The Version Interview... Jacob Ifan on new BBC drama, Cuffs.

Cuffs is a fresh, authentic, contemporary eight-part cop show for BBC One. A visceral drama that takes the audience on an exhilarating ride through the challenges of frontline policing in the vibrant and alternative seaside city of Brighton.

Newcomer Jacob Ifan tells us more about his role in the show, which premières 8pm Wednesday on BBC One.

"This is my first ever TV or film role. I’d only done little theatre things before this. It was quite a daunting prospect, but it was one that I was incredibly lucky to have been able to do, especially playing a character like Jake. 

It was a mixture of being so overwhelmed in terms of gratification and feeling excited for it, but then also the nerves. I was coming on to set with really experienced crew and cast; Ashley, Ellie, Alex, Amanda, Sean, Paul, Peter. All these people who are really established and well-respected actors for just reasons. It was stepping into that and hoping that you could try and keep the ball up with them. They were all so lovely, and the cast and crew were being so supportive from day one, it made the whole experience a lot easier and a lot more fun. I’ve really enjoyed it. 

You dream of having this sort of role. I got to dress up as a policeman, and fight bad guys, and do chase scenes. It’s a lot of fun. ‘Cuffs’ is set in the South Sussex Police department in Brighton. It follows the response officers and the detectives, and the characters of the police station. The drama is about the struggles of the everyday life of being a policeman. It really is true to what being a policeman is in Britain today, and the struggles that they all feel. Julie worked really closely with Police advisors to get stories and characters that were true. It’s not a glorification of the job, it’s about the characters. It’s about good drama. It’s really quick. It’s really actionpacked with short punchy scenes. It’s a lot of fun. There is a lot of humour in it, but there is also a lot of drama. It’s a really good balance and Julie’s nailed it. It’s brilliant. Due to the fact that she worked so closely with real police, a lot of the stories that appear in the episodes are inspired by true stories. 

I can’t say specifically which ones. Everything that Julie wanted to do and intended to do, she would run by the police and say, “what would be the protocol” and “how would it be dealt with”. It feels almost like a documentary because it does feel so real sometimes, the way the cases are dealt with. I might be making it sound boring but it’s not, some of these stories are ridiculous. There is one case in the second episode where a guy fakes his own suicide to try and get out of paying his rent. He only realises when me and Ryan turn up on the case that he’s gone a bit too far. Apparently, that was a genuine case. I play the character Jake Vickers. The first episode starts on his first day on the job. He’s a student constable, so he’s still in training. He’s put with Ashley’s character, Ryan, who has to take him under his wing. Everyone’s got a thorn in their side about Jake, because his dad’s the superintendent. Instead of doing his time in neighbourhood, he’s jumped straight to response officer. He really needs to prove himself. The first couple of episodes he does have a hard time of it. He really struggles to earn the respect of the other people, and to actually go ‘oh, actually this job’s really hard, it’s not all about the heroics’. A lot of stuff he encounters is quite harrowing stuff and he has to battle through that. The main difference between this character and characters I’ve played before? I think one of the first things, because it’s my first TV role, the approach is a lot different. 

You don’t get your five weeks rehearsal that you do in theatre to try and figure out how you’re going to do every scene. When you’re not in a room with the other actors and with the directors working it through, you have to come with a clear head about what you want to do with every scene and who the character is, and you’ve got to come up with those strong decisions on day one. You have to have done the rehearsal process yourself before you get on set, and that was a learning curve, adapting to do that and how acting works on screen as opposed to on stage. I found that really interesting. Often the bits you go “oh, yes, I nailed that” or, “yes, that was really emotional”, you look back at it and think, “oh, God, that’s too much”, or “that looks stupid”. Some scenes you don’t really know, and you’re trying to figure out whilst you’re doing it. It’s gauging what comes across or translates on screen, so the first few weeks were trying to figure that out. 

The character is gay, but what’s quite nice about the drama is the focus isn’t on ‘this is a gay policeman’. It’s just ‘this guy is a cop’, and he has the same issues that everyone does. He just happens to be gay, and that was a sideline thing that we didn’t make a big deal about. In terms of research for the role, we were quite lucky. We had this week before we started where we got to work with police officers and we did some training; how to handcuff people, how to deal with people in certain situations, and had a crash course in policing over a period of a few days. We got to do ride-alongs with policemen in Brighton. When you see a police car go past with the blues and twos on you think, “Oh, my God, that’s so exciting”, but I was sat in the back watching these two policemen, and it was just like another day in the office. How they deal with certain confrontations or certain situations, it was so interesting. I talked to a lot of policemen, and asked them what it’s really like on the job. I think that was the biggest learning curve or biggest prep. 

