Why new Sky comedy has Stephen Graham is laughing on the inside

Stephen Graham was glad to take a break from his usual heavy roles to star in Code 404, a hilarious new comedy on Sky, writes Esther McCarthy
Why new Sky comedy has Stephen Graham is laughing on the inside
Code 404 is a new Sky original comedy starring Stephen Graham and Daniel Mays, coming to Sky One and NOW TV on Wednesday.

Stephen Graham was glad to take a break from his usual heavy roles to star in Code 404, a hilarious new comedy on Sky, writes Esther McCarthy

Stephen Graham first realised the potential of a script that had come his way when he heard his wife chuckling out loud in their family home. Hannah, who reads many of the scripts the actor is offered, had found comedy gold in a new British cop series on Sky co-starring his friend, Daniel Mays.

“I’d been doing a lot of serious stuff lately, it’s just been the way the work was going,” says Graham. “That script popped up because Danny recommended me to the producers and Hannah read it, she was laughing out loud. A couple of pages in she was like: ‘Right you’re doing this. You’ve done so much heavy stuff lately you could do with having a break’.

Then I read it and I just thought it was great. I thought it was so wacky. It is out there a little bit. It was a no brainer really.

The result is Code 404, a buddy cop comedy with a surreal twist. Set in the London Met in the near future, he plays a detective mourning the death of his colleague, Major (Mays), after a sting goes badly wrong.

He’s stunned when Major is brought back to life following a secret AI project — trouble is, he’s not quite the same as he was before.

He found the comedy just as well written as his wife, who has flagged many projects he’s gone on to film.

“I’m normally busy and I have dyslexia as well. Hannah has always read everything. She’s just got a real good knack for choosing the right things.

That’s one of the reasons why we decided to give it a go ourselves and set up our own production company.

Graham plays the straight guy to Mays’ crazed cop. “He used to be an amazing cop, and now he’s not quite himself. He’s randomly trying to find his feet again. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun on a set to be honest with you. My most difficult thing was trying to keep a straight face.

It’s great to be able to use the physicality, the slapstick.

Graham has enjoyed a varied career. It was his work in Shane Meadows’ This is England which showed the breadth of his talent but the last year has seen a remarkable run of work from the actor from Kirkby, Liverpool.

His role in Line of Duty saw him getting recognised more frequently in his local supermarket. The Irishman gave him an opportunity to work with his favourite actors. But it was his work in searing drama The Virtues — which saw him reunited with Meadows — that made him one of Britain’s most in-demand actors.

“Working on a project like that with Shane was just unbelievable,” he says now. “Because it’s an experience which Shane openly put out there into the public, something that happened to him as a young boy, you have to handle that with tenderness and care. You have a care of duty to make sure that you get it right. And to work with Helen and to work with Niamh [Irish actors Helen Behan and Niamh Algar], they were both just magnificent as well.

It’s the most pure acting I’ve ever done, the most real, in the moment I’ve ever been.

DOING HIS DUTY

Graham says that all he ever wanted to do was be an actor, and he credits the more serious cop duty with giving his career a major boost.

“I think it was Line of Duty. It was like, bang, things changed. A lot of people knew the work I’d done, and I’ve been very lucky to be able to do some really great stuff. But that put me so much more in the public eye.”

Not that he takes such success for granted. Despite the stir This is England caused, he was out of work for eight months, considering another career and struggling with depression. He had a tough time with his mental health in his twenties, which he movingly revealed only recently on BBC radio show Desert Island Discs.

He hadn’t intended to speak about his struggles but decided to while speaking with presenter Lauren Laverne.

It just felt like it was the right thing to share at that particular moment. She just really made me feel so comfortable and she was wonderful.

“Obviously my family know and my close friends, but to put it out there in the public domain…the response was really, really beautiful. A lot of people said thank you so much for expressing those thoughts and those feelings and those emotions that you went through because we’ve been in similar situations.

So if anything, it gave people a chance to talk about those things with their friends and family.”

NORTHERN SOUL

We will also see him onscreen soon with Colin Farrell and Jack O’Connell in The North Water.

The BBC series about a whaling expedition was shot around Svalbard in the depths of winter. It’s believed to be the furthest north a major production has ever been shot.

“What it was for me personally was the silence. The beauty in the silence. Without sounding like a gobshite, it was a really spiritual moving experience for me personally.

“You became very close to the people who you were working with, especially Colin.

I have massive respect for Colin as an actor, but man as a human being, he’s a wonderful, wonderful man. We became really close, we still keep in touch regularly.

“The experience itself to be somewhere so remote like that was unbelievable. We were a taxi away from the North Pole. There are no taxis up there but you know what I mean!”

After a busy four years where he was frequently away on shoots, he is embracing being at home on lockdown with Hannah and their two children.

“I keep trying to do the maths here with our Alfie and it’s going way above my head! We’re just staying active, going on walks with the dog and playing a lot of footie in the garden. Our Grace is teaching us dance routines.

“I miss my mum, my dad, who only live around the corner. But we FaceTime all the time and stuff like that. I do miss the contact with my family and my friends. But we’re doing okay with it.”

  • Code 404 begins on Sky One on Wednesday. All episodes will be available on NOW TV

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