The Version Interview... Vicky McClure on BBC One's The Secret Agent
An explosive and heart-breaking adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s classic novel of terrorism, espionage and betrayal.
London, 1886: Verloc (Toby Jones) runs a seedy sex shop in the heart of Soho. But unknown to his loyal wife, Winnie (Vicky McClure), Verloc is also paid by the Russian embassy to spy on an anarchist cell. Furious at Britain's refusal to confront the anarchist threat sweeping across Europe, Verloc's Russian handler gives him a mission: Orchestrate a bombing that will be blamed on the anarchists and provoke a crackdown from the British. Refuse; and Verloc’s identity as a spy will be revealed to his anarchist comrades.
Verloc must source a bomb, but hide his actions from Winnie and Chief Inspector Heat (Stephen Graham) of Scotland Yard’s Special Crimes Division. Unable to persuade his anarchist comrades to help, Verloc sets his sights on Winnie’s younger brother Stevie as his accomplice... From the producers of the acclaimed drama series Line of Duty, The Secret Agent has been adapted by BAFTA award-winner Tony Marchant (The Mark of Cain, Great Expectations) and directed by Emmy® award-winner Charles McDougall (Hillsborough, House of Cards, The Good Wife).
Vicky McClure plays Winnie.
Who is Winnie?
Winnie is Verloc’s wife, I’d say, by default. She’s a very family orientated girl, absolutely adores her brother. Back in those days, it was a normal way of life to be able to provide for her family. She buries her head in the sand all of the time; she’s a very vulnerable sort of character. I think I look like Nanny McPhee – I just need a mole! I loved the whole get up – the wig, the corset. It’s brilliant!
How different is Winnie to Kate, the character you play in Line of Duty?
They are completely different in so many ways. Kate would absolutely batter her! Although Winnie does prove at the end that she’s got a bit of strength! Kate’s always prepared for that possibility that she may have to do something that she does have the strength to do. She’d be doing it for the right reasons.
What is Winnie’s relationship with Verloc like?
Their relationship is very convenient, I think she cares about him – it’s not purely down to putting a roof over her family’s head although it’s a big part of it. He kind of saved her so in that respect, she’s trying to save him and there are a few moments throughout the series where you get the impression that she pleasures him. I don’t know whether that’s an ‘agreement’ that they had. They’re not a likely-looking couple – it’s an odd relationship. I think she is one of those people who doesn’t need much out of life – as long as Stevie’s happy and has got what he needs and as long as her mum’s healthy, happy, that’s it. Winnie isn’t one of those characters who have great aspirations.
Tell us about Winnie’s relationship with her brother, Stevie?
Winnie is a massive support network for her brother and she loves him so much that she’d do anything for him. He’s got twice the support – from his mother and sister. I have to say that Charlie, who plays Stevie, is incredible. I think he had a tough job on his hands. It’s a really difficult role to portray and own and he really has owned it. He did well.
What attracted you to this role?
I read the script and straight way I called my agent and said “right, I’ve got to nail this!” I had literally just finished Line of Duty and I remember thinking I’d be absolutely gutted if I didn’t get it. I met with Charles [director] and when you can sit in a room with somebody who’s potentially going to cast you and you can have a really honest conversation and feel very genuine and say ‘I love this script and I really think I can bring something to that role’. I had heard of Joseph Conrad but I was very honest; it’s not the sort of book I would pick up. That didn’t matter; the book and the script are different. The script, for me, was my job and so that was what I concentrated on.
How did you approach the role?
The direction from Charles [director] was, “we’re not making a period drama”. This is the best direction he could’ve given me. Tony [writer] has created a beautiful, beautiful script and I thought it was amazing. I felt it was really modern. Also, it’s an interesting cast – it’s not a bog standard period drama cast. We were all told to use your own accents and just play the character without falling into being in a period drama. That was the best note anyone could’ve given me as you can do your own thing without the distraction of corsets and all that great fun stuff.
What was it like working with Toby Jones?
Toby is a lovely guy. I remember going to the BAFTAs and I had watched ‘Marvellous’, and that scene where he cried was the best crying scene from a male I have ever seen. I was absolutely distraught. I had to tell him how much I loved him! When I saw that I’d be working with Toby on this I thought – amazing!
What do you enjoy about working with Stephen Graham?
I’ve known him since I was 21. He’s a fine, fine actor. Stephen Graham is just one of the best actors this country has and he has also gone and smashed it in the US. He is also a life-long friend and so going onto a new job like that, which is a nerve-wracking situation but knowing you’ve got your buddy there, it softens the blow.
Why should viewers tune in?
This is not a ‘classic’ period drama. It couldn’t be further from it. I watch a lot of telly and I’ve seen a lot of period drama and I think this country does succeed very well in what we do in that area. This is different and there are loads of really great people in it!
The Secret Agent is coming soon to BBC One.