You do your own preparation figuring out who the character is and placing yourself there and working through that, but you can’t really get an idea of what a policeman is until you’re actually there and until you see how it works. That whole aspect of the research was hugely helpful. The relationship between Ryan and Jake is quite funny. I like to think of it as ‘Bad Boys Three’, which is what we told people when they asked us what we were filming. It’s quite hard for Jake, because he’s this preppy, excited kid. Ryan is a hardened, ex-Marine, who takes his job very seriously. Jake comes in, and actually gets shot down quite quickly, especially when he realises the difficulties of the job. You see in the first episode there is a bit of a blow-out between them, and that’s only on the first day. Jake works through that and realises what the job is, and the difficulties of the job and the respect that the job deserves, and starts to prove himself and prove his worth. 

They form a sort of bromance. It develops as the series goes along. Ryan almost becomes a father figure to Jake as he faces problems in the series, especially with his own father. They help each other with different problems. They become an awesome team. Working in Brighton has been great. I’d never been to Brighton before. We’re by the North Lanes, so it’s full of nice restaurants and bars and shops, we’re never bored. I’ve had friends come down to stay. The nightlife and everything has been great and people in Brighton are really nice. People call it London-on-sea, which I get because it’s quite cosmopolitan and there is a lot going on, but the people are a lot nicer. Everyone’s been really welcoming. Everywhere we’ve been filming, people are interested to know what’s going on and interested that something is being filmed here and set here. Brighton is actually a massive character itself within the series, like London in Sherlock, or Louisiana was in True Detective. One of my favourite scenes we’ve shot so far was a chase scene through a Vietnamese supermarket, which was a lot of fun. Jake is really riled. He’s really ready for it and he’s quite angry. He legs it after this gangster, Hong. It ends in him tackling this guy and beating him up a bit. 

We did it all in one day, so it was a long day. I was really tired after but, especially as a young guy, you look forward to those scenes where you get to do loads of chasing and punching and jumping over fences. My favourite stunt? We have this thing called a pod car. You don’t control it from inside the car, there’s a guy on the roof doing the driving. I never really drive the car but when Ashley’s driving he can act and not worry about actually driving the car. It’s really weird when you’re in it, and you can see the steering wheel doing something else. We do chase scenes, and swerving in and out of cars, and it’s the guy on the roof controlling the whole thing. All the stuff in the pod cars has probably been some of the most exciting stuff, because you’re doing skids and stunts. 

Cuffs is suitable for everyone; it’s full of good action, good drama. The writing’s brilliant and full of interesting characters. You can kick back and relax, and it’s got everything you want. They haven’t shown me much but from what I have seen, what the directors and the Director of Photography have done, it looks great. When we came into the civic centre where they built the police station set for the first time, they were still building it, so we didn’t really have an idea of what it was going to look like. They’ve nailed it in terms of the detail. It looks like a classic, run-down police station. The attention to detail that the art department have gone to is amazing. You do feel when you’re in the cells and when you’re in the offices, like you’ve just stepped into a proper police station. Most of our stuff we do outside on location because of the nature of the job. We’re not in the station that often, but all the sets, props, costume and design have been amazing. 

The locations have been brilliant. Brighton is such a big character and Julie’s really utilised that. We’ve done chase scenes on the pier, chase scenes through the Lanes, we’ve got stuff at the Pavilion. The writing of the scripts really appealed to me because Julie created a script that’s really short and punchy. There are no lengthy, long dramatic scenes; they’re all quick-cut and action-packed. She’s been really clever about it. Most of the drama is played in the subtext, so not a lot is said, but it’s then our job to bring that. She’s managed to create something that’s fun, fast-paced and adrenaline- packed, but retained all the drama. Working with the other cast members at first was quite daunting. I was a big fan of Ashley’s. I remember when I was 13, I went to the pier in Aberystwyth where I always used to go and rent films. I rented Bullet Boy and I remember thinking, “who is this guy?” Then when Top Boy came out a couple of years ago, I was blown away. 

You had this idea of him being a hard gangster, but actually he’s a real softie. He’s been really supportive and he’s a wicked actor. I’ve been able to learn a lot from him and make a new friend. All the other cast members, Alex, Ellie, Amanda, Sean, Paul, Peter, Claire, Andrew, they’ve all been so cool and so nice. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with them. It’s been so much fun. I’m so lucky. I’m so excited for it to come out and I hope people love it as much as we’ve loved making it”.

Cuffs begins Wednesday, 8pm, BBC One.

The Version