Bertie Carvel and Suranne Jones talk the second season of Doctor Foster in a new interview
The premise of Doctor Foster, a BBC five-parter about a small-town doctor who suspects that her husband has been having an affair, didn’t sound like the most explosive of dramas on the surface, but when it aired audiences were absolutely captivated.
It earned an average of 9.51 million viewers for each of its episodes, with 10 million tuning in for the nail-biting finale and immediately there was a call for more, a call that has now been answered by writer Mike Bartlett with the second season arriving on DVD on Monday (October 8th).
Suranne Jones and Bertie Carvel, who played Doctor Gemma Foster and her unfaithful husband Simon, spoke to us about why they decided to come back for a second run, how the temperature gets turned right up for Simon and Gemma and whether anything can rival "that dinner party" scene...
When the first season of Doctor Foster ended it felt like it was quite a contained series, could you see an obvious route to a second series?
Bertie Carvel: “It did seem obvious to me, mostly because it was so successful, way above and beyond anyone’s expectations, including mine, it really felt like it lit the blue touchpaper and the scale of reaction was huge, I felt like it touched a nerve naturally, it’s a real psychological thriller.”
Suranne Jones: “I really wasn’t sure about doing a second one, but I thought it was worth a conversation with Mike, so he sat down with me and my agent and the executives and they explained to us what they wanted to do. They sold the premise that we’ve never really seen a couple going through a divorce who still have to look after a child and we came to the conclusion that we hadn’t. You normally get affairs and reveals, the explosive stuff, you don’t get the tightly coiled aftermath of two people who hate each other but have to see each other all the time.”
What do you think it was about the show that captured the attention of so many people?
Bertie: “One of the things Mike Bartlett did so brilliantly was to take a mainstream format, setting and style, take it really seriously and really look for the epic in the every day, it taps into everyone’s anxieties, infidelity is a huge source of conflict for just about everyone, and he really goes into it. So I don’t think those stories do end. It might have felt like everyone was on the table at the end of season one, but these people have lives and they don’t end, they have a marriage and a child, so what next? I don’t think he’s just seen the money and spun it into a second series, he’s thought deeply about what would come next.”
Suranne: “From what I know from working in development I knew it was hard to sell a family drama. What was in was thrillers, family dramas and cop shows, bigger picture shows, but with Doctor Foster, it had an element of the investigative with an every woman. I always felt like it might be a bit niche, I thought it would strike a chord with a lot of people, but a lot of people would find it uncomfortable. Mike’s writing is very different and it divides people. The early reviews said it was over the top, they focused on her and how she was behaving as a doctor, not the story that was bubbling under the surface. I mean it starts with a poem, it’s theatrical, now people know what they’re looking for, fireworks and drama, I’m glad people have embraced it.”
Where do we find Gemma and Simon at the start of the second season?
Bertie: “It’s been two years, so the characters’ lives have carried on at the same rate as they’ve been off screen. It still centres on Gemma and Simon’s relationship and we’re heading for the next big fault line.”
Suranne: “The first series was about Gemma’s breakdown about discovering something she didn’t know, she was heartbroken and manipulative and out of control. Now there’s a lot of anger and bitterness still there, but it’s two years’ later. There’s still a lot of sexual tension there too, so many unanswered questions. There’s less to root for in Gemma’s case this time because it’s not just the case that the b***ard husband is having an affair, this is more about how they treat each other and the answer is not very well.”
One of the main themes of the first season was how claustrophobic everything felt, are we back in Parminster again for the second run?
Bertie: “It does have that same feeling. I really liked that about the first season, Mike decided not to set it in a metropolis, like you see with so many dramas, this is more about the nation. Parminster stands in for communities outside the metropolis, it’s Simon’s town and there’s a real territorial struggle, an epic struggle between two ordinary people who are going to fight over everything.”
One of the most gripping moments in the first season was that famous dinner party scene where it all came out, is there anything to rival that in the second season?
Suranne: “There is. There are no secrets to expose this time, no fireworks ready to go off, but emotions are so tightly wound. They have to keep things in because there’s a child involved and both of these people want to be seen to be dealing very well with their divorce. Underneath though there’s this incredibly uncomfortable turning of a screw and by episode five, something really has to give, and it does. There are a lot of set pieces throughout the show. This season is mostly two-handers and three-handers and there are a lot of moments to rival the dinner party, but they are mostly with two or three characters. It’s even more concentrated this time, it was uncomfortable when it was a small village, now we’re going right in…”
Is Simon a different person in the second season?
Bertie: “In the first season my character’s life was spinning out of control and he was trying desperately to put the genie back in the bottle, he didn’t want to face things, he wanted to keep everyone smiling, this time round he’s a man who has gone away, done some work on himself and rebuilt himself. He’s got a plan this time. Last time he was on the back foot, Gemma was the detective, he was trying to conceal everything, this time there’s a very different power balance.”
What about Gemma?
Suranne: “She did consider not going back into medicine, but she has returned because that’s been her constant. When all her friends left her and her husband cheated and her world fell apart what she had to fall back on was being a good doctor, so she went back and two practises merged. So maybe when she should have been slowing down and focusing on her son, she actually took on more work thinking it was her therapy. In my opinion, she should have just gone to therapy, but she didn’t. She’s searching for stability and I think she thought going back to being a busy underpaid GP would do that, but it hasn’t.”
What fascinates you most about playing these characters?
Bertie: “I think with Simon he was really trying to present an image of himself and to the world of being more successful than he was. I don’t think he’s a chauvinist, but I do think it’s difficult for him that his wife wears the trousers. Mike is really exploring entrenched chauvinism in our society and he’s written this fantastically strong woman in Gemma and we see all the little ripples around that. Simon’s in a time of his life where he’s realising that he hasn’t become everything he hoped, he wanted to be an architect, but instead, he’s middling property developer reliant on other people’s money. His castle is built on Gemma’s foundations.”
Suranne: “Both Gemma and Simon are both badly behaved people in terrible circumstances. When people are out of control and emotions are raging you can really explore that, you can make them do things ordinary, stable-minded people just don’t do. I remember when I was on Scott and Bailey and this adviser told us “Everyone’s got a snapping point, we all have a murder in us” and with Gemma and Simon you really don’t know where these characters are at in their mental states, Simon might have had some therapy, but Gemma definitely hasn’t!”
Bertie: “Two years have gone by and he’s really gone away and dug out the basement and tried to build a much bigger and better version of himself. This new series is quite Greek and they were fascinated by hubris, so I’ll leave you to speculate what that might mean…”