How James Nesbitt has built a career playing TV policemen

James Nesbitt stars as detective Danny Frater in new Channel 4 crime drama Suspect, marking his eighth appearance as a TV police officer. 

His latest outing, airing on Sunday nights, is familiar territory for the Northern Irish actor, 57, has built a career playing coppers on both sides of the law. 

Nesbitt first played a policeman in 1986 children’s film End Of The World Man and has since graced our screens in hits like Murphy’s Law, Lucky Man and Line Of Duty

He has starred in four crime dramas in the last two years alone, including a Netflix adaptation of Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel Stay Close. 

Such is his prolific filming schedule that Nesbitt is currently filming the second series of Bloodlands – executive produced by Line Of Duty creator Jed Mercurio – while promoting his role in Suspect.

Two of a kind: Nesbitt in Suspect

Nesbitt in Bloodlands

Two of a kind: Nesbitt in Suspect (left) and Bloodlands. Such is his prolific filming schedule that Nesbitt is currently filming the second series of Bloodlands – executive produced by Line Of Duty creator Jed Mercurio – while promoting his role in Suspect

Fan favourite: In one of his most unusual roles, Nesbitt appeared as bent copper Marcus Thurwell in the final series of Line Of Duty (pictured)... without uttering a single line

Fan favourite: In one of his most unusual roles, Nesbitt appeared as bent copper Marcus Thurwell in the final series of Line Of Duty (pictured)… without uttering a single line

Police satire: Nesbitt starred in critically-acclaimed TV series Babylon opposite Brit Marling

Police satire: Nesbitt starred in critically-acclaimed TV series Babylon opposite Brit Marling

Nesbitt has acknowledged that his career has been defined by grizzled police roles, but insists it is never something he sought out. 

‘When I first played undercover officer Tommy Murphy in Murphy’s Law in 2001, it must have planted a seed in the mind of casting directors and writers, but I certainly didn’t chase roles as policemen,’ he said. 

The star has also found subtleties within the crime drama genre. 

‘I’ve played a lot of cops in very different worlds,’ he said. ‘Policemen who’ve been corrupted; who’ve lost loved ones, who face invidious choices – often you start with a policeman and get strong stories, extreme situations. 

‘There’ve been so many. In Lucky Man, I played a detective with a gambling addiction who can control his own luck.

‘Then in Stay Close I was an optimistic, funny cop who was unable to let go of a missing persons cold case.’

Here, ahead of the third episode of Suspect, FEMAIL looks back at Nesbitt’s crime-fighting career… 

SUSPECT (2022)

Troubled: In eight-part series Suspect, James Nesbitt plays veteran detective Danny Frater who arrives at a hospital mortuary for what he assumes to be a routine ID check on a corpse and discovers the young woman's body is that of his estranged and troubled daughter

Troubled: In eight-part series Suspect, James Nesbitt plays veteran detective Danny Frater who arrives at a hospital mortuary for what he assumes to be a routine ID check on a corpse and discovers the young woman’s body is that of his estranged and troubled daughter

All-star cast: While solving her death, Frater (Nesbitt) contacts his daughter's business partner, Jaisal (Sacha Dhawan), her godfather, Ryan (Sam Heughan), her mentor, Harry (Richard E. Grant), pictured, and finally her mother, Susannah and Danny's ex-wife (Anne-Marie Duff)

All-star cast: While solving her death, Frater (Nesbitt) contacts his daughter’s business partner, Jaisal (Sacha Dhawan), her godfather, Ryan (Sam Heughan), her mentor, Harry (Richard E. Grant), pictured, and finally her mother, Susannah and Danny’s ex-wife (Anne-Marie Duff)

In eight-part series Suspect, James Nesbitt plays veteran detective Danny Frater who arrives at a hospital mortuary for what he assumes to be a routine ID check on a corpse and discovers the young woman’s body is that of his estranged and troubled daughter who has, according to a post mortem, taken her own life.

Danny and Christina had a complicated father-daughter relationship in recent years, but he refuses to accept that she would have ended her own life and begins a crusade to find out what happened. 

Danny investigates those closest to his daughter including her partner Nicola (Niamh Algar), and her best friend, Maia (Antonia Thomas). 

He contacts her business partner, Jaisal (Sacha Dhawan), her godfather, Ryan (Sam Heughan), her mentor, Harry (Richard E. Grant) and finally her mother and Danny’s ex-wife Susannah (Anne-Marie Duff).

It is after these intense exchanges that he learns about her descent into delinquency.

The story then follows Danny have to confront his own failings as a father while trying to make sense of the contradictory evidence.

He has to then decided who, if anyone is responsible for Christina’s death.

Each episode focuses on Danny and one other character, in a series of ‘theatrical two-handers’, as Nesbitt described it. 

Discussing his character, James said: ‘I could relate to Danny, with his flaws, vulnerabilities and the devastating situation he faces, from the very first moment I picked up the script.

