TTwo brothers are driving home after a slightly run-down wedding. In the middle of an argument, the car turns into an old man and kills him instantly. The older brother, played by Mark Bonnar, comes into focus. If they call the police and admit their crime, he says, their lives will end. However, if you do exactly what he says: move your body, drive, forget about it, then it will be as if it never happened. But will they be able to live with themselves afterwards? Could you?
This is how Guilt began, the gripping Hitchcockian show about his descent into more and more violations of the law, which instantly lived up to its name. “I didn’t need to read any more than that,” says Bonnar, remembering his decision to take on the role. “It is an amazing opening. I said, ‘Absolutely, yes.’
We should be glad that he did. Not only did Neil Forsyth write the role of the sociopathic older brother with Bonnar in mind, but the actor excelled in it, and the series launched to acclaim in 2019. Like Max, he’s fast, angry, and like a shark. He deserves to be alongside the top tier of screen violent sociopaths: Trainspotting’s Begbie, Sexy Beast’s Don Logan, There Will be Blood’s Daniel Plainview. It is an unchained force of nature that strives to bend the entire world to its whims.
And yet, at least about Zoom, the Edinburgh-born actor has no trace of him. He’s a warm, sparkling presence, chewing on toast. While his role is something of a revealing performance, he’s willing to emphasize that it was hardly a breakout role. “According to many people I am in everything and they are tired of seeing me,” he smiles. “I have been doing this for over 25 years. But I think if you think you have a voice that can separate you a little bit and you stand your ground, people eventually say, ‘Okay. Let’s go.'”
It is true that Bonnar has certainly existed. After concentrating on stage work in the 1990s, he has steadily climbed the ranks of television, from roles in police shows and Casualty to appealing supporting roles like Line of Duty (where he played a corrupt police officer), Unforgotten (where he played a violent victim of abuse), Eric, Ernie and Me (where he played Eric Morecambe) and Catastrophe, in which he was the least happily married man in the world. But guilt represents another leap forward. Now he is a protagonist, and also spectacular.
The second season of Guilt is about to begin, building on the relentless propulsion of the first by leaving Max in a whole new situation. This time there is less guilt; rather, the motivating force is revenge.
“In the first series, Max was always on the run, either out of himself or out of the situation,” says Bonnar. “But in this series you experience it in all kinds of different situations. [He’s lost his] state, and is seeking revenge. “
Fortunately, the show’s eye for comedy is as present as it was last time, and it remains as inescapably dark. Max’s full-blown fury is so close to the surface that it still flares up at inopportune times; the first episode could easily double as the pilot for a sitcom about the world’s most furious interior decorator.
“Neil’s problem was that all these heavy hitting dramas have absolutely no sense of humor,” explains Bonnar. “And the only thing he relies on in a crisis, or extreme moments, is his sense of humor. Some of the best jokes are about funerals or people dying or whatever. Laughter and tears are two sides of the same coin. “
Despite the excess of roles that he has assumed in the last two decades, the 52-year-old developed a relatively late development. After spending a childhood moving around Scotland to suit the career of his father Stan, the environmental artist responsible for creating Glenrothes’s iconic concrete hippo sculptures, settled in Edinburgh in the early 1980s. Mom was driving a bus, ”he says. “I worked for NSPCC and was a social worker and playgroup leader on a play bus. So yes, my dad was an artist and there were all kinds of things in the house, but he also had this mom who was at the forefront, not of women’s freedom, but who kept quietly driving a double-decker bus around. Edinburgh “.
Did having a father in the arts make it easier to become an actor? “Probably,” he says, nodding. “I’m pretty sure my mom and dad got nervous when I said I was going to be an actor. But they were behind me in everything I did, even when I was a… ”He pauses. Was it a what? “Actually, no, they didn’t really like that I was a door-to-door salesman,” he replies. In his teens, Bonnar took a job selling door-to-door burglar alarms. It is a moment in your life that still hurts. “That company was a group of shysters,” he frowns. “They basically got impressionable little kids who were a bit lost, like me at the time, and trained them to get clues. Not to sell burglar alarms, but to get leads for salespeople to come in later. And if the seller didn’t make the sale, we didn’t get the money. “
That doesn’t seem like much fun. “It was the worst of all worlds,” he agrees. “Being threatened on a myriad of doors at 19 because you can’t let them say no. Even if they say, ‘I don’t care,’ you have an answer for that. “
It’s pretty Glengarry Glen Ross, I mean. “I love that movie for that very reason,” he smiles. “I know the language. I know what they are talking about. I know how hard it is to see … Oh man, Jack Lemmon in that movie. They’re all great, but Jack Lemmon, he’s amazingly good. I just saw his headstone. ”And then he stands up, feeling his pockets so he can show me a picture of the headstone on his phone.
Meanwhile, more constructive was the time he spent working for the local council, first in a library and then in the planning department. “There were a couple of guys in the office who were members of this amateur troupe called the Leith Theater,” he says. “I did three shows for them and then I realized that you could act like a job. I owe everything to Mikey and Duncan. We are still friends, they are the reason I am here. “
“Here”, let’s not forget, is the star of one of the best shows of the year. And, while Guilt’s second season starts here, the first season is still busy going around the world. (“It just started airing in Sweden and France, and they are remaking it in India”). More impressive still, it is currently airing to rave reviews on PBS in the United States. Max is such a great role, and Bonnar so singularly terrifying, that I wonder if there has been any comment from America. Basically, has Hollywood knocked on the door yet?
“No,” he replies, giving the first hint of his hardness on screen that I have come across. Seriously? I ask. “I don’t think so,” he shrugs. But if Hollywood came to call you, would you consider it?
“No,” he repeats. “Why should I do that? I like it here. This is my home.” That sounds pretty definitive. He sighs. “I take each job on its merits. If a job is good and worth doing for the reasons you want to do it, then I make that decision at that point. But I certainly wouldn’t pack and ship. I love being here. “
There is also another explanation for his enthusiasm for hanging around. “I think that for many years the United States has presented itself as a kind of promised land on the television and film scene,” he explains. “And certainly in the last 10 to 15 years, I think the UK has shown that it can overcome its weight. Guilt and its success is certainly proof of that. “
Is not wrong. Both Bonnar and Forsyth hint that Guilt was planned as a trilogy. If that’s the case, the third set can’t come fast enough.
Guilt returns on BBC Scotland and iPlayer on October 12, and BBC Two on October 14.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism