Thursday , September 23 2021
Courtesy of Mainstreet Pictures LTD

TV Interview: Sanjeev Bhaskar from ‘Unforgotten’ on PBS Masterpiece

The long-awaited fourth season of Unforgotten premiered on PBS Masterpiece on July 11. New episodes are airing every Sunday at 9 pm ET. In Season 4, DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker from Last Tango in Halifax) and DI Sunil “Sunny” Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar from Yesterday) reunite to work on another intriguing cold case. The discovery of a headless and handless corpse appears to be connected to the police force, presenting unique challenges during the investigation.

I interviewed Sanjeev Bhaskar recently to hear more behind-the-scenes stories and find out what he appreciates about Sunny and what’s interesting about this round of suspects. He also explained a challenging aspect of the post-production process.

Do you have a favorite detective series?

The two that come to mind straightaway are Sherlock and Columbo. With Sherlock, the books are really interesting. I think the TV series was fantastic. It’s a great partnership and a buddy show that was brilliantly done.

Columbo was ahead of its time. You kind of knew who the killer was and how he or she had done it. Then it was just about Columbo working it out. It became a running joke on Unforgotten actually if anybody – either Nicola or myself – had that line, you had to stop and go “Just one more thing.” [Imitating Peter Falk]

You’ve been tweeting about the backpack game and the different items every week. I saw the latest photo with the cocktail kit. Do these items ever make noise in the backpack?

No, because they’re so tightly packed. I don’t know how they got all that cocktail stuff in the bag. I mean, I take it out of the bag and some of the stuff, I can’t put it back in the bag! It’s packed pretty tightly. Especially in this last series, there was no reason for me to open the bag during the show. I genuinely didn’t know what was in there.

Does all of the stuff go back to the costume department, or do you keep the coolest things?

I’ve not kept anything so far. That’s pretty lame. I should have taken something.

How would you characterize Sunny’s work-life balance in Season 4?

He’s always been pretty good at compartmentalizing. I think that’s where he’s been better than Cassie. He’s able to leave work at work and then come home. In this season, he’s moving in with his girlfriend. There are a couple of moments where his girlfriend is frustrated at him because for him, the job’s a job. He’s almost got two wives: his relationship and his job. It’s a job that you can’t switch off from easily. He can switch off the anguish and horrors of the job but he can’t switch off thinking about it. We see that in this season.

What do you appreciate about Sunny the most?

I think he’s dogged. He doesn’t give up. He’s always been able to step in and help Cassie. In previous seasons, we’ve seen that when she’s been struggling, he’s been able to step up and take over. In this season, he’s required to do it to a greater extent. At the beginning of the season, she’s not there anyway. He’s running the show. As the season goes on, he realizes he’s got to step up completely like he did at the beginning.

I appreciate that doggedness and that he’s reliable. He’s not as instinctive as Cassie is. I think he is, but not as much as she is. She’s the person who can have an idea from left field and that’s the way she operates. That’s the thing that makes their relationship work really well, is that she can pluck these ideas out of the air and he’s the one who is able to tell her whether it’s practical or not. He has to make those leaps this time in the way that she does.

Sanjeev Bhaskar as Sunny and Nicola Walker as Cassie (Courtesy of Mainstreet Pictures LTD)

When you get the scripts, do they come all at once or does the ending get held back for a little while?

We get them in one go. I think that we may get three scripts first and then the second three a week later. In television, you shoot out of sequence and in a way, you have to know. When I’m reading the scripts, I’m like the viewer and trying to guess who’s done it. My mind changes at the end of every script. I put script one or two down and I think, it’s him. It’s definitely him. In the four seasons so far that we’ve done, I’ve never guessed correctly.

What’s the most difficult part about doing the interviews with the suspects?

