The breakout star of BBC’s latest drama talks to us about crime drama representation and the detailed research she undertook for her Showtrial role.
Front and centre of the action is Tracy Ifeachor, who is playing Cleo Roberts in BBC’s latest chilling series.
From the producers of Line Of Duty, Vigil and Bodyguard, the series will follow the high-profile fictional court case of millionaire heiress Talitha Campbell (played by Bridgerton’s Celine Buckens) and her solicitor Cleo Roberts. Set in the present day, Talitha stands accused of the conspiracy to commit murder. Cleo is her appointed legal counsel and the solicitor-client dynamic will undoubtedly enthrall viewers with the strong-willed nature of both women.
A rising star, Ifeachor secured her first acting job with the iconic Royal Shakespeare Company before she had even graduated from acting school. Ever since, her career has gone from strength to strength. In recent years, she has appeared both on stage and on the screen, most notably acting in a starring role in Tim Kring and Ben Smith’s US action television series Treadstone, as former investigative journalist and sleeper agent ‘Tara Coleman’, opposite Jeremy Irvine.
She has also appeared in season three of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow as the villain Kuasa, Quantico as the series antagonist and former CIA operative Lydia Hall, as well as Emmy-nominated The Originals and Doctor Who.
Now, taking the lead in Showtrial, we sat down to talk about the upcoming series and more with the BBC’s latest breakout star.
What was your initial impression of the script and role of Cleo once you first saw it?
Tracy Ifeachor: I felt excited. Cleo is a solicitor advocate and what that means, in the way I understand, solicitor advocacy is a bit like taxis. So you’ve got the black cabs who would be the barristers. Then you’ve got Uber, who is the solicitor advocate. They have very similar rights but are different. A solicitor advocate has similar rights of hearing to a barrister (who goes into court and argues on behalf of their clients).
I’d never really seen a solicitor advocate that looked like Cleo Roberts. Someone who felt like her, who was just an educated woman and it was really nice to see this person that looked like Cleo in this really uplifting role. I hadn’t really seen what I felt was my voice on screen before on British dramas before.
Did you feel any pressure knowing the creators have worked on big hit series like Line Of Duty, Vigil and Bodyguard before?
TI: I feel like I should say yes but no, I didn’t feel any of that. I think it made me excited because I knew that I’d be in good hands. They have a good track record and I really like what Cleo stands for.
I hadn’t previously heard my voice or what I felt like was my voice on screen before. This is an uplifting, dark skinned Black woman who is fighting for justice, is educated, and she’s just living her life. She’s leading this charge against opposition and I haven’t seen that on British television, it’s very rare.
So, I’m excited to see it now and I’m really pleased and grateful to be a part of it.
What makes Showtrial such a unique watch?
TI: It is so nice to see crime, the prosecution, the gathering of evidence, the trial, everything from a female-led perspective.
Also, the point of view of a solicitor advocate, someone that we don’t usually see on screen. It makes this drama even more unique and special. But it also still has the same things that we love: the courtroom, the tension, the drama and the relationships.
Did you have to conduct any research for the role?
TI: Yes and I loved the research.
Da Vinci used to say that the way that he understands the creator, the way that he understands God is by studying his object, and he studies it by drawing it. I think that’s so interesting because as an artist you get to research and study a whole other industry that isn’t yours – who has the time to do this in their general life?
I have such a love of the law, anyway, and I really liked it. I’m a big experiential learner – I think it’s the dyslexia – but I love experiencing things to learn more about them. So, going to court for instance, during COVID which was such an interesting experience.
I got to actually sit in with two opposing counsels as they were negotiating and got to ask legal questions afterwards. Most of it I understood but some of it I was like, ‘what did they say? I have no idea’.
Did you enjoy being able to dig deeper into the world of law?
TI: I did and loved getting to explore a whole other way of life. It’s a different path than the one I chose and actually, I had the choice between being a lawyer and being an actor, and I chose to be an actor. I’ve always thought well one day, maybe I’ll play a lawyer and it’ll all come together. And then I was on set for Showtrial and thought ‘huh maybe God does hear my prayers, this is working out’.
