John Simm on the return of crime drama Grace

As Grace returns to our screens for a second series, Danielle de Wolfe sits down with actor John Simm and novelist Peter James to find out more.

A household name when it comes to British crime drama, John Simm has become a master of everyone’s personality. Transforming flawed personalities, warts and all, into relatable – and more often than not likable – on-screen characters, the Leeds-born actor’s uncanny ability to captivate should never be underestimated.

His latest role as returning Detective Superintendent Roy Grace on the hit ITV series Grace is just a prime example. A character haunted by a ghost from his own past in the form of missing wife Sandy – who disappeared seven years prior, Roy’s attitude to crime solving is described by Simm as “straight on any line”. Except, as the first series ultimately proved, that wasn’t quite the case.

An adaptation of Peter James’ bestselling crime novels – having now sold over 21 million copies of the Roy Grace series worldwide, Grace continues to captivate viewers with a penchant for the macabre. But with Simm, 51, a self-proclaimed bookworm with a notable aversion to TV adaptations, what finally convinced the “disgusted” actor to get involved in such a macabre project?

“We work so closely with Peter James to bring the books to life, I hope fans continue to be happy with what we’ve done,” Simm said. It’s a view shared by the author, who adds that while writing his novels, he already had someone in mind who “looked a lot like John”.

“When ITV said ‘what do you think of John Simm?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding?! That’s exactly the kind of image I’ve always had.’ He was Roy Grace from the moment I first saw him,” James enthuses.

Simm – best known for appearing on hit shows such as Life on Mars, Doctor Who and Strangers – is now set to reprise the role, with plenty of action and romance on the horizon for his character. Consisting of four feature films, the new series is once again brimming with action – an aspect of filming that Simm admits he wasn’t quite prepared for.

“Roy is running around,” laughed Simm, shaking his head. “On the rooftops of Brighton station – and there’s a lot of fighting…Every time I read a novel now I’m like, ‘Oh no, what’s he going to do?! ‘”

A drama that sees the bustling seaside town of Brighton turn into a giant game of Cluedo for the detective, the show regularly finds Roy digging up cold case evidence alongside fellow detective Sergeant Glenn Branson (Richie Campbell).

A character inspired by three days of research on patrol with Brighton Police, the novelist says the 1996 encounter with Glenn – a former bouncer turned police officer – cemented both the character and a later relationship that continues to this day.

“All of my novels are drawn to some degree from real-life elements,” James explains, then describes a notable encounter some 25 years ago that culminated his interest in crime.

“I was called by a Brighton Police surgeon who said, ‘Would you like to come and see some footage that Sussex Police seized during a raid with your filmmaker hat? – of my life past [as a producer]’.

Continuing to describe the footage – which appeared to show a teenage daughter being stabbed to death – the novelist was then asked if he believed the video was real or fake.

“I said” that’s one take; if she performs, she should get an Oscar,'” says James, who notes that the sequence actually turned out to be a “snuff movie.”

“That was the start, that’s what fascinated me.” adds James, citing him as inspiration for his Roy Grace novel Looking Good Dead.

Adapted by acclaimed Endeavor screenwriter and creator Russell Lewis, the first series saw the detective enlist a psychic named Harry Frame (Chernobyl’s Adrian Rawlins) in an effort to find his missing wife. But as the lines between personal and professional blurred, the medium’s offer to help with an ongoing police investigation ultimately left Roy’s public reputation in tatters.

Just as the first series focused on the all-consuming nature of crime, the conversation quickly turns to the prospect of romance in the second series. As Roy continues to dwell on his wife’s disappearance (a topic Simm assures us is being tackled head-on), the upcoming workplace flirtations with senior anatomical pathology technician Cleo Morey, played by Zoe Tapper, are a pleasant distraction.

Holding back the laughter as he recalls the characters getting “a bit naughty in front of a lot of dead bodies”, Simm describes it as “a great way to start” any romance. Roy being “pretty resistant” to the idea at first, the actor describes how “pretty sweet” it was to see his character embrace such alien emotions.

“We have a lot more to look forward to in Grace’s journey – with his wife, Sandy, and meeting Cleo and their love match reuniting,” Simm said. “So there’s a lot in store besides Peter’s Books’ wonderful gripping stories of the week.”

Grace airs on ITV from Sunday 24 April.