Steven Mackintosh discusses Inside Men, a new four-part BBC One drama in which he plays John Coniston, the manager of a cash counting house who finds himself in the middle of his worst nightmare: an armed robbery.
Coniston’s family are taken hostage and the gang force him to open the safe at gunpoint. John has been trained for this moment, but is he prepared for the real thing?
Can you tell us about your character and the type of man he is?
John is working as a manager of a cash warehouse where large amounts of cash are coming in and being stored and counted. It’s his job to make sure that everything tallies up, that everything passes through as it should and that none goes missing.
He’s a very responsible man and lives quite a regimented existence where every day is very much like the other. John is quite a stickler for doing things as they should be done. He tries to be fair to everyone at work and tries to be nice to everyone, but he doesn’t get a lot of thanks for it. As the story progresses this starts to grate with him and he feels like he’s always picking up the pieces for other people at work. He even gets to a point where he’s replacing small amounts of money that are being stolen by some of his staff, because ultimately the responsibility lies with him.
His relationship with his wife is ok. There is no great animosity but there is a sense that maybe they’re both a little bit stuck and unsatisfied. They’re about to adopt a child which he’s nervous about as it’s a whole new world to him.
How does it all suddenly change for John?
In episode one he uncovers a plot by two of his team at work, Marcus (Warren Brown) and Chris (Ashley Walters), that they’re trying to steal a large amount of money from the warehouse. He’s cross about it and cross that they seem so disrespectful towards him.
He takes them into his office and while he is reprimanding them it feels like all of his frustration and the things he’s been thinking about, how his life feels slightly stuck and unsatisfied, comes to a head. It dawns on him there and then that rather than just trying to patch all this mess up and replace the sum they’ve already taken, maybe they should try and steal all the money.
This is utterly shocking to Marcus and Chris. And it’s shocking to John too that he’s even said it, but it sparks something in him. He thinks, “you know what, I think this is what I need in my life. I need to take a risk because life is frustrating. I’m dissatisfied and I’m not the man I want to be. I want to take a huge risk.”
So he floats this idea with Marcus and Chris, and that’s really where the three of them suddenly embark on this journey which has very different consequences for all of them.
We start with the heist itself and then we work our way backwards, from the planning and the build up to the day it is carried out, and all the things that could potentially go wrong. During the course of it all John goes through a fundamental change in his personality and we discover really what his motives are for doing it.
It’s clear that Marcus and Chris see themselves as the leaders and can’t imagine John taking control. What are the dynamics between the three men?
There’s a power struggle between the three of them about who’s going to be in charge of the heist. John very clearly from the off feels like it absolutely has to be him because he’s the manager, he’s the man who understands how the warehouse operates and how it can be done. John is also quite a pedantic character and a control freak, so that side of him starts to emerge.
But then Marcus also feels like he should be in charge. He has all sorts of connections and contacts he feels he can bring to the table. Ashley’s character is stuck somewhere in the middle, so it’s interesting to see the power struggle which John very much feels he must win. There’s no question that if they’re going to do this, John is going to call the shots, which creates a tension between the three of them.
We see a very different side to John when he starts talking about the logistics of the heist. What changes in him?
It all plays into John’s idea of suddenly taking risks in a way he never would have imagined before. First of all he’s decided to take this massive risk of stealing. This is a guy who never stolen anything in his life, and now he’s just decided to try and steal millions of pounds. Then there’s this added element of it being an armed robbery so now guns are involved and suddenly he’s even more terrified yet excited by the idea. It all becomes part of the excitement and it’s part of the new him.
How did you find switching between characters like that?
They both had interesting aspects because it was nice exploring the contrast between the two, but of course you really had to keep focused while you were shooting because you would be shifting in time in the story. We could be doing a scene from the present day and then we’d be going right back in time to the very beginning and how it all started, so you had to be really focused.
It was enjoyable playing the bumbling early John. There are some lightly comic touches as well, some lovely scenes which were really enjoyable.
And then it was really nice exploring that later side where he suddenly feels in control and is giving orders to gangs of men. It was exciting feeling that gear change where suddenly the alpha male has arrived and he’s calling the shots. So there was a lot to enjoy and think about.
What was it like filming the actual heist scenes in the vaults at the old Bank of England in Bristol?
It was amazing to be able to use that building and of course the huge vault door leading to where the money was. That’s a great reveal moment, and it just gave a fantastic sense of reality being able to use those corridors and loading bay knowing it was the real deal.
The design on the drama was fantastic. The counting house was brilliantly designed – it has a big open factory feel with John’s glass office looking out over the top of the counting room so it looks really good.
With the heist scenes we would film small segments at a time, so you could be filming one little segment one week which was being shot in the Bank of England vault and then a week later you might be doing the next segment in a corridor at a completely different location.
It was interesting trying to film like that, because the energy in the early stage of the heist is quite frantic so you had to keep finding that energy for those moments which was quite a challenge.