Looking for a new, addictive crime thriller to binge? Well, next week the BBC have you covered with Wolf, their TV adaptation of the late Mo Hayder’s beloved novel. But as star Sacha Dhawan (who you may know from his brilliant take on The Master in Doctor Who) stated to GamesRadar+ in an interview, it isn’t even strictly a simple crime drama: “I’ve not really seen anything like this on British TV before, this perfect mix of genre. It’s not even a crime thriller! Yes, it starts off as that but then it enters this heightened world of horror and sickly humour. That creates a unique blend which is why I can’t define it – it’s really unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
Wolf sees young detective Jack Caffery (Ukweli Roach in his first lead role) embark on a journey into this twisted world, believing that the wrong person was put behind bars for a grisly murder that occurred several years ago. His drive to right the wrongs of others all comes from Jack’s own past, his obsession with the neighbour he thinks killed his 10-year-brother in the ‘90s. As Roach emphasised, it’s this childhood trauma that defines the detective:
“So much has stemmed from this – his saviour complex and grudge against bullies who intimidate the innocent. It all fuels his resentment and his choice to become a police officer – it shaped the whole direction of his life and without that, he wouldn’t be who he is. But it has stunted his emotional growth, from when that happened. There’s something that still remains a child in Jack, there’s a hurt little boy inside of him. That’s covered up with a lot of bravado and anger, but it’s there. To get the answers that he wants, he needs to solve this thing.”
Of course catching a killer for a crime people think has already been solved is no easy feat, especially since throughout his journey Jack struggles to form any real, human connections. Roach suggests that during the whole show his character doesn’t have a single genuine relationship, not even one! But that’s not through a lack of trying: “His family was torn apart and since then he’s had to defend himself – there’s been a hardening, he’s now completely self-reliant, he thinks if he’s alone no one can hurt him, he isn’t vulnerable. But also, he doesn’t have to rely on anyone and no one can let him down. He really does only have himself and whilst he tries to build relationships, it’s difficult for him to maintain them, to trust people. Being alone isn’t a choice he makes though – he’s damaged and struggles to let anyone get close.”
Being in extremis
Jack’s story eventually collides with that of the wealthy Anchor-Ferrers family, who find themselves held hostage in their own home for reasons unknown to them. The always-fantastic Juliet Stevenson portrays the matriarch of this family, Mathilda, a woman who is pushed to her limits upon being held captive. For the actor it was an interesting challenge playing a character who is mostly only seen in the middle of an extreme situation, as she told GamesRadar+: “We don’t know much about the family as they enter the story except that they are posh, white, wealthy, and privileged, and there’s always a danger to play the cliche. It quickly escalates and it was challenging playing someone in extremis – you don’t really get a sense of who they are when they are not in a terrifying situation. Who is she before she’s in that situation? Therefore, how does she behave when she’s there? Until it happens, you just don’t know how you will act!”
It’s a very physical performance that Stevenson gives as she fights for her survival, which was also something new for the actor. To really push herself then, Stevenson wanted to make it as real as possible: “It felt very physical which I’m not often asked to do, and I loved it. I wanted to get sweaty and dirty – she’s running on adrenaline which has a huge impact on the body. I had myself genuinely chained to the radiator with real handcuffs because I wanted to experience being uncomfortable and in pain. I asked for that and it really heightened it.”
All isn’t what it seems…
Also ratcheting up the tension is the fact that the police officers the Anchor-Ferrers family encounter during their kidnapping may not be exactly who they say they are. Sacha Dhawan’s Honey and Iwan Rheon’s Molina make for quite the puzzling and unnerving duo, but their comedic double act provides laughter too. The pair have natural, easy-going chemistry, which is why we are surprised when Dhawan tells us they didn’t screen-test together: “We didn’t test together at all!!! So it’s really credit to the team for putting us together and it paying off – we just got on so well! We would rehearse but always laugh over moments we were trying to land – it was a real bromance.”
Whilst the duo are a funny presence, there is always a threatening nature to them too as we can never be quite sure of their exact identities, with every twist and turn throwing us in a completely new direction. Dhawan tiptoes carefully around the subject, not wishing to ruin it for anyone, but says it was simply thrilling to uncover all these new layers of Honey: “They aren’t what they appear to be which was fantastic to play as it gave me a lot of range. I could be really mean, nasty, but still feel sorry for him – it messes with our minds. People ask whether I read up on psychopaths but I didn’t at all. He’s just struggling, has never been given a break, has never felt seen, never felt recognised., and can easily adapt to various roles. For me, I just wanted to make sure there was always a genuine element of danger in him, in how far he can push himself. Maybe he could do something dangerous, something silly in the moment, now that he’s suddenly in a position of power. What might he do with that? It’s genuinely terrifying.”
Excitingly, Wolf may just be the start of DI Jack Caffery’s journey as the character doesn’t just appear in one novel. Hayder featured him in several books over the years, which opens up the potential for Roach’s return in the role if these other stories are adapted for the screen. It’s a prospect that excites Roach who tells us “I would absolutely jump at the chance so I hope we get to”. Fingers crossed then!
Wolf launches on BBC One and iPlayer on Monday 31st July at 9pm, with all episodes dropping immediately as a boxset on BBC iPlayer.
For more exciting upcoming TV shows coming your way this year and beyond, check out our recommendations of what to look out for.