We Hunt Together interview - Babou Ceesay

"Jackson would go so far as to say that guilt doesn't really exist..."

Babou Ceesay as DI Jackson Mendy

Babou Ceesay as DI Jackson Mendy

What is the series about?

We Hunt Together is fundamentally about two killers, where one finds the other and drags them along on a killing spree. It's also about the way they use each other to do that. At first, I thought one used the other more but, over time, as I read the script more carefully, I feel like they both get something out of this killing spree they go on. It's almost a mirroring because the two cops find each other. They don't necessarily want to be together, but they kind of have to be because they've been put together. One definitely doesn't want to be there, but together they work to try and figure something out that needs immense amounts of teamwork. In fact, it forces them to relate to each other. Outside of work these two would never be stuck with each other. I'd say, at its core, that's what We Hunt Together is about - trying to find each other.

Where do we find Jackson at the start of the story?

It's made clear at the start of the series that Jackson has just moved over from internal affairs and is now part of the homicide team. I think the thing that's distinctive about Jackson is that he looks at the bright side of life. I suppose he's someone who is a bit of an idealist. His father told him at a young age that you can judge a society by the behaviour of police officers. He took that really to heart and joined the police force, despite having many options. He went in as someone who investigates crimes committed by other police officers and he's got to a point in his life and his career where he wants a new challenge. He's bringing his specific brand of policing, which is to trust people and not assume anyone is guilty. In fact, he would go so far as to say that guilt doesn't really exist because we're not responsible for our behaviour. He thinks too many factors affect someone's way of thinking, that you can't really say someone did something on purpose and, for him, something like murder is probably the most extreme place to test that theory.

Has Jackson's past impacted on this?

I would say Jackson's past has taught him acceptance. He's had to give up his background, his home, some of the choices that other people wanted him to make in order to be who he wants to be. What I love most about Jackson is that he's trying not to depend on people outside of his reaction in order to be happy. He's like, I'm not going to change how you behave, you go ahead and do you. For someone to get that, they are letting go of their past. I think Jackson has let go of many of the things in his past that have held him back. I believe Jackson is born to be a hunter. I think he'd be bored stiff if he wasn't chasing something. He wants to figure out life, why are people alive, why do people behave the way they do. He wants to figure out human nature and you have to hunt to do that.

What drew you into the script?

It was mainly the character of Jackson, who I play. I was just fascinated by how someone is able to maintain that level of positivity in the face of what's happening around them. His way of dealing with it is to try to find a way to adapt to it. I thought that was fascinating.

What else made you want to play him?

What grabbed me is Jackson's perspective on life and humans. There's something quite massive happening in his personal life and he's not dealing with it in the normal way. I would argue that even though he might be perceived as arrogant, there is an element of him that's quite enlightened. He doesn't blame other people for their actions, but he's obviously in for a shock when he visits his first murder scene. Aside from that, he tries to see the brightness in things and just seeing a character's joie de vivre, happiness and life, in spite of what they do for a living was just fascinating to me. I was given a book to read in preparation for the role and the central argument of it was that we should look for ways to treat criminals as victims. I was really taken by that argument and Jackson has opportunities within the series to put that out there. It's an argument that I've not really seen much in dramas. I guess, when it comes down to it, there's this thing when you're creating a character that you're just trying to satisfy your sense of faith in it. I felt like Gaby had written enough on the page to go on. Jackson accepts a lot of stuff, but then when it comes to his relationship with Lola he pushes. I've had to try and figure that out at times.

What were the themes that attracted you to We Hunt Together?

The central theme that is of interest to me is this idea of what creates a killer, so looking at things like the type of childhood you had or what sort of life you have at a certain point. Essentially, it's about the damaged that do damage. One of the hardest things that it explores for me is the question of who is to blame. Is there something in these individuals that actually is happiest when they're living at that level of excitement. That was something in Baba and Freddy's characters that interested me. Also, the idea of having two opposites. Jackson and Lola are very different people when they start, and the assumption is that he's all sorted and she's a complete mess. Yet, somehow, them being together builds them both up. One of the big surprises is how you're not necessarily responsible for building yourself up, whereas the killers end up, I guess, building themselves down. I wouldn't say destroying each other, but they end up making each other slightly worse by being together, whereas Jackson and Lola make each other slightly better.

