Ahead of new Sky Original series Wolfe airing, Danielle de Wolfe learns more from cast members Amanda Abbington, Babou Ceesay and creator Paul Abbott.
As an actor, finding yourself plunged into obscure situations in the name of research is something that comes with the territory.
For Rogue One star Babou Ceesay, Sherlock’s Amanda Abbington and the cast of new Sky Original crime drama Wolfe however, a day at the office doesn’t usually involve being surrounded by masses of confiscated Class-B drugs.
Stepping inside Lancashire Police’s state-of-the-art forensic training laboratory, the visit proved an immersive learning experience for all concerned.
“There was just weed everywhere and they were just laughing about it,” says Abbington, 47, of the forensic officers working within the facility’s drug department.
“There’s this kind of nonchalance about what they do, you know? For skivvies like us, we just go ‘Oh Christ!’ but it’s all part of their job.”
Illegal substances aside, Abbington – ex-partner of Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman – says the visit helped her step into the shoes of forensic investigator Dot, alerting her to a set of common characteristics exhibited by those working in the field.
“It was the way they talked about their job and their attitudes towards it,” reflects the actor. “Their unwavering sense of humour – and a lot of it was dark actually; I think that the only way they can cope with all the things they see is through humour. And I definitely think we have that in our show.”
A delightfully humorous yet sinister six-part series, Wolfe is the brainchild of Bafta award-winning screenwriter Paul Abbott. Best known for his work on Coronation Street and Shameless, Abbott, 61, says the new series is built upon “mischief” and “delinquency”.
“I have a petulance about the way I construct stuff, I guess, because most of it I’ve never seen before,” says Abbott. “I love watching forensic shows, posh ones, big American ones, but there’s no room for people inside those shelves,” he continues, referencing the lack of storylines focusing on the humans involved in investigations.
“I love cop shows, but I just wish they were more humorous, more witty. So we took it to an extreme and created a pantomime version. This is a totally different construction. But it’s basically for the same selfish reason that it’s what I want to watch.”
Centred around lauded Professor Wolfe Kinteh played by Ceesay, the crime scene expert heads up the local university’s forensic science department – a mixture of veteran team members like Dot (Abbington) and Steve (Adam Long), alongside green university proteges including Maggy (Naomi Yang) and Dominique (Shaniqua Okwok).
A co-dependent relationship thought up by Abbott, the writer questioned whether the idea of a police forensic department embedded within a universities could already exist.
“We had a police adviser who said ‘it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. In a university where there are students, you’ve got a forensic lab? No, it would never happen’.”
However, shortly after, Abbott discovered such a unit already in existence at the University of Lancaster – a site incorporating the drugs unit later visited by the cast.
With the show’s lead character described as “half genius, half liability”, it’s revealed that Wolfe struggles with bipolar disorder. A mental health condition that causes extreme behavioural changes, at times his bipolarity results in an all guns blazing approach to crime solving that is scrutinised by many.
Venturing down a YouTube wormhole in the name of research, Ceesay describes watching countless videos of individuals with bipolar disorder reflecting on their own manic episodes.
“I have a friend who has had for years, who has had all sorts of challenges,” says Ceesay of his personal encounters with the condition. “He talked me through the entire thing, including being sectioned; he took me out to dinner and opened up. Then, 32 months later, I’m cast as Wolfe and I’m like ‘woah, okay’.”
A disorder that hugely impacts family life – culminating in Wolfe being kicked out of the family home by wife Val (Natalia Tena) and daughter Flick (Talitha Wing), the investigator has a long history of failing to balance his work and personal commitments.
“I think that Val is deeply in love with him still but on top of the normal wear and tear of long term relationships and marriages – especially with Flick being sick and having leukaemia, I feel that Val just can’t deal with that anymore,” says Tena, 36, best known for her role as Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter franchise.
“You’re dealing with a kid that’s dying, and a partner that has a mental illness… And I think as soon as we found out that Flick was going to be fine, [Val] was like, I need to go, I need to breathe.”
Working hand in hand with the police on live investigations, gruesome scenes are a regular occurrence for Wolfe and his university team.
Despite Abbington noting the series is “a drama, not a documentary”, the actor describes the show as “quite violent”, noting the production “hasn’t held back” when it comes to the crime scenes. Revealing the need for “maggot wranglers” on set, Abbington says “all the forensic people that came in and the people that work in mortuaries have said, ‘yeah, this is exactly what it’s like’.”
Despite copious amounts of blood and plenty of prosthetic limbs, Ceesay notes the meticulous nature of the scientific investigations suited him down to a tee.
“I used to be a microbiologist, so being in a lab and stuff like that doesn’t necessarily faze me,” says the actor. “I’m addicted to forensic shows. I watch Forensic Files and have maybe seen 80% of them – and I think there are hundreds of them. Literally, that’s my Sunday afternoon, I just love watching people solve murders, it helps me sleep at night.”
Sky Original Drama Wolfe airs on Sky Max and is available to stream on NOW from September 11