It wasn’t the script that made Fay Ripley jump at the chance to star in new Channel 5 crime drama Suspects. In fact, it was the complete lack of one.
The night before filming, instead of learning lines, the former Cold Feet actress and her co-stars would receive a document with some details of a crime and its resolution.
They would then have to come up with their own dialogue, as their characters tackled a range of hard-hitting cases.
“It was down to us lot to sift through the evidence, untangle the DNA and interview the hell out of a load of criminals who made an Olympic sport out of lying to us,” explains the 47-year-old actress, who plays Detective Inspector Martha Bellamy.
Set in London and co-created by The Bill’s executive producer Paul Marquess, each of the 10 episodes tells a self-contained crime story – from the hunt for a serial rapist to the shooting of a clergyman.
Being Human actor Damien Molony and Clare-Hope Ashitey, who’s previously appeared in Channel 4 drama Top Boy, play the two detectives working under Ripley.
“We investigated these crimes in real time, basically. If somebody goes missing in a police station, you don’t have time to have a cup of tea and a biscuit, or frankly, even a wee,” Ripley says, her enthusiasm for the project still clear.
“We were doing the interviews back-to-back, we were discussing what the evidence was, we were getting out there, getting in police cars, putting on blue lights and trying to find the person who’s taken the kid, burnt the house down or shot someone in the head... You’re running on adrenaline.”
Like the actress, Bellamy is warm, witty and strong-minded. She’s also rather bossy, which Ripley admits wasn’t much of a stretch to play.
“I wouldn’t have done well if I was in a lower position,” she confesses, smiling. “I’m sure Damien and Clare would agree with that.”
At times, the pressure got too much (“I cried a lot initially, off screen”) but there were lighter moments too.
“Being serious a lot of the time isn’t really in my DNA,” says the actress, who is mum to daughter Parker, 11, and son Sonny, 7, with her Australian actor husband Daniel Lapaine.
“Because we were overtired and overworked, we were really giggly. You could just see everyone going, ‘There’s no time for laughing, there are dead people everywhere, stop laughing!’”
So how would she fare as a real-life detective?
“As a Detective Inspector, you have to step back from the reality of crime and do your job objectively, but I’m not sure I could,” she says.
“I think I’d be too much of a mum.
“During filming, I had to stop myself telling a hardened killer to stop being a silly billy, and a kidnapper to sit on the naughty step.”
Her maternal instinct did prove helpful at times, however.
“My heart would sink when I saw, ‘Oh God, the kid’s missing, the kid’s dead’.
“But you bring that to the table and think, ‘Ok, as a mum, how would I react? I’d want to find out who did it very quickly. And so that’s how we’d investigate it.”
Born in London to a businessman father and antiques dealer mother, Ripley studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Minor TV and film gigs followed before she found fame in the late Nineties as Mancunian housewife Jenny in the award-winning comedy drama series Cold Feet.
Since then, the London-born star’s enjoyed grittier roles as a child abductor in ITV drama Bon Voyage, and a domestic abuse victim in BBC drama film The Stretford Wives.
She’s also penned two cookbooks, Fay’s Family Food and What’s For Dinner? A third, Fay Makes It Easy: 100 Delicious Recipes To Impress With No Stress, is due to be released later this year.
Suspects, Channel 5, Wednesday 10pm