‘There’s no better mentor than Jed Mercurio’: Trigger Point writer Daniel Brierley discusses new ITV thriller

Trigger Point has already been widely heralded as ITV’s answer to Line of Duty. Writer Daniel Brierley introduces the show in an exclusive interview with Alex Moreland

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Vicky McClure and Adrian Lester in Trigger Point, and Trigger Point writer Daniel Brierley (Credit: ITV/Daniel Brierley)Vicky McClure and Adrian Lester in Trigger Point, and Trigger Point writer Daniel Brierley (Credit: ITV/Daniel Brierley)
Vicky McClure and Adrian Lester in Trigger Point, and Trigger Point writer Daniel Brierley (Credit: ITV/Daniel Brierley)

Trigger Point, a high-octane thriller about a group of bomb disposal experts, is set to be ITV’s answer to Line of Duty.

Produced by Jed Mercurio, and starring Vicky McClure and Adrian Lester, the six-part drama charts the story of a London terror campaign that threatens to push the ‘expos’ past their limit.

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Writer Daniel Brierley introduces the show here, exclusively for National World – he explains his initial inspiration, why he wrote the character Lana Washington specifically for Vicky McClure, how his comedy background helped him to write the perfect thriller, and more.

So, what was your starting point in terms of Trigger Point?

I had the initial idea watching an old YouTube documentary about the bomb squad in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. It was fantastic, I just randomly stumbled across it in the middle of the night - it was about these three former 321 EODs going back to Northern Ireland, reliving the events of 30 years earlier.

It just felt like an interesting jumping-off point for drama, especially considering the psychology of people that do that job. You and I – well, I don’t know about you, but certainly, if I saw a dangerous thing, I’d run away, but these guys were conditioned to walk towards it. So it was an interesting jumping-off point, [wondering] what kind of person can do that job.

You’ve said that you wrote Lana Washington specifically for Vicky McClure – could you tell us a little about that, and the rest of the cast more generally?

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I’ve always thought Vicky is one of the best actors in the country, full stop. I think if you look at her career from This is England all the way up to Line of Duty, she manages to have this down-to-earth sensibility coupled with this kind of fierceness and vulnerability, which I think was perfect for Lana.

I wrote the whole series with Vicki in mind as Lana: in early drafts of the show, the character was called Vicky because I wanted to have it clear in my head who this was. I was delighted to get Vicky - obviously I knew, working with Jed, there was a good chance we’d be able to least get a script in front of her.

Adrian is a really fantastic actor as well, I think he has a kind of joviality, an ability that really nails the character of Joel, and I knew he would work well with Vicki. It’s a fantastic cast across the board. I think Nabil [Elouahabi, who plays Hassan Rahim] is really fantastic, as is Manjinder [Virk, who plays DI Samira Desai]. I think Eric Shango, who plays Danny, is gonna be a real standout star as well.

There’s a lot of quite technical stuff going on here – I assume there’s a lot of research involved? How does that factor into your process – are you working out dramatic and character arcs first, then interweaving the technical details, or is it all one step by step process?

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Once I had the initial idea, I knew that I needed to spend some time with the experts. I was lucky enough to spend some time with the Met squad and I really gained an insight into the technical elements of the job. I would have the structure of the episode, and then once I’d hammered out the beats of it, I would spend some time with the expos and work out what could actually happen until we can make it as authentic as possible.

They were fantastic, Joel and Andy G, they were on top of everything from the get-go. For me, to spend some time with them [helped] to really understand who they are and how they do the job – these guys, the pressures of working shifts, working in London when they lived hundreds of miles away. There’s an old sofa at the Met base, which has been slept on by I think every single member of that team. It’s an interesting world they live in, basically.

You’ve got quite a strong comedy background, as a writer – I was wondering how that informed your approach to this? Arguably a comedy and a thriller are both about suspense in a way – is the way you might build to a punchline the same as how you’d build to a twist?

It’s very similar, in terms of technicalities in the writing. I think in comedy, you’re setting something up and then giving the reveal. In drama it’s very much a similar sensibility, in terms of taking the audience’s preconceived ideas and twisting them on their head.

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It’s what I enjoy about writing comedy and what I enjoy about writing thrillers. It’s very clear what you have to do in comedy, you have to make people laugh, and in thrillers you want people on the edge of their seats. If you can get those basic building blocks in place, it’s just a question of being able to tweak the end. So yeah, I think it does help to have a comedy background.

You worked quite closely with Jed Mercurio on Trigger Point. Could you tell us a little about that?

When you work with Jed Mercurio, you know that you’ve got to be on your A-game. He’s not someone that suffers fools gladly. So that was an extra impetus for me to make sure I was turning in work that was as good as I could get it. I remember working on an early draft of the first episode with him, and his note being something like, “don’t hold anything back”. It’s like in football terms, there’s an expression “don’t leave anything on the pitch” – it’s very much like that in the script, you want to make sure everything dramatic is in there.

What Jed does have is a wonderful sensibility, I think he just gets story structure. For me, working with him, it was very nice to have that sentiment, not just from Jed but the other execs, that for every draft I wrote, we’d be able to nail it into a really good shape. And I think if you’re a thriller writer, you couldn’t really get a better mentor than Jed.

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Jed Mercurio often directed episodes of Line of Duty – is directing something you’d ever be interested in trying?

To be honest with you, directing seems like too much hard work for me. I love turning up on set for a few hours, or a few days over the course of this shoot, and just kind of swanning in there and having a coffee and a chat to people. The directors work so hard; Gilles [Bannier] and Jenny [Darnell], our two directors, you know, they really went to the grindstone every single day.

To me, right now, it seems like writing is the best of all worlds: you get to come up with ideas and dream of things and imagine stuff and then obviously, the hard work of writing it down – but then when that’s done, you can take a little step back, and just let other people take their stance on a project. Maybe [I’ll direct] one day, but right now, I think writing is the dream job.

There’s this idea running through the first couple of episodes that I’ve seen about right-wing politicians and Islamophobia – I was wondering if you could tell us a little about that and its role in Trigger Point?

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It was important for me to show not just the immediacy of an attack like this, but also the aftermath. I’ve been living in London for 25 years, and I remember the aftermath of 7/7, Parsons Green, and the recent incident on London Bridge: I think what you find so quickly in these things is how these events are used for political purposes, to sow division and to sow anger, etc.

I had the idea that these terrorist attacks were happening against the backdrop of this political situation, this hotly contested by-election with a far-right candidate standing. It’s an important part of the thematic issues [across Trigger Point].

What are your chief creative influences?

I love the golden period of Hollywood – the 70s movies, Coppola and Scorsese. I read those scriptbooks for fun, it’s a wonderful thing to do.

I think actually the TV we’re coming up with, in this country right now, is a dramatic inspiration. Not just Jed but also, you know, Sarah Phelps, Tony Grisoni, Danny Brocklehurst, Jimmy McGovern, lots of fantastic writers. We have an astonishing array of extraordinary writers in this country. And hopefully, people who are just making our way through now can benefit from them as much as possible.

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Finally, then, what’s the most important thing you’d want someone to take from Trigger Point?

I want them to enjoy it, to come on this journey with us and get as much as they can from it. I think, having spent so much time with the experts, what I’d love is for people to really understand the sacrifices they make to do the job they do: not just in terms of the physical danger, but also something we address in the script quite a lot, just what it takes out of them to do the job they do.

Trigger Point will air on ITV at 9pm on Sunday 23 January, and will continue weekly after that. We’ll be publishing a second interview with Daniel Brierley immediately after the first episode airs, where he’ll give an in-depth explanation of that episode’s explosive cliff-hanger.

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