What are the similarities between the police and the killers?

Each individual in each pair comes from a very different background with different perspectives and they work to relate to each other. So, you've got Freddy who is nowhere near spiritual, and you've got Baba, who's actually very spiritual, religious even, and believes that God is watching his every action. My character is making a conscious decision to be happy, while the other character is making a conscious decision to be sad because they believe they're worthless. It's quite incredible watching those relationships unfold where people are very opposite. Sometimes it works out for the better and sometimes not.

What makes Lola and Jackson think outside the box?

Something in their difference means that they're a kind of invincible team in a way and it's interesting to see their relationship develop over time. You've got this slightly bumbling, inexperienced Jackson coming in with Lola, who's got all of these challenges going on in her personal life whilst in the middle of a case that she really wants to solve. When one doesn't see something the other does, and together they keep moving this case forward. Lola's determination, Jackson's kind of steady observation of human behaviour, he can almost smell when someone's not really behaving appropriately. Also, Jackson's determination to help people, including criminals, finding and saving them from themselves. I think that makes them find these two very damaged people as they go on their rampage. The teams are balanced when it's a twosome chasing a twosome, so it's a fair fight. There's a mirror-imaging of each other, how are these two getting along versus how are these two getting along. I think that's quite interesting dramatically.

What do you find interesting about having a killer duo?

I think it's fascinating having a killer duo because it forces them to discuss what they're doing. Usually you have a single killer and, apart from how they deal with the victim, you're not necessarily privy to what is going on in their minds. I think it is interesting to look at the anatomy of how someone actually commits a crime and with these two, you can see sometimes that one has decided what's going to happen and how they're going to get the other one to do it. I think that's amazingly dramatic to observe.

What do you think will make We Hunt Together stand out?

I think there are so many things that will stand out about the series. Ultimately though, it's the story. What's drawn me into it more and more is not just exploring what Jackson does, but the relationship between his and Eve's character, Lola. The title is We Hunt Together, so Jackson and Lola hunt these two killers together and they hunt victims. I just like watching these two separate dynamics and I feel that if the show is a success, it's because viewers buy into those pairings.

What would you like viewers to take away from the series?

I hope that the viewer sees the dilemma. You hold someone responsible for their actions, but how do you deal with the background that they've got, the complication that they've got. Jackson's argument is that there's always extraneous circumstances, that we can't really be blamed. I wonder whether conversations will start up where someone says what do you expect, and the other person opposes them by saying the characters should be punished. Also, I think visually it's going to be absolutely extraordinary. First of all, the production designer Jamie has been extraordinary. In terms of the locations they've found and the sets and the way they've been dressed it's incredible. Actually, she said that finding Jackson's house certainly set the tone for the rest of the show because she knew we were going for that slightly more Nordic look and, wherever possible, I've noticed how much they've looked for depth in terms of what they're doing. They also have a colour scheme in terms of how it's shot, so the killers world is quite red, dark and neony, almost film-noir-esque, and then suddenly you're in an office, it's floodlit, it's metal and two people are slightly more exposed.

What storyline would you like to see if We Hunt Together returns for a second series?

I would love to see Jackson's ideals really tested because he's so clear about what needs to be done to get everything ok and everything working, but he's denying his feelings. There's a scene where he walks into his garage to show Lola and it's a mess. His whole point is to say that no one has any control over their mind - look at the way I've destroyed this place in anger. Actually, she calls him out on it and I would love to see if all these things that have been pressurising him in the first series start to actually cause him to crack, that he develops a drink problem and starts to become a little harder to deal with at work. He becomes less of a good dad, less of a good person...maybe...that could be interesting.

Why do we all love crime drama?

I think we're all fascinated with crime drama because it speaks to something in us. An argument that I heard recently is that it's a simpler story structure, good and evil. You have your murder and we're very clear about it and we try and solve it. What Gaby has done actually is make it a lot more complicated. So, the good people are interesting and the so-called evil people are interesting in the sense that they also have some good in them. I think we'll come back and explore crime over and over again. On one level, we're trying to see if we could do it ourselves.

Can you describe We Hunt Together in one sentence?

I would say it's about that last word - together. It's about two people focusing on a singular goal.