‘Each episode of Suspect is an intensely theatrical double-hander, a psychological battle of wits between Danny and another character who may know something about his daughter’s untimely death.

‘I really can’t wait to lock horns with my fellow cast members and to lead this incredible array of acting talent.’

BLOODLANDS (2021)

Big return: Suspect has only just premiered but already Nesbitt is filming the second series of Bloodlands, a crime drama executive produced by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio. Nesbitt takes on the role of police detective Tom Brannick, who was on the hunt for a serial killer

Big return: Suspect has only just premiered but already Nesbitt is filming the second series of Bloodlands, a crime drama executive produced by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio. Nesbitt takes on the role of police detective Tom Brannick, who was on the hunt for a serial killer 

Mixed reviews: Viewers were disappointed by the 'baffling' ending that revealed Brannick to be a serial killer. Pictured, Nesbitt in the role

Mixed reviews: Viewers were disappointed by the ‘baffling’ ending that revealed Brannick to be a serial killer. Pictured, Nesbitt in the role

Suspect has only just premiered but already Nesbitt is filming the second series of Bloodlands, a crime drama executive produced by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio.

The first series, which aired last year, saw Nesbitt take on the role of police detective Tom Brannick, who was on the hunt for a serial killer known as Goliath.

Among Goliath’s suspected victims was Brannick’s wife Emma, an intelligence agent investigating terrorism.

Viewers were introduced to Brannick as a concerned husband and father – to a grown up daughter, Izzy (Lola Petticrew) – determined to uncover what happened to his wife, whom he believed had gone undercover and disappeared.

However it quickly became clear that all was not as it seemed.

The four-part series was met with mixed reviews, with viewers particularly disappointed by the ‘baffling’ ending that revealed Brannick to be a serial killer. 

However it was popular enough to convince TV bosses to commission a second series, which is now being filmed on location and could be released later this year.  

‘It’s brilliant to be back filming in Northern Ireland and reunited with the gang for the second series of Bloodlands,’ Nesbitt said.

‘I can’t wait for audiences to see what’s next for the cunning and complex Tom Brannick.’

STAY CLOSE (2021) 

Netflix drama: Nesbitt also appeared in Stay Close, an eight-part Netflix adaptation of Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel of the same name

Netflix drama: Nesbitt also appeared in Stay Close, an eight-part Netflix adaptation of Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel of the same name

Leading lady: Nesbitt appeared alongside Cush Jumbo (pictured) in the eight-part series

Leading lady: Nesbitt appeared alongside Cush Jumbo (pictured) in the eight-part series

Nesbitt also appeared in Stay Close, an eight-part Netflix adaptation of Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel of the same name.

The series followed three characters characters whose dark secrets threatened to destroy their lives

Nesbitt starred as Detective Mike Broome (Nesbitt), an ‘optimistic, funny cop’ who was unwilling to let go of the unsolved case he had worked on years before.

When another man went missing on the anniversary of the disappearance, Broome took on the case in the hope of exorcising his demons. 

However the investigation opened old wounds, stirred up memories and threatened to expose the truths other characters had kept carefully hidden. 

LINE OF DUTY (2021) 

Silent player: In Line Of Duty, Nesbitt Thurwell, a bent copper who had been involved in the cover up of Lawrence Christopher’s racially motivated murder. He appeared in just two still images: a holiday snap (above) and a headshot in a police file that was shown on screen

Silent player: In Line Of Duty, Nesbitt Thurwell, a bent copper who had been involved in the cover up of Lawrence Christopher’s racially motivated murder. He appeared in just two still images: a holiday snap (above) and a headshot in a police file that was shown on screen

Some fans believe the Spanish captain was Thurwell in disguise

Towards the end of the nail-biting penultimate episode, Guardia Civil police officers stormed Marcus Thurwell's Spanish home, while the AC-12 team watched via video link. They found Thurwell's body

Early demise: In the nail-biting penultimate episode, Guardia Civil police officers stormed Marcus Thurwell’s Spanish home, while the AC-12 team watched via video link. They found Thurwell’s body (right). Fans were shocked after Nesbitt’s character was killed off 

In one of his most unusual roles, Nesbitt appeared as bent copper Marcus Thurwell in the final series of Line Of Duty… without uttering a single line. 

The actor was revealed to be Thurwell, a character first mentioned in series three. He had been involved in the cover up of Lawrence Christopher’s racially motivated murder.

Thurwell was also the senior investigating officer into the death of social worker Oliver Stephens-Lloyd, who had tried to blow the whistle on a child sex abuse scandal.

The character was revealed to have been killed in a nail-biting penultimate episode when Guardia Civil police officers stormed Thurwell’s Spanish home, while the AC-12 team watched via video link. 

When the law enforcement officers entered the home, they were met by two bodies, and a Spanish captain turned to the camera and identified one as ‘Senor Thurwell’.

The shocking move left many fans reeling as they questioned how producers could feature an actor of Nesbitt’s calibre but never put his acting chops to use. 

Instead he was seen in two images: a holiday snap and a headshot on a police file. 

