The third installment of J.K. Rowling’s hit crime series, Strike – Career of Evil, started on Sunday 25th February on BBC One, starring Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike and Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott.
In Career of Evil, we find out more about Strike and Robin’s very troubled pasts. We also see Robin Ellacott returning to her hometown of Masham, North Yorkshire, and we get to meet some of her family members. Though they only have small roles in this series, they are bound to have a more prominent role in the future, being Robin’s family! StrikeFans.com had the opportunity to interview the actors playing them!
Robin’s father, Michael Ellacott, is being portrayed by actor Paul Butterworth.
In the Strike books, we only see Michael Ellacott very briefly; in the Silkworm: “Mr Ellacott was asleep, his head back in the armchair closest to the fire and the dog. Gently he snored, with his spectacles halfway down his nose.”
And in Career of Evil: “Downstairs, the sitting room door opened and [Robin] heard a brief snatch of a commentator’s voice, her father telling their old chocolate Labrador to get out because it had farted…”
Michael was also jointly responsible for handing down the family Land Rover to Robin, which she and Strike take on a road trip to Barrow, Market Harborough and Corby.
You may recognise Paul Butterworth from the Full Monty, in which he played a character called Barry, or in his recent Doctors episode, in which he played the title role, Eric. Read his interview below.
We understand that your mother was a drama teacher. Is that why you first became interested in acting?
“Yes, as a teenager she’d trained in London, travelling weekly from Blackpool… and, in the 1930s, she was the youngest ever Poetry Society Gold Medal winner. She was all set for a West End career just before the war when she met my dad, a poor curate, and gave it up to be a vicar’s wife.
I was the youngest of four children, so for many years she wasn’t able to pursue her passion. Then, when I was 11, she took me on as her first pupil.
As the youngest child by far in a large family I’d always lived in an imaginative world of my own, and when she started channelling that, it was like opening a door into a magic world.”
What drama training did you go through?
“I trained for three years at the Central School of Speech and Drama on their teaching course as I couldn’t afford drama school fees for acting (you got a grant for teaching in those days) and thought that might be a good compromise, but by the end of the course I’d realised I didn’t want to teach drama but to act.
My real training came when I left Central and went into theatre as an assistant stage manager, then into children’s theatre, community theatre, a little bit of rep and quickly into TV and film, which is where most of my experience has been.
It’s what I’ve learnt very slowly over 40 years since then as a TV/film character actor (usually in high profile projects) that has been my real teacher.
And bringing up my son for 20 years I’ve certainly learnt a lot about life, which feeds into my acting.
I’d always taken small jobs while he was young but when my son started A levels I began training with a top LA voice/acting coach (by Skype) so I’d be ready to relaunch when he left university, and undo any bad vocal habits I might have picked up.
This year I had my first ever title role, in Doctors, where I got to drive the storyline for 15 minutes. This was a huge step and a big learning curve, and worked out brilliantly.
Learning about yourself, what you can do, and about life in general is as valuable a part of your training as the basic acting skills you get at drama school.”
You’ve performed in some very large productions, like The Full Monty and Brideshead Revisited. What did those experiences teach you about your profession?
“That you put as much preparation and effort into preparing for a cameo as if it were the lead role. Your few minutes on screen has got to be just as convincing as the lead.
If you’re not going to do that and be passionate about your role then don’t take the job.
In the Full Monty as the ‘baddy’ I had to create a whole world in a few seconds… the audience had to read how I was with Nathan’s mum, my relationship to the boy and to Robert Carlisle’s character. It counterpointed the rest of the story and was a presence throughout the film, setting up the sneering judgement against which the audience could weigh Carlisle’s warm humanity.
In a small part one look can enhance a film, a poor one can damage it.
Another very important thing I learned was that the best productions are like a family where everybody works together and everybody’s work is valued.”
How did you land the role of Robin’s dad in Strike?
“It’s a bit difficult to know how you land any role but casting draws up a shortlist which they put to the director who then looks at your work and puts the team of actors together.”
What was it like being on set for the Strike production?
“Brilliant. It was a lovely family feel with everybody being very welcoming, and all of us working towards making it the best show possible.
It’s weird you go into character and banter with the other actors. I was with Joe (my screen son) and my ‘wife’ so we actually behaved a bit like a little family. And everybody was super nice – kept checking how we were – the director came over and chatted briefly every now and then… which considering how much he had to do and how little we had to do was brilliant. Holliday was lovely… in fact it was like a big family! Probably the best set I’ve ever been on… so the time went really quickly.
