Four Lives star Stephen Merchant on ‘burden’ of BBC role ’Enormous challenge’
Four Lives stars Stephen Merchant and Sheridan Smith
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The Office and Extras star Stephen Merchant has decided to take on a role a far cry from his comedic background for his latest BBC project. The 47-year-old will be portraying serial killer Stephen Port in the all-new BBC drama Four Lives. Ahead of the miniseries, which focuses on the monstrous murders committed by the so-called Grindr killer, Merchant revealed how much a “burden of responsibility” the role was.
Four Lives will be concentrating on the families of the victims of serial killer Port and their quest for justice for their loved ones
The murderer was sentenced to life in jail in 2016 for killing Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth and Jack Taylor.
He used gay dating apps and sites to lure his victims to his east London home before drugging them, raping them and disposing of their bodies in Barking.
The makers of the BBC drama have chosen to relegate Port to the sidelines of the story so the focus centres around the victims.
While the drama centres on the victims’ families’ fight for justice and the police’s refusal to connect the deaths, Merchant’s portrayal of Port plays a harrowing, but pivotal role in the series.
Merchant, who stands at 6ft 7ins usually towers above his co-stars, but in Four Lives he shrinks into the courtroom as a hunched and withdrawn coward.
Ahead of the drama airing, Merchant explained he carried the weight of the case on his shoulders during filming.
The inquest regarding police misconduct only finished in the middle of December last year, just two years after filming came to an end.
Merchant revealed: “You sort of feel that burden of responsibility because it’s a true story of trying to treat it sensitively.
“It is something very different from what I’ve done before, and it was a challenge, an enormous challenge,” he told Digital Spy when asked about taking on a role away from comedy.
“I think had Port been the very centre of the drama, I might have been more trepidatious about trying to shoulder three parts [of a show] like that.”
He added: “We’re not trying to fully understand him, he is a kind of shark prowling the waters.
“I felt like what I needed to do was to construct my own kind of interpretation of him, in my own internal logic about how someone like that thinks.
“I don’t know how a serial killer thinks, particularly when we filmed the court trial scenes where it’s a lot of testimony that was given actually in the court.
“But what is a person thinking in that circumstance? They know they’ve killed four men, but they’re not going to admit it.
“So do they know they’re lying? Have they constructed a reality that they’re now living by?
“Are they navigating their way between truth and lies? How thought through is that process?
“So a lot of the work I was doing was almost like a writer trying to write in my own head, like, what is this person’s inner thoughts in those moments? Because otherwise, you’re sort of a bit at sea.”
The star said he decided not to meet with Port and said the serial killer was on the periphery of the drama like a “circling shark” rather than the focus.
Four Lives starts January 3 and airs over three nights at 9pm on BBC One.
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