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‘Peaky Blinders’ Star Joe Cole on How ‘Nightsleeper’ Differs From His Past Roles: ‘I Am Usually Killing People or Stabbing Them’

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“Peaky Blinders” breakout Joe Cole enjoyed “little moments of levity” in his upcoming show “Nightsleeper.” 

“I play a lot of serious, moody characters. But I read this role and went: ‘This is close to me as a person.’ I could be free and use my life experience, everything I have been through. I try to have fun in life and bring it to the parts I play. I haven’t always been able to do it, because I am usually killing people or stabbing them,” he tells Variety

These days, Cole wants to be “stimulated and challenged” as an actor. 

“I am working on a film now, these are Russian filmmakers and they tell dark stories, but they do it with levity. They don’t relentlessly bang you on the head. The story itself is grim enough, so find the humor!,” he notes, also mentioning a recent turn in “A Small Light” about Miep Gies, Dutch woman who helped hide Anne Frank’s family from the Nazis. 

“There were many uplifting moments there too. One minute you are laughing, the next you are crying. It’s not all doom and gloom, just because the times they were living in were particularly tough. That’s clever and interesting to me.” 

In “Nightsleeper,” produced by Fremantle’s Euston Films for BBC One and mainly set on a train from Glasgow to London, off-duty cop Joe (Cole) needs to team up with a National Cyber Security Centre worker Abby (Alexandra Roach) – and the rest of the passengers – to prevent tragedy.  

Fremantle, handling global sales, will present the show as one of its most hotly anticipated dramas for 2024 on March 1 during the London TV Screenings.

“There is a lot underneath the surface. At first, he is trying to help out and save the day, I guess. That’s in his blood and his DNA. But there is more to him. He has this guilt towards his family and his last job. It was fun to play with that sort of dynamic,” observes Cole. 

“Joe is no action hero – he’s just a regular bloke. I was trying to make him a bit more relatable. The scenario he is put in and the people he meets – on that train and on the phone – change him and his perception of his situation.” 

Connected only via satellite phone, perfect strangers Joe and Abby need to trust each other. 

“Acting into a phone is quite different, because it’s intimate. You speak very quietly. But you still try to create that emotion, you try to make her understand what you are going through on the other end of the line,” he says, admitting the show “would make for a great play.” 

Nightsleeper
Courtesy of Fremantle

“It’s a small place, even though they are adding a lot of effects and bells and whistles around the train. In these moments, it’s all very contained, we are in it together and we have to create drama.” 

But there’s no avoiding action on that train. Or desperate calls for free booze. 

“It has a Hollywood blockbuster in its makeup and reminded me of ‘Speed.’ But essentially, it’s a very British story with regards to the characters, because we deal with intense challenges through drinking and humor,” laughs Cole.

“What I loved about doing this show with that incredible ensemble, was that it’s about very ordinary people. They don’t know what the outcome will be or if they are going to survive. They don’t know what the hell is going to happen! I would like to think the viewers will see themselves in some of these characters.” 

“They don’t know each other. At all. We change the stakes for them several times,” underlines Kate Harwood, who executive produces alongside writer Nick Leather.  

“They form little alliances and little animosities, and those come under pressure as time goes by. People find out stuff about each other, about themselves, and everything keeps changing until the end.” 

Just like in a classic whodunnit. 

“It has this Agatha Christie vibe and we get to enjoy that. It has been the easiest show I ever sold or pitched, so the idea of entertainment was high up the wish list. But entertainment doesn’t just have to be fast-paced action. What I love about Nick’s writing is that there’s lots of light and shade, and character work.” 

While all characters get to control different parts of the story, she says, “there are many secrets on that train.” 

“There is this Mitchell and Webb sketch with two Nazi officers, going: ‘Hang on a minute? Are we the bad guys?!’ People don’t think they are. Joe is both a good guy and a bad guy. He is the perfect person in that situation, which is what Abby realizes, but not someone who would normally put your trust in.” 

Cole, who apart from “Peaky Blinders” did “Gangs of London” and took on Harry Palmer in miniseries “The Ipcress File,” enjoys spending more time with his characters. 

“I’ve explored a couple of them in multiple seasons and the longer you stay with them, the more you want them to win. Hopefully by the end of this show, you are on board with them too.”

Nightsleeper
Courtesy of Fremantle