Ewen Leslie and Jenna Coleman in ‘The Cry’ (Photo: BBC)

Playing a guy whose baby son is abducted in the BBC/ABC psychological drama The Cry directed by Glendyn Ivin was one of the most challenging roles in Ewen Leslie’s illustrious career.

The actor plays Alistair, an Australian political adviser working for the British Labour Party, who returns home with his wife Joanna (Doctor Who and Victoria’s Jenna Coleman) and infant.

En route to a small coastal town to see Alistair’s mother Elizabeth (Stella Gonet), the baby vanishes from their car, compounding the anguish for Alistair who is fighting for custody of his daughter Chloe (Markella Kavenagh) from an earlier marriage to Alexandra (Asher Keddie).

Based on Australian author Helen FitzGerald’s eponymous 2013 novel and scripted by Jacquelin Perske, the series will premiere next Sunday at 9pm on BBC1. The ABC is yet to reveal the air date. International distributor DRG pre-sold the show to AMC Networks’ streaming service Sundance Now in the US.

“The novel is told from the perspectives of Joanna and Alexandra and it works wonderfully,” Leslie tells IF. “But it made it difficult to get inside Alistair’s head and know what he was thinking a lot of the time. Because she was telling this story for television, Jacquelin was able to give him moments of solitude which really helped.

“My character is thrust into an unthinkable situation. He and Joanna face the media spotlight and public scrutiny. The emotional stakes are high in every scene. It was a very tense shoot but also a very playful set. I think when you’re working with material that is this heavy, everyone does their best to balance it with humour. Despite the material it was actually a very fun, joyful experience.”

The producers led by Claire Mundell, creative director of Scottish-based Synchronicity Films, had asked to see SBS/Matchbox Pictures’ Safe Harbour when they were looking to hire Ivin and were impressed by Leslie’s performance. DOP Sam Chiplin worked on both productions.

Marveling at Coleman’s performance, Leslie observed: “Jenna is an amazing actress. She’s incredibly hard working and questions things in a wonderful way. It has to feel true for her.”

Coleman returned the compliment, telling the BBC: “Ewen has been extremely clever at switching – in some ways, Alistair is charming and generous, you could see him as the ideal partner in many ways, yet you could also see Alistair as controlling, manipulative. It takes a skilled performance to have all those aspects of that character and be delivering that very delicately.”

Filming in Glasgow and Melbourne, Leslie also enjoyed the chance to work for the first time with Keddie and with Alex Dimitriades as the cop in charge of the investigation.

It was just Kavenagh’s third role after Stan’s Romper Stomper and Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, prompting Leslie to remark: “I was blown away.”

The actor whose credits include Fighting Season, Top of the Lake, The Daughter, The Butterfly Tree, Rake and Janet King, prefers not to rehearse. “We talk through scenes but it’s better if I don’t know what I’m going to do or what my fellow actors are going to do,” he says. Nor does he like watching rushes, explaining, “That may affect what I do the next time.”

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