'Help': Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham's Channel 4 drama set in Liverpool
- Credit: Brian Sweeney
When two of the country’s hottest actors finally got to work together again, it was clear from the start that Liverpool would be a big part of the story.
Help saw proud Scousers Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham reunite to tell the poignant story of Sarah and Tony, a Scouse care home worker, and her patient, a man with young-onset Alzheimer’s.
The one-off Channel 4 drama told a hugely important story of covid in care homes, and for its two leading actors, it was key that the story was set - and filmed - close to home.
‘It was so nice to celebrate Liverpool,' says Jodie, 28, who grew up in Childwall. ‘I feel like it’s so rarely seen on television, and even in my own life, I’ve always felt like to be closer to a character I’ve had to get further away from myself. I’ve rarely been able to use my own accent. There was something really special about being able to explore that side of myself and the women that I know, and the fire that those women in my life have.’
With standout performances in Killing Eve, Doctor Foster, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Talking Heads and Free Guy, Jodie’s career is going from strength to strength, as her co-star Stephen explains: ‘I think she’s rapidly going to become one of the finest actors we’ve ever had, she’s on that ascendancy, she’s just a joy and she’s exactly the same as that young sweet woman who was just starting off that I met those few years ago.’
The pair met while filming Good Cop in Liverpool in 2012. Stephen, 48, was so impressed by his young co-star that he rang his agent, Jane Epstein, and suggested she sign her up.
When Jodie won the BAFTA for best leading actress in 2019, she acknowledged the help he’d given. ‘I want to take this moment to thank Stephen Graham,’ she said in her acceptance speech. 'If I didn’t owe you a pint before then, I do now. Thank you for the generosity you showed me all those years ago.’
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It’s clear that Stephen is still a big fan of her work.
‘The fact that she’s worked with some wonderful actors and some amazing directors now, doesn’t faze her at all,’ he says. ‘And the best thing about it is that she brings Donna’s Scouse to the set.’
It's a reference to the culinary skills of Jodie’s mum, who packed her daughter off with homemade food every morning to eat on set in Liverpool, and over the water at Church Farm in Wirral.
It was a welcome home comfort while filming the intense and emotional drama. Alongside its two leads, it has a stellar cast of fellow Scouse acting royalty including Sue Johnson, Drew Schofield, Ian Hart and Angela Griffin.
Stephen says working with Schofield was a particular thrill. Growing up in Kirkby, he was young Stephen’s role model.
‘When I was younger there was lots of great stuff from Liverpool on the telly which in turn made me want to be an actor – one of my biggest heroes of all time, and one reason why I’m an actor today, is Drew Schofield, who lived across the road from my nana’s.
‘He saw me in a play and said, “I think your lad’s really good” to my ma and da, so for us to be able to have him playing Jodie’s dad is great.
Stephen - who made his name in This is England before going on to appear in Gangs of New York, Snatch, Line of Duty and Boardwalk Empire - did a huge amount of research for the role he played in Help, spending time learning more about Tony’s condition, but always being sure ‘to play the man and not the disease’.
He spent 10 days with Rare Dementia Support, befriending the staff and service users there.
‘For those 10 days that I was locked away I became a member of their little group,’ he says. 'I had coffee mornings with them, and I got to meet the most beautiful people.
‘We kind of collaborated on these findings from real human beings, not books, and listened to real stories, and we somehow bashed them together and came up with the character that we managed to find. In that way, it was a completely unique experience for me to find a semblance of a character somewhere.
‘Then obviously Jodie’s a joy, so the two of us just sat and played, it was gorgeous.’
In fact, he can’t speak highly enough of his co-star and her performance in Help.
‘For me personally, I wanted this to be kind of like Jodie’s Shirley Valentine; this pivotal strong visceral female role that’s the heart of this story. I wanted to watch her do that, I was excited about watching her have that opportunity.’
Help is available to download on All 4 catch up.