The Nest has Martin Compston unleashed in riveting new thriller

The Nest on Acorn TV. Sophie Rundle as Emily, Mirren Mack as Kaya and Martin Compston © Studio Lambert and all3media international
The Nest on Acorn TV. Sophie Rundle as Emily, Mirren Mack as Kaya and Martin Compston © Studio Lambert and all3media international /
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The Nest
Martin Compston in Line of Duty series 5. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Acorn TV.) /

The Nest is another massive departure on Martin Compston’s resume; Line of Duty fans won’t see Steve Arnott when they watch this show. There are a few moments that will ring true, as Dan’s protective instincts—toward both his wife and his business—make him determined to know the truth about the young woman they’ve brought into their home. But while many actors go off and do other things between TV seasons, Compston has a talent for going particularly far afield.

There was his excellent portrayal of gangster Paul Ferris in The Wee Man (where he again walked a fine balance between showing the three-dimensional person and not flinching from Ferris’ many crimes), and then that disturbing turn from In Plain Sight (which must be up there with Eric Bana’s version of Chopper Read as one of the great true-crime performances). Even his appearance in an episode of Death in Paradise bears little resemblance to Steve.

And now with The Nest, he’s done something quite neat: he’s created a different kind of antihero, one that’s a lot more interesting than the brooding detective to which the term normally applies in this genre. Dan Docherty may lack certain heroic qualities, and there are things about him that are hard to swallow. Yet Compston always brings a certain warmth to him, never straying from Dan’s motivation for his family, and makes it so that his flaws don’t come across as failings—they’re the pieces, however difficult, that have shaped him into the person viewers are rooting for today.

With such drastic changes in character, does it take Compston a second to switch gears between his best-known role and a new one?

“It kind of does. But it’s also a relief. One of the joys of returning shows is when you’ve played him so long, you know him inside out. When I do his voice, and when I put on the waistcoat, I can find him,” he said.

“But the thing with Line of Duty—I love playing Steve, but a lot of information comes through him, moreso in the earlier series. And the fun parts are the baddies, whereas we’ve kind of got all the police jargon in these massive interview scenes. The fun stuff to play [is] all the people who are up to no good.

“If you’re just doing the same thing over and over again, it could definitely get boring or repetitive. Or the biggest problem would be complacency, where you kind of fall into a similar routine…We leave a year, usually closer to 16 months, between each [Line of Duty] series. By the time I get back to playing Steve, I’m excited. I can’t wait to see the guys. I can’t wait to get the waistcoat on and start doing that silly English voice of mine.”

After five-plus series of playing one of TV’s most dedicated officers, he’s picked up a couple of things about how policing is supposed to be done—and further enhanced his skill set so that when he does move on to projects like The Nest, he’s more than well prepared. You don’t lead the world’s best crime drama without becoming an even better actor.

“To quote one of Adrian [Dunbar]’s lines, ‘We do it to the letter of the law.’ We know when somebody has their ID on. We know how many times to say stop. We know where we should be taking notes. We know all the protocols. So when you’re in another show and there’s a scene with police, if it’s not done properly, that can grate on me.

“You have to step back, especially if you’re not playing the police officer. But I’m kind of going, ‘That’s not right. That’s not how a police officer would…’ Not in terms of the acting; just in terms of the reality of it. We have a professionalism to it that it’s hard to shake.

“Hopefully we’re back to work [on Line of Duty series 6] at some point later this year. So I’m just trying to get ahead of myself and I’m learning a couple of, as we always do, big interview scenes. I mean, just talking about 20 pages long and the most incredible, difficult dialogue. So when you go onto another job and people go, we have this five, six page scene, you’re like that’s nothing.

“In terms of building a work ethic inside you, it’s been great, because when I go on to other jobs, there’s not many scenes that will daunt me, in terms of size. Nothing ever comes close to what we do on Line of Duty.”