and that’s quite interesting as well.”

6. Does little Harry (her son) meet his Uncle Harry much off screen?

“No. We see each other for five months of the year, all of us. I’m sure that’s plenty, as much as we get on and love each other. Five months out of the year is enough.”

7. You had been concerned last year at the reaction of viewers to Ruth coming back:

“Yes, I was really worried because I know that they really love the characters. It’s quite interesting where you feel the relationship might not go the way they would have wished it to. So I was quite nervous about that. But you can’t worry about that, can you? I’m not in control of that. That’s actually not my job.”

8. Problems with the last series?

“It’s a long running series and maybe you can’t hope to up it every year. That is always the intention. I wasn’t in it the year before and I thought that was tremendous – season seven. I thought that was fabulous. I don’t really know. It is a collaborative work. I don’t think there’s any one thing you can point the finger at. All I know is that it feels different this year and maybe that’s something to do with feeling last year that we’d plateaud in some sense. Maybe that alone is enough to make you work harder. I’m not sure. I really don’t know. The scripts have always been last minute with Spooks. I quite enjoy that. I quite enjoy how terrifying that is. I quite like that side of it. And it gives you a strange freedom that you don’t get on other shows and a level of anarchy that I really enjoy.”

9. Ruth flat sharing with Beth?

“It doesn’t go well. I think it was very awkward for Ruth. She’s basically been set up to spy upon a new young recruit. That’s not going to suit Ruth. That won’t last. She won’t like that. It’s too dishonest for her. So that’s not ongoing. I’m just letting her stay but she has to wash the bath and do the loo. And also buy wine.”

10. The cost of being a spy has been high for Ruth. Harry aside, she had her new life in Cyprus destroyed. Her stepson is still with an aunt there?

“There’s a little return to some of that. They’ve all paid a high cost, haven’t they? For me this year, it’s been about how people keep going. That they hit these tragedies, they lose these people that they love or respect or work side by side with, and what is more frightening is that they keep going. I find that quite interesting. So they count the cost and keep going.

“So I think they’ve done their cost counting. This year you see these moments of doubt in Harry and Ruth finds them incredibly distasteful. Which I think is really well written. I like the fact that it isn’t tea and sympathy. She’s really disappointed. Of course there’s cost, because that’s their job.”

11. Shift in power between them. He’s in charge but she’s reminding him of what’s important and that he must go on?

“Yes. She’s become a little bit like the conscience mumbling into his ear. And he bats that down a bit this year as well, which I think is really good. As he would. He’s quite right to because he is the boss and he does remind her of that on occasions this year, which is quite painful for Ruth. The line has got totally blurred and he pulls it back.”

12. Spooks just as relevant as ever?

“Yes. I think it’s a good one this year. I really hope it goes down well this year. It deserves to. But I suppose when something has been around for…yes, it has been a long time. We did spend a long time this year saying to each other, ‘It would be 10 years next year.‘ That’s amazing, really.”

Front cover of my press launch pack for series three

13. Playing comedy in Being Human – with former Touching Evil co-star Robson Green guesting in a separate episode?

“Yes. It’s not a particularly straight role. I would have loved to have seen Robson. I haven’t seen him for ages. And I can’t wait to see him in it. I know a little bit about the part he is playing and it’s going to be brilliant. He’s not playing a comedy role at all. So I didn’t get to see him but I sent messages through the make-up department.”

14. Playing Rachel in Season’s Greetings back at the National Theatre in London this December?

“I am, with such an amazing cast. Have you seen the cast? I’m terrified. It’s a very good cast list. There’s some very fine actors and actresses in there. It’s just a little bit daunting. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be great. I’m going to be there all Christmas and New Year.”

15. Turning 40:

“I’ve embraced it. I went and had a drink with some friends. Not a huge celebration. I was filming the next day so it wasn’t really an ideal night to go out. So, yeah, done that. 40. Check. Done. It’s a relief, to be honest. I’ve been waiting to get to 40 for years.”

16. Now grown into the role of Ruth?

“Yes, I’m the right age now. Definitely. It’s a very strange feeling. I can remember starting and thinking, ‘I’m far too young to play this part.’ And now it’s absolutely spot on.”

17. Feedback from fans after last series?

“It’s brilliant that they get so involved. I hadn’t imagined the show garnering that sort of a following. I really hadn’t. And it’s always really intelligent and passionate and involved. So the show is still doing something right.”

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “Spooks: Nicola Walker

  1. Pepe

    THANK YOU, Ian, for such an in depth article on the most magnificent actress in the world! Nicola would be an asset to any production, be it film or stage. Its a pity that she doesn’t do more interviews, or perhaps she hasn’t been asked to. Well done, good job! If you’ve got more Nicola tidbits tucked away somewhere, do share.

