He is called upon to solve a string of horrifyingly brutal murders in which the victims are men who have been accused of sexual offences against children, but never been convicted.
Riley – who we last saw on our screens playing the titular character in the acclaimed series Da Vinci’s Demons – answers a few probing questions about his role in Dark Heart.
How would you describe your character?
William Wagstaffe is a relatively young detective. He’s probably slightly too young for the position he’s in and I think because of that he hasn’t quite learned how to handle his emotions in relation to cases.
He’s incredibly good at his job but he’s living under the weight of a crime that he endured as a child. He witnessed his parents being brutally killed and the killers were never found. They are out there somewhere and he’s determined to find them.
I think he’s gone into police work solely to learn the skills to solve this one crime. Unfortunately, with every other crime he witnesses he can’t shake off his own memories of what has gone before. This helps him as a detective because it keeps him passionate and driven.
Have you ever played a detective before?
I’ve not really played a detective before. I did Da Vinci’s Demons and that is occasionally a bit like CSI Florence! I’ve never done anything that’s been this procedural style.
Leading a drama is something they never teach you at drama school and it’s a crucial skill being number one on the call sheet. You have to be professional and on time and you’re completely responsible for the mood on set.
In fact, I did Monroe for ITV a few years ago and James Nesbitt was the perfect example of what it’s like to lead a huge ensemble cast. He always showed up on time and was so friendly and so kind to every guest artist. It made me realise that’s how you do it and that’s how to behave on the set.
I was also lucky with Dark Heart because being at home and working in London is a rare thing and I enjoyed it a lot.
What are the crimes Wagstaffe is investigating?
Paedophiles are being attacked brutally and what makes this case so interesting is that the morals of it are so murky. You can’t help but feel that justice is being done in some way to people that have committed hideous crimes but it’s not being done within the remit of the law.
It’s a very dark subject matter. Did you find filming intense?
I’ve got better at that. I’ve done jobs before that have been all-consuming and you take it home with you, but with this job the hours you spend in these intense situations are enough.
I’ve got good at switching off and also we try to have light conversations between scenes.
What research did you do for your role?
We had great rehearsal time with Colin Teague, the director, and he’d had a lot of interaction with a policeman in my position, which he passed on. Tom Brooke, who plays another police detective in the drama, has a best friend who is a policeman and he gave us lots of useful information.
Dark Heart starts on ITV Choice (DStv 123) on November 6 at 8pm.