Charles Sturridge, the director, is such a lovely man and includes everybody – making the effort to talk to all his actors and crew – while also being in complete control of the set.
And, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but the producers gave us all a Betty’s goody bag (we were filming in Yorkshire) which was such a nice thing to do.
On the way home there was a power cut and we ended up being stuck on a train for an hour or so with no food or water available so the Betty’s cake came in very useful!”
If you can’t remember, Betty’s of Harrogate is the famous tea rooms that Robin and Linda go to in Career of Evil. You can read more about this here.
What are your thoughts on your character and the characters of Robin and Strike?
I think he’s got hidden quirky depths and is a really decent man, if a little bemused by life sometimes. He’s super proud of Robin and a bit protective… he doesn’t totally understand women and his wife has a closer (more real) relationship with his daughter, but he would do anything for her.
I had the opportunity of spending the evening before the shoot with Holliday Grainger, and by the end was feeling very paternal. She reminded me of a female version of my son, and I was able to transfer that feeling over to her, as if I really had a daughter. It was a bit weird but a very strong feeling.
Robin and Strike:
I think of them as my character would. It’s an odd place to be as I can obviously watch the show like anybody else… but my feelings as dad are much stronger.
As such, Robin’s my daughter and I wish she’d get a steady job and settle down but, as long as she’s happy, I’ll go along with that.
Strike is damaged goods. I’m not sure I completely trust him and he could be putting my daughter in danger.”
What are your thoughts on the Strike books?
I’ve read all three cover to cover and loved them.
With the books I thought like a reader rather than as Robin’s Dad.
What I like most is the relationship between Strike and Robin, how she’s growing as a person and the dynamics between them.”
What is your next project?
“My next project is my son’s graduation film. He’s cast me in a small part as the owner of the garage where his lead character lives, which I’m really excited about. It’s Stanley Kubric meets Ken Loach!
Broadcast wise there’s nothing at present, though I have just had an availability check for a huge studio movie which is very exciting.
I’m very pleased to be picking up work again after bringing up Josh and am delighted to be involved in Strike.”
See Paul Butterworth’s show reel here:
Robin’s brother, Martin Ellacott, is being portrayed by actor Joe Johnsey.
Martin Ellacott is the youngest of Robin’s three brothers. He is mentioned briefly in The Silkworm, being “notorious in their family for the lack of foresight and love of danger that had resulted in more trips to casualty than the rest of his siblings combined.” It is also mentioned in that book that he sneaks out of the house with his other brothers to go to the Bay Horse pub, leaving Matthew uninvited at home, on the night of Matthew’s mother’s funeral.
He features more prominently in the third book, Career of Evil, when Robin returns to her parent’s house in Masham, North Yorkshire.
“Martin was the only one of the four Ellacott siblings who had not attended university, and the only one who still lived with their parents. He was always touchy at the slightest hint that he underachieved”
It is very clear that Martin likes to wind people up. “‘Does she have a go at you for still having both legs, Matt?’ asked Martin.”
In Career of Evil, Martin also wins a bet on the Grand National. “‘YES! FUCKING YES! FIVE HUNDRED QUID!’ screamed Martin. From the rhythmic thumping emanating from the hall, it sounded as though Martin had found the sitting room inadequate for the full performance of a victory dance.”
Below is our interview with Joe Johnsey, who is playing Martin in Strike – Career of Evil.
How did you first become interested in acting?
“I fell into acting. I took Theatre Studies at college because a charming girl told me that Theatre Studies was the way to go. I had to take another subject so I thought ‘why not, I’ve always enjoyed being the centre of attention’. To my dismay I hadn’t thought it through as she had left college by the time I started. I was awful, but because I was more awful at Chemistry, I ended up taking Theatre Studies in the second year. I was more convinced I would be a professional footballer or athlete. When I told my parents I’d given up my ambitions to be a professional athlete to be an actor instead they realised that their son was either destined for great things or the gutter.”
What drama training did you go through?