  2. As above, thank you! Nicola’s performances are one of the reasons I keep watching Spooks – no matter how much of a fan I am, I can’t help feeling a little let down by this series, but the way she’s played Ruth so far – and especially her interactions with Harry – keep me hanging on.

    The scene of her return, where she says that “I can only see mine [my son] in front of me…” brings me to tears every time; so stunningly performed… bitter, heart-wrenching and beautiful.

  3. Jodie

    Ian not enough Thank you’s in the world and my words are too few for how thrilled I am by this interview!!!!! Hands down you are the one to properly interview Nicola!!

    Fantastic interview and some great insight for some of the episodes already and a bit on last year.

    A Million Thanks!!!!!

  4. Ian, thank you so much for this amazing interview. Nicola’s a fantastic actress, and because she hardly ever gives interviews this was a real treat.

  5. n&m

    Brilliant interview – she comes across just wonderfully. Thanks for an insight into the series from her point of view and, of course, for asking all the Harry and Ruth questions, too! She’s a great actress and it makes such a change to get to read a full length interview with her.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing Ruth out in the field and having some action scenes, even if I probably will forget to breathe until she’s safe again. Also keen to see what the ‘little return’ to the Nico thing is…

    n&m

  6. Thanks for all the kind comments. Nicola was, as ever, a delight to interview. Engaging, direct and with a sense of humour to match Peter Firth’s. I’ve been digging in my archives in the last few hours since posting this blog and have found my press pack from the 1999 launch of Touching Evil series three (pic now posted above), complete with my shorthand transcript of the interview with Nicola.

    • Pepe

      Any chance of reading/seeing what was inside that press pack and/or reading your interview with Nicola at the time? Some of us are only recent converts and in the dim, dark days of 1999, not everything was available online. Pretty please?

      • Pepe – I’ll do my best to try and find the 1999 feature and post it online at some stage in the future. I no longer have the file on any of my computers so will have to seek out the original paper version, which will take some time!

  7. Kap

    Thank you for that. I’ve always enjoyed Nicola’s performances on Spooks.

  8. Thank you, Ian, for taking this interview and posting it here. Nicola is a brilliant actress, and I am very happy to hear what she’s got to say about her life and work.

  9. Sarah

    Thanks for a great interview. Nicola sounds really down to earth and someone who loves what she’s doing. She’s certainly a great actress and I love watching what she creates on screen.

  10. MrsGilesFarmer

    Super interview and thank you for asking the “right” questions Ian. Looking forward to seeing NW in Seasons Greetings in December, if I can get tickets next week *crosses fingers.*

  11. Spookette

    Thanks Ian for posting your interview with Nicola Walker. She is a fantastic actress and I don’t think she gets the recognition she deserves. Why hasn’t she (or Peter Firth come to that), been nominated yet for a BAFTA? Her performance in the first episode of series 8 of Spooks alone was outstanding, and she is equally brilliant in series 9 so far. I am looking forward top next week’s Spooks with great very much. Oh and I like Ruth’s new necklace by the way, an improvement on the previous one I think….

  12. Leslie

    Thank you so much Ian! Nicola Walker is so often overlooked for interviews – and I have no idea why! She’s wonderful and her interactions with Peter Firth are one of the highlights of Spooks. I love following her work –

    Thanks again!

  13. Spookette

    Any chance you might be able to get an interview with Sir Harry?  :-) I would love to read an in depth interview such as this one with Peter Firth.

  14. Spookette

    Thanks- next year would be a good time for another interview I think, especially if series 10 is to be the last one. I just do wish some of the older spooks like Peter Firth and Nicola Walker would be interviewed more, and not just the younger ones. Nothing against Richard Armitage, but he seems to do most of the interviews etc, and although I’m closer in age to Lucas, I prefer Sir Harry. :-)
    This interview with Nicola was great and it was nice to read her thoughts on Ruth and the show’s development.

  15. Jonia

    Thank You :) wonderful interview :)

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  20. Holly Robinson

    I genuinely think she’s one of the most under-rated actresses on British TV. Someone give that woman a BAFTA (And Firth, whilst you’re at it.) She’s an incredible performer.

    And Ruth is an incredible character. As a ‘not emotionally forthright’ 18 year old, who speaks 3 languages and does lament the lack of horses in modern war fare; the Ruth/Harry saga gives me so much hope. I know Kudos will never let them be happy for long but here’s hoping for a few more moments.

  21. Pingback: On Ruth Evershed [Spooks 10 spoilers] « Me + Richard Armitage

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