However Nesbitt was later given his time in the sun by series creator Mercurio when he was given the lead role in drama Bloodlands. 

LUCKY MAN (2016-18)

Big budget: In Lucky Man, a ten-part drama written for Sky by Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, Nesbitt played a flawed police officer-turned-superhero

Big budget: In Lucky Man, a ten-part drama written for Sky by Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, Nesbitt played a flawed police officer-turned-superhero

Superhero: His character DI Harry Clayton was a gambling addict, in hock to some of London's biggest gangsters, whose luck changed when he came into possession of a magical bracelet

Superhero: His character DI Harry Clayton was a gambling addict, in hock to some of London’s biggest gangsters, whose luck changed when he came into possession of a magical bracelet

Nesbitt, James Nesbitt: The first series of Lucky Man aired in the UK in 2016 and ran for three series, with the final series airing in 2018. At the time Nesbitt said the role was the closest he will ever come to playing James Bond. Pictured, with co-star Thekla Reuten in series two

Nesbitt, James Nesbitt: The first series of Lucky Man aired in the UK in 2016 and ran for three series, with the final series airing in 2018. At the time Nesbitt said the role was the closest he will ever come to playing James Bond. Pictured, with co-star Thekla Reuten in series two

In Lucky Man, a ten-part drama written for Sky by Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, Nesbitt played a flawed police officer-turned-superhero. 

His character DI Harry Clayton was a gambling addict, in hock to some of London’s biggest gangsters, whose luck changed when he came into possession of a magical bracelet. 

Clayton soon began to use the bracelet to his own advantage. However the bracelet also made him a target for a cast of nefarious characters. 

The first series aired in the UK in 2016 and ran for three series, with the final series airing in 2018. 

At the time Nesbitt said the role was the closest he will ever come to playing James Bond. 

‘I have been driving speedboats down the Thames at high speed at 3am in the morning, we have done dramatic scenes at the Shard building in London and the Tate modern,’ he said at the time. 

BABYLON (2014) 

Satire: Danny Boyle's dark satire Babylon portrayed the Met largely as buffoons - laddish thugs led by Nesbitt as a commissioner floundering in the new world of social media and PR

Satire: Danny Boyle’s dark satire Babylon portrayed the Met largely as buffoons – laddish thugs led by Nesbitt as a commissioner floundering in the new world of social media and PR

High profile: Babylon billed itself as a police version of political satire The Thick Of It but didn't quite hit the high notes of the long-running series

High profile: Babylon billed itself as a police version of political satire The Thick Of It but didn’t quite hit the high notes of the long-running series

Danny Boyle’s dark satire Babylon portrayed the Met largely as buffoons – laddish thugs led by Nesbitt as a commissioner floundering in the new world of social media and PR. 

With public confidence in his operation at an all-time low, Met Police Commissioner Richard Miller had a PR crisis on his hands.

To solve this he hired a new Director of Communications — a very glamorous but hard-as-nails American called Liz Garvey, played by Brit Marling.

Babylon billed itself as a police version of political satire The Thick Of It but didn’t quite hit the high notes of the long-running series. 

However Danny Boyle and the writing team won praise for the lighting-fast script and thoughtful directing.  

MURPHY’S LAW (2001, 2003-07)

Where it all began: Nesbitt played detective with a dark past Tommy Murphy in two iterations of Murphy's Law: a 2001 TV movie and a series that ran from 2003-2007

Where it all began: Nesbitt played detective with a dark past Tommy Murphy in two iterations of Murphy’s Law: a 2001 TV movie and a series that ran from 2003-2007

THE END OF THE WORLD MAN (1986) 

Nesbitt’s first ever appearance as a police officer came almost 40 years ago, in Northern Irish children’s film The End Of The World Man. 

Little is known about the long-forgotten title, only that Nesbitt played a character titled ‘policeman’. 

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Nesbitt played detective with a dark past Tommy Murphy in two iterations of Murphy’s Law: a 2001 TV movie and a series that ran from 2003-2007. 

‘When I first played undercover officer Tommy Murphy in Murphy’s Law in 2001, it must have planted a seed in the mind of casting directors and writers,’ he recently said, reflecting on his long string of policeman roles.

‘But I certainly didn’t chase roles as policemen.’

DS Murphy was an undercover officer who infiltrated London gangs, jewel thieves and a biotech lab conspiracy in a number of tense storylines stretching across five series. 

Nesbitt, by then already a household name thanks to his role in Cold Feet, was praised for his ‘strong, extremely watchable’ performance in both the TV movie and series.

However it was cancelled after ratings dipped during series five, something Nesbitt attributed to it being pitted against popular ITV drama Doc Martin. 

Maverick: DS Murphy was an undercover officer who infiltrated London gangs, jewel thieves and a biotech lab conspiracy in a number of tense storylines stretching across five series

Maverick: DS Murphy was an undercover officer who infiltrated London gangs, jewel thieves and a biotech lab conspiracy in a number of tense storylines stretching across five series

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