Line Of Duty's Tommy Jessop can't tie his shoelaces but on stage he can break your heart, says brother
HE has quickly become a major character in Line Of Duty, delivering some of the most nerve-racking moments of the police thriller’s latest series.
His character, Terry Boyle, has been embroiled in tense interview scenes — and even cheated death when he was a passenger in a car that mobsters crashed into a lake in a bid to stop him from talking.
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And Tommy Jessop, the actor who plays the gang victim, rose to the occasion every time, keen to be a role model for other people who have Down’s Syndrome.
His brother, documentary film-maker William, said: “Tommy can’t really tie his own shoelaces but he can stand on stage and break your heart.”
Writer Jed Mercurio has quickly made him a key member of the cast, so much so that some viewers have started asking him if he might be the show’s arch criminal.
Tommy, 36, said: “People are now asking me whether Terry is H. Obviously I can’t tell you anything, you will just have to keep watching and keep guessing.
“I just hope that by being in Line Of Duty and other shows I can help change people’s minds about being more accepting of a diverse range of people.
“And I want to show what I truly am capable of doing and show what other people with Down’s Syndrome can do in real life.
“People living with Down’s Syndrome are diverse too and we need to show this. Some are dancers, photographers, actors, gymnasts, competitive swimmers, public speakers, waitresses, drag queens.
“I know someone who makes ice cream, someone who is a local councillor, someone who keeps falling in love, someone who is an international model.”
Tommy, who lives in Winchester, Hants, first starred in Line Of Duty in series five as Terry, though a different actor, Elliott Rosen, played the character when he appeared in series one in 2011.
He was a vulnerable target for criminals who have “cuckooed” his life, using his home as a base for illegal activities — and stuffed his freezer with the corpses of their victims.
The first was Jackie Laverty (Gina McKee) who was murdered by the mobsters, then her body was dumped, only to be replaced by rogue undercover cop DS John Corbett (Stephen Graham).
In the latest series, Terry has played an even bigger part, being framed for the murder of TV journalist Gail Vella, which saw him arrested and interrogated by DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) crooked cop DCI Jo Davidson (Kelly Macdonald) and DS Chris Lomax (Perry Fitzpatrick).
The interview scenes where he is being pressured and clearly set up as a murderer are uncomfortable viewing, particularly where Terry was seen getting upset.
Tommy insists he loved doing the scenes.
He said: “I find it is easy to switch from myself into my character and back in those interview scenes.
“I was actually having a laugh and joking with Vicky, Perry and Kelly between takes.
“Line Of Duty is infamous for intense interview scenes and I love being in them. Jed directed some of my scenes, which was quite wicked.
"He was very calm on set and kind and supportive. I think he’s brilliant.”
That’s despite the fact that Jed wrote the scene where Terry had to be plunged into ice cold water in the dead of night as bent copper Ryan Pilkington (Gregory Piper) tried to drown him.
But Tommy embraces the sacrifices because he believes action scenes are all part of the show’s filming experience.
He said: “Being on Line Of Duty was like being on a James Bond set. It was wicked being in the dramatic scenes like the car chase and the lake.
“I did have a stunt double in the water too but yes, it was cold in that lake, it was like being in Antarctica.
“We had foot warmers and hand warmers. I had two or three hot water bottles to warm up with and later a big mug of hot chocolate.”
As for all the physical and mental torture Ryan has put Terry through, actor Gregory is always apologetic after filming scenes where the bent bobby has to be seen hurting him.
Tommy added: “He’s a great guy.”
Despite being in the same cast as the likes of Kelly and Vicky, as well as Adrian Dunbar and Martin Compston, who play AC-12’s Supt Ted Hastings and DI Steve Arnott, Tommy is not too starstruck.
That is unsurprising, given that he has already met Hollywood legend Martin Scorsese when the director gave a talk in London two years ago.
And his acting career has already seen him star in acclaimed BBC drama Coming Down The Mountain, where his brother was played by X-Men movie star Nicholas Hoult.
The drama’s creator Mark Haddon, who wrote the popular novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, said that the actor was actually the inspiration for the character.
It also meant he set the record for being the first person with Down’s Syndrome to appear in a prime-time BBC drama.
Tommy then rubbed shoulders with a galaxy of stars on the red carpet of the 2008 Baftas, when the show was nominated for an award. It was a huge source of pride for his parents, Edmund and Jane.
It was his mum who set the acting ball rolling by forming the Blue Apple Theatre, a company for people with learning disabilities where he honed his craft.
He repaid her with one of the best nights of her life.
Jane said: “Tommy took me to the Baftas and seeing him relaxed, smiling and professional on the red carpet, in front of the flashing cameras, was amazing.
"I had no idea from his early days what a great life he would have.
“Tommy used to be pretty shy but now he is far less so and has a good circle of friends.
“I wanted him to have a chance on stage and now he is a very powerful performer.”
Tommy has also starred in other Beeb dramas including Casualty and Holby City. In 2013 he even appeared in an episode of BBC Radio 4 drama The Archers.
His stage productions have included playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
He was also in Hamlet where, in another first, he played the lead — a portrayal of the Danish Prince which theatre and movie acting royalty Sir Mark Rylance described as “phenomenal”.
Tommy said: “I decided I wanted to be an actor when I was about ten. I just liked to make people feel happy and laugh.
“I really admire Tom Cruise because of his action films and Mark Rylance for his stillness.
“I think people living with Down’s Syndrome should go into acting if that’s their dream.
“And it’s important to have role models to encourage them to follow those dreams.”
- Line Of Duty continues tomorrow night on BBC1 at 9pm
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