“I first started honing my skills working in my local pub whilst simultaneously studying Drama at the University of Huddersfield. I probably learnt more about acting watching some of characters in the pub. I wasn’t even thinking about performing as a career path, I preferred writing at the time. This was until I had to perform in a third year Shakespeare production as part of the course. I played the fool Thersites in Troilus & Cressida and from the rave reviews, from friends and family, I believed I had a chance at being halfway decent at this acting thing. I applied to drama school and got in at the first attempt. I trained at ArtsEd in London. I almost didn’t go because of the fee’s but my parents wouldn’t let me not and casually re-mortgaged the house. No pressure. Got an agent, started doing Theatre and my own sketch shows as well as starting to experiment with film.”
Tell us about your recent short film “Hatched” with Paul Butterworth and his son Josh.
“I met Paul when I got off the train, we were the only two at the station and couldn’t avoid one another. We soon worked out we were getting picked up together. Being my first TV job it was nice to have somebody I could ask about how TV worked. Not the acting side however, but the important stuff. When was it appropriate to approach the catering trailer and how many times could I re-approach before it was frowned upon. We naturally got chatting about films and it was then he told me his son Josh was an aspiring director. So when he got in touch about Josh’s new project ‘Hatched’ and that they were looking for an actor to play Paul’s son (after just playing Paul’s son) it seemed like fate. Josh and Paul have since become friends of mine and we are going to collaborate again in the near future.”
How did you land the role of Martin Ellacott in Strike?
“My agent said that the casting director Shaheen Baig wanted to see me self-tape for the role and I got it. When I first arrived the director Charles came and introduced himself whilst I was waiting to have my hair cut. I had shoulder length hair at the time after just playing Romeo in Romeo & Juliet. Charles is a lovely guy, he said he liked my self-tape but he actually decided on me after finding some comedy videos that I didn’t realise were still on YouTube. It also helps that me and Holliday could pass as brother and sister.”
What was it like being on set for the Strike production?
“Loved it. I thought it might be daunting considering the following the books have and the writer involved but the cast and crew were so friendly that any pressure subsided as soon as we got on set. Helped that my on screen family Suzanne, Paul and Holliday were all excellent human beings.”
For many readers, Martin is a favourite character, with his snarky sense of humour. What are your thoughts on him? The characters of Robin and Strike?
“Martin is my favourite character. Yes I am biased. I do relate to Martin in many ways and I think his humour hides the fact he is touchy about never fleeing the nest. He makes his own fun by prodding the people around him for a reaction. I find both Robin and Strike fascinating characters with great depth, especially Robin in Career of Evil. We really get to know her backstory as well as we know Strike’s and maybe why they relate to each other so well in that they have both dealt with real hardship.”
Have you read the Strike books? If so, what are your thoughts?
“I have indeed. I loved the books and I am eagerly awaiting the next. I think that the relationships created by the writer and the sheer breadth of different scenarios that a private investigator can be faced with means that the possibilities are exciting and hopefully endless.”
What is your next project?
“I have started a ‘comedy’ YouTube channel called ‘Marathon Mondays with Joe’ in which I upload an episode a week detailing my training for the London Marathon. If you want to check it out head to my Instagram: @joejohnsey. I have another short film coming up with Paul as well as my own short which is currently in post-production. I am also working with a writer called Kay Stonham and developing a comedy series based on a character I played in her BBC radio 4 drama ‘Bad Salsa. And who knows, Martin might finally leave home, go to London and gamble his life away!”
Watch Joe Johnsey’s showreel here:
Joe and Paul met at the train station, waiting to be picked up and taken to Masham. They stayed at a hotel called Swinton Park, about ten minutes from the main town. Swinton Park is mentioned briefly in the Silkworm on Robin’s wedding invitation to Cormoran; it is the place where the wedding reception is to be held.
On the night they arrived in Masham, Paul and Joe hung out with a large group of cast and crew, including Holliday Grainger. The next day they were filming at St Mary’s church for scenes in Career of Evil episode 2.
Robin’s mother, Linda Ellacott, is being portrayed by actress Suzanne Burden.
We are still waiting for Suzanne to send us her answers. Be sure to keep checking this space for an update.
You can see Paul Butterworth’s (real) son’s short film, ‘Hatched‘, with Paul and Joe Johnsey here.
The final episode of Strike – Career of Evil will air on Sunday 4th March at 9pm on BBC One!
The previous two series’, The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, are now available on DVD. You can purchase The Cuckoo’s Calling DVD from Amazon UK here.
TV tie-in editions of the books have also been released. You can buy the third one, Career of Evil, from Amazon UK here.