Interview: Ripper Street star Matthew MacFadyen talks about what to expect in Season 4

When the BBC first commissioned the series Ripper Street it began as a crime drama procedural set in 1889 in Whitechapel, the infamous burrough that Jack The Ripper haunted. Investigating a range of crimes are Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew MacFadyen), Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg).

After two seasons the BBC then chose to axe the show, even though fans fought for it to be revived. Luckily Amazon (with a little financial assistance from the BBC) took up the series reviving it for a third to be screened exclusively on its Amazon Prime SVOD service. Not long after the third season concluded, Amazon confirmed it would be bringing back Ripper Street for a fourth and fifth series with all the main cast still attached.

The show has been airing on and off on Channel Ten or One HD in Australia, with the third season currently being screened on Saturday nights 9:30pm on One HD. In light of the ups and downs of Ripper Street, and the soon to be released third season to DVD/Blu-Ray here in Australia we had a chat with lead actor Matthew MacFadyen about the show and what viewers can expect.
If you are not up to date with the show, be warned, as there are some spoilers for Season 4 ahead.

When we reach the end of Season 3 of Ripper Street, it felt like a very definitive closure point for the series and show, were you surprised that they asked you back for a Season 4 and 5?

I wasn’t expecting it, I didn’t think any of us did. Even the UK producers weren’t expecting it … Ripper Street has had a rocky old ride. We did the first series and we were up for a BAFTA and we did the second one and it got better, as good shows do I think, and then we were cancelled so we thought that was that. Then there was a little work that went on behind the scenes, and then Amazon came and rescued the show. Then we shot series 3 with Amazon which was lovely and then we thought that was that. But then Amazon surprised everyone when they said let’s have another 2, so they tried to get everyone back. We were all out of contract and gone on to other things, and I think everyone came back because it’s just a lovely bunch of people. The production company, and the actors, and the crew and Ireland where we shoot it, it makes for a very happy experience.

There’s definitely a family element amongst you all and you’ve built up a group of tight knit people, but now there’s a lot of new faces, and new characters in Season 4, how has that changed the dynamic?

It’s wonderful, it means you have more fun playing off different people. We’ve got David Threlfall who’s wonderful and we’ve got Matthew Lewis who’s also wonderful. Then we’ve got the lovely Ben O’Mahony who plays Thatcher, it’s great, it’s great when they inject new characters and story lines. We’ve been doing this a long time, things like that are wonderful they just spice it up. They stop making yourself so boring, at least in my case.

This change in dynamic and more people to play off, do you think it’s pulled some of the focus from the initial trio of Reid, Drake and Jackson?

Yeah maybe a little bit but that’s kinda great. Inevitably it’s more layered and more interesting, with time it’s very freeing for the writers, because they think what can we do? We can do anything, we can push this in a way that we perhaps couldn’t in Series 2 because we’ve got all these hours under our belt. So I think it’s quite liberating for everybody.

At the mid to tail end of Season 3 it’s revealed that Reid’s now teenage daughter is alive, and by the end of the series he’s officially reunited with her. How has that changed his character?

I think he’s just found a bit of peace by the end of the third series, he’s able to leave Whitechapel. He was unable to mourn his daughter, as opposed to his wife who had moved on, he knew something, or that she was still out there, or he felt that she was. So when they were reunited I think he’s able to leave Whitechapel and he doesn’t feel the pull of it anymore. He’s been shot and I think they just need to get away. I think it’s a wonderful moment when they find each other.

And in the beginning of Season 4 they have a father/daughter relationship, she’s growing up and do you think he’s struggling with the father figure role now?

It’s four years later, and I think he’s got a daughter who is 17 or18 and she’s turning into a woman and she’s bored living in this sea-side town. And he probably won’t admit it to himself but he’s bored as well, he’s rested and recuperated and I think he finds she’s restless. He discovers she’s been going on the train up to London, and she’s had a funny old life Mathilda, she’s not a normal kid, she’s not a normal person, she’s been locked up in a dungeon for most of her life so she has a fascination with the dark side of the city. And I think he gets very very frustrated and stifled by the provincial politics of living by the sea side and probably misses Whitechapel.

There’s also a distinct shift in the tone of the series, the notion of the expansion of the empire, the emergence of trade, and technology, the fact that everybody gets excited about a telephone. Do you think that’s helped to lighten the mood of the show?

Yeah sure, but I feel like Ripper Street has always had a lovely balance between being quite witty and funny and being grisly and grim as well. The more confident the show gets, the more they can play with that. I think it works very well, you can have a show that has moments of humour coupled with moments of violence and sadness and all the rest of it. But the phone is great fun, we all turned around together when it rang.

I think it’s very good for writers to have that, because nowadays it’s harder to construct a thriller, you don’t have to work things out you can get a text message or a phone call but there wasn’t that back then. I remember when I was 9 or 10 going to Jakarta for my Dad’s work, and when I was making phone calls from Jakarta back home to London, I’d have to go to my father’s office at a certain time, and for there to be a good line, and it’s inconceivable now that you’d have to do that. It’s fascinating. I think then, in Victorian London, that was the beginning there was so much happening technologically, in the fields of science and medicine and all the rest of it, they would’ve felt themselves to be very modern I think.

In the latest episodes they’re dabbling in religion and spiritual beliefs, do you think that those notions transcend time since what was happening then is still happening now?

I don’t think human behaviour changes that much, even over hundreds of years really. It’s one of those things that people will always believe that their way is the right way.

Now onto something a little lighter, I love the costumes and the detail in them, is there a particular outfit you’ve enjoyed wearing, does it help you get into character?

They’re good aren’t they? We’re really spoilt, we’ve got a lovely costume designer Leonie Prendergast, we have these suits that are beautifully made for us, I’ve got two which I flip around, with lovely coats and my bowler hat that I feel very fond of. When I got my hat, I thought here he is, here’s Mr Reid.

And you’ve done some theatre work recently with Jeeves And Wooster, are you planning on doing some more theatre work soon?

I did, yeah a couple of years ago. Yeah, I love being in a play, I’m looking forward to the next one, but there’s nothing on the horizon but who knows, I’m available come April, so we’ll see.

The next thing you’ve got coming up is “Churchill’s Secret” …

It’s a one off film about Churchill and his wife, I haven’t got a big part in it and I haven’t seen it but it’s coming out quite soon.
I’m still working on Ripper Street Season 5 we’ve got another couple of months left and then we’re done. After April 16th it’s a void there’s nothing else, I’m adrift.

Is the potential lack of employment a good thing or a bad thing, would you like to have a bit of time off? What would you normally be doing if you’re having downtime?

It’s normal, I would like to have a bit of time off, I’m sure I’ll start panicking after a few weeks but that’s what happens. I’m used to it now after 20 years. Sometimes you have a run of jobs and it’s lovely but I’m looking forward to a bit of time at home. I’ll just be with my family, my wife and 3 kids and it’s just lovely being at home, doing the school run, normal stuff, reading and catching up on stuff and seeing friends.

Ripper Street Season 3 is currently available to stream in Australia on Tenplay on One HD.
Ripper Street Season 3 will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray via Roadshow Entertainment from 6th April 2016.