The Version Interview... Rob James Collier on itv's The Level

Detective Sergeant Nancy Devlin is a good cop with a dark secret - a loyalty to haulier and drugs trafficker Frank Le Saux, to whom she has been close since childhood. 

When a clandestine meeting ends in murder and Nancy is caught in the cross fire, her link to Frank suddenly risks being exposed. Nursing a bullet wound and desperate to cover her tracks, Nancy finds herself having to tread a very dangerous line when she’s seconded to the murder investigation in Brighton, her home town.

Here, Nancy can’t escape her past, in the shape of ex-cop father Gil Devlin and childhood best friend, Hayley, Frank’s daughter. Like Nancy, Hayley is newly returned to Brighton and already asking her mother, Cherie Le Saux difficult questions about the family business. Potential allies in adversity, Nancy and Hayley try to rekindle their friendship but Nancy’s guilty secret casts a long shadow.

Nancy must track down the killer while all the time concealing her own role from her new colleagues – among them the enigmatic DS Gunner Martin and eagle-eyed boss DCI Michelle Newman – as well as an old friend from London, DS Kevin O’Dowd. O’Dowd has always carried a torch for Nancy, but she can’t afford to let him get too close.

Nancy’s mission is suddenly made more dangerous when crime scene forensics reveal an unidentified missing witness.  Now both the police and the killer are on the hunt. Can she hide in plain sight? 

The investigation leads Nancy to pursue a corrupt customs officer, Delia Bradley. But when Delia is attacked and a vital piece of evidence goes missing, Nancy realises with horror that the killer is very close - and getting help from inside the police. . .


Q: This is your first role after the final series of Downton Abbey. Why did you want to play Kevin?

“I wanted the next thing to be something new and good. Sometimes you have to wait for that. The Level is really fresh, fast-paced, high octane, exciting and has a young cast. It’s just non-stop with so much going on and is so interwoven and interconnected. To be part of that is a privilege. It was worth the wait.”


Q: Who is Kevin O’Dowd?

“Kevin is a police detective at the National Crime Division in London. He’s very gregarious. One of those guys who can fit straight into an office. Confident in his own skin. Good at his job, knows what he’s doing. There’s a warmth to him and he’s quite funny. “O’Dowd has been working alongside Det Sgt Nancy Devlin (Karla Crome). He feels affectionate towards her which he wants to pursue further. Then she is re-located to work on a murder in Brighton and eventually he ends up following her because there could be links to organised crime. And he’s hoping to pick up where they left off. “When we first meet him he has a cast on his foot. Nancy has saved his life by dragging him out of the line of fire. There’s a scene where essentially O’Dowd and Nancy are trying to get into bed but they are struggling as he’s in a cast and on crutches. It was my first day on set. We were laughing our heads off so much anyway because of how ridiculous it all was. It was quite a funny scene at the end. The passion being interrupted by the clumsiness. “It was also quite weird acting after the cast came off because I kept forgetting to limp. So then I put a stone in my shoe to remind me.”


Q: Have you ever broken anything?

“My own bones no. But I broke a Victorian fireplace belonging to me yesterday. In a house I’m refurbishing with my cousin. He took his time getting it off the wall, because it’s going on another wall. It’s been there since 1850. “I had all the separate pieces of the fireplace lined up. Then I’ve turned to say something, slightly hungover, and clipped one of the front legs which then fell between my legs and split in half. And I was just like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’ll glue back together. Just one of those moments.” 



Q: O’Dowd is seen driving a speeding police car in a chase. How much of that were you allowed to film yourself?

“More than I wanted to, because I’m a bad driver. I’ve got an automatic and haven’t driven a manual for years. They asked, ‘Can you drive a manual?’ And I went, ‘Yeah, but I prefer an automatic.’ Then they gave me a manual. Of course, they strap a hugely expensive camera to the side of it. So the width is huge and I’ve got to get through these tiny gates at speed. It was quite nerve-wracking. There were a few close calls. Too close. “I’m a terrible driver. I shouldn’t be let loose on the roads. I learned too late and I’m not good at judging distances. It’s a miracle I’ve never had a crash. I stalled the car a couple of times and I reversed out of a scene when I should have been going forwards. It’s quite hard. You have to deliver your lines and make sure they sound natural while at the same time driving with this camera sticking out the side of your car.”


Q: How do you look back on this new role after leaving Downton Abbey behind?

“I was so nervous on my first day filming on The Level. I hadn’t worked for about eight months so I was like, ‘Oh, how do I act again? I’ve forgotten.’ I was just focusing on the scene at hand. It was a bit like, ‘Don’t let anyone find you out.’ “Downton was a fantastic journey. And I always use the word privilege. Because if you’re ever working in this game, it’s a privilege. It’s so hard to get work and there are so many better actors than me out of work. Downton was a once in a lifetime experience in terms of its success across the world. I can’t see that happening again for a while on such a scale. To be part of that was fantastic.

“And to get six years out of it when I was originally only signed for the first series because Thomas was going to get sacked or die. Sometimes you look back and go, ‘Wow, have we just gone on that journey together?’ But it has to end. You don’t want it to fade out, become jaded and worn. There’s always that danger. So we were very lucky to get six series. To close that door, to have the memories. “There was an increase in the number of bad guy roles I was offered. Although not necessarily butlering! So it was nice to get a role in The Level. Something fresh, new and worlds apart from Downton. A modern cop show about homicide. So it’s another stepping stone. One of the reasons I became an actor is to play different characters and meet different people in different locations. You couldn’t get any more different than The Level.”