The most difficult thing actually is to not stop in the middle of the scene and give the actor a standing ovation. We’re two or three feet away from them and their performance is so fantastic. I’ve said before that it’s like having the front seat in the theater. You’re seeing the actors doing incredible performances. You see every nuance and detail. Over the series when Nicola and I were doing interviews together, many times the camera is on the actor or the suspect with their closeup. We’re not in the shot at that point and we are doing the lines. When they finish the take, Nicola and I will look at each other and very loud so they can hear, we’ll say, “Wow, she’s good. She’s good, isn’t she? She’s really good.”

Did you have a favorite scene to shoot this time?

Generally, all of the scenes I do with Nicola are my favorites because we have such a close relationship and friendship anyway. For me it’s also interviewing the character Ram in this season, because it was one-on-one [or] mano a mano and I don’t think I’ve done many of those. It felt electric doing that scene.

I definitely felt the tension between Sunny and Ram, especially with the compare-contrast throughout this season.

I thought that was interesting. In a way, it was sliding doors. Ram could have been Sunny, and Sunny could have been Ram. [It’s] in the decisions that they’ve made in their own lives to end up where they are. They could have easily been in each other’s shoes. Phaldut Sharma, who plays Ram, is somebody who I’ve known for a long time. I think it’s the first time I’ve worked with him in 25 years. It was great to be doing a scene with him as well. I agree that there was good tension between the two of them.

Phaldut Sharma as Ram (Courtesy of Mainstreet Pictures LTD)

Is there anything about detective work that jumped out at you this season?

No, there was nothing that leapt out that was different, because I was around it in previous seasons. I find it fascinating what detectives have to go through in terms of information and how they have to assess that information.

What was really humbling this time were the number of messages I got from ex-detectives. Five or six ex-detectives contacted me through my agent and said this is really accurate. This is how a homicide team worked. That is the tone that we worked with. There were a couple that said we would love to have Sunny on our team. That was very nice.

It’s not a lot to do with me. It’s the great writing and great directing. My part is quite small in the process, but it was lovely to get that feedback.

One of your tweets in February was about automated dialog replacement (ADR). Why do you find ADR a challenge?

It’s mainly because you do a performance on the day and you feel in the moment. You’ve rehearsed it in your head and you’re on set. The other actor may give you something slightly different and you have to react to that. It feels very real. Then months later, you’re in a little sound booth somewhere in the West End of London, watching yourself on a big screen. You’re trying to match not just how you felt on that day, but the part that terrifies me is that you also have match your mouth now to record the sound you did four months ago.

There was one scene in particular this time, where Sunny and Cassie are walking down a hallway. Sunny is on the phone. On the day, you try to make it real. [Picks up his cell phone] I’m on the phone saying, “Yeah, yeah – uh, wha- sure. Okay, okay. I’ll get back to you.” Four months later, you’ve got to match [that] and it’s impossible. It terrifies me.

I had to do it in French once. French is not a language I’ve ever learned, but I did a French movie. Going to Paris to do the ADR in French – I mean, what does it do to your head? It’s a language I don’t speak anyway and then six months later I’m trying to match my mouth speaking French. In fact on that occasion, I got to the sound recording for the ADR. The director said to me, [starts speaking with a French accent] “Okay, we have changed your dialog. You are on the phone and we cannot see your mouth. You are now giving instructions to commandos in Chinese.”

Like what the hell? I’ve been traveling three hours on the Eurotunnel. I’ve got into Paris, I’ve got in the car, and now I have to learn some Chinese? That was the most terrifying ADR I’ve ever done. I guess after that, nothing is quite as terrifying.

Are you able to tell us anything about The Sandman?

Other than I’m in it and I play Cain? I’ve shot my scenes. The scale of it was extraordinary and the sets were huge. I’ve not been involved in anything that seemed quite as big. There were sets in the studio and the sound stage in incredible detail. We did a couple of days on location for it. I think it will be extraordinary and I had a ball.

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About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is a frequent reviewer of all things Washington, D.C. She also covers events in Canada and London. Her highlights include interviews with Juliette Binoche, Daniel Davis, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi, and Ndaba Mandela.

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