I got to meet other solicitor advocates too and that was really important for me. I wanted to meet other people in the profession who looked like Cleo, were the same age roughly as Cleo and I did. I got to meet the fabulous Cecilia Goodwin who was featured in the Defending Digga D documentary and just learning about her world, learning about some of the challenges that she faces, as a young woman and solicitor advocate who looks similar to me – that was really nice.
Most importantly, it was nice learning from her perspective what walking these halls would be like, rather than anybody else.
Was bringing representation to this role as a Black woman something that was at the forefront of your mind?
TI: Absolutely. I did a job in South Africa and I remember talking to my makeup artist and then turning around to a wall of people who were just staring at me with their mouths open.
They asked me how I became an actor because they couldn’t believe that someone who looked like them with, what is for many people in parts of the world, the symbol of poverty – having short hair that’s not straightened – was an actor.
From that experience, I learned that it’s never just a role. It’s never just a part, it’s never just a picture, it’s never just that outfit. It all leads on to the next thing and it all says something, whether we want it or like it to.
I always try to look at roles and consider what it says about who I am as a person, about what I believe in and what it will say about my community, to other people that either belong to it or those that don’t know it at all. And those are things that every person who looks like me has to think about. You can either embrace it, run with it and say I’m going to bring the good out of this, and I’m hopefully going to inspire the next generation. Even to see my name, my very Nigerian name, come up first – I hope that the younger generation of Black actors will be inspired by that.
Was wearing your hair short and naturally something that was discussed?
TI: It actually was never discussed. Over the years, there have been many awkward times on different sets. I was on a project and I had to bring my own hair products and comb. Afterwards, I was just watching different people happily getting their hair trimmed and having these amazing hair cuts in their chair. And then for me, tired at the end of my 12-hour day, I had to get up at three o’clock to go out to a barber an hour away, keep the receipt, only for production to not expense it.
On this production, I didn’t want to feel othered at all in any way and I didn’t.
What do you think Cleo brings to the series generally?
TI: Cleo is who she is unapologetically – she’s a defender of the system and tries to uphold it. She has this wonderful sense of integrity and dignity. Even when others want to write certain people off, she doesn’t do that.
In the show, everybody seems to make this snap decision one way or another about this trial and about this horrible event that’s happened, but Cleo’s the only person who we don’t really know what she’s thinking or feeling. Learning how to play a character like that was quite different to me.
Cleo is also somebody that walks the line of ‘it doesn’t matter if this person did it or not’, it’s all about finding the truth and finding out what really happened. I think she also knows how it feels to have someone make a snap judgement about her and the prejudice that has been directed towards her personally.
With her client Talitha, there are a lot of people who look and say, ‘yeah this person is guilty, they’re a brat’, but those things don’t make you guilty of a crime. Cleo is about the truth and proving it through presenting evidence in court, beyond reasonable doubt.
What do you think viewers will take away from Cleo’s character?
TI: She has this pursuit of excellence that other characters also bring in their own way, but Cleo wants to be able to look at herself in the mirror, whereas other characters in the series kind of just want to be right.
Throughout the series, we’ll also see people fighting their own ideas about others; about class, about gender, about race, about all of these different things that we all have to deal with every day. I think Cleo will encourage people to ask themselves the question of: How do I decide in my own mind that somebody is guilty? Do I hear all the evidence? Do I ask questions of not only them but how has this news come to me? It’s important also in this age of so much information.
I want people to question their own ideas about other these topics. We all have different prejudices but what do you do with them? Do you try to ignore them by saying statements like, ‘I don’t see colour’, for instance?
Also within Cleo, she represents the idea that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and are determined. Cleo gets knocked back but she picks herself up.
If you could have one sentence, what do you think in particular about Showtrial will entice viewers to watch this series?
TI: The sense of impending danger, the tension and drama will carry people through. It’s such a moreish show and I love that you really get this slow burn as we get to know each of the characters in turn.
Showtrial is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now and can be watched weekly on BBC One on Sunday’s at 9pm.