Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode one of The Cry. You have been warned.
There’s a scene in the first episode of The Cry that barely crests a minute, but had a lasting impact on its star Asher Keddie.
The Australian actress, best known for medical drama Offspring, plays Alistair (Ewen Leslie)’s ex-wife Alexandra in the BBC1 show. After she discovers that Alistair is having an affair with Joanna (Jenna Coleman) she leaves Glasgow and returns to her native Australia with their daughter Chloe (Markella Kavenagh). When The Cry opens, Joanna and Alistair are winging their way from Scotland to Alexandra’s sleepy beachside home, brand new baby Noah in tow, to start a bitter custody battle over 14-year-old Chloe.
Alexandra can’t afford a lawyer to fight her ex, an oil-slick political spin doctor, and she can already feel her daughter slipping through her fingers. Nowhere more so than in the scene when Chloe calls her mother and asks if she can stay overnight with her father, stepmother and little baby brother.
“Sure,” Alexandra says, face crumpled in sadness. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow.” Chloe hangs up immediately as Alexandra stands, crestfallen, in front of their house.
“Can you imagine?” Keddie asks Stylist.co.uk on the phone from her home in Australia. “All of a sudden she’s saying I don’t want to be with you, and you’re not included… That would be so frightening as a mother. There’s a lot of fear in Alexandra and I hope that I have made the progression from really palpable fear on her part through to great strength. There’s a redemption for her as a woman and as a mother later in the show.”
(In terms of forthcoming white-knuckle moments in The Cry, Keddie suggests hanging out for episode three. “That’s when we really see her fight for her rights,” she hints. “It’s good.”)
It’s this particular storyline in The Cry, which explores the potential for Alexandra’s only child to be ripped out of her arms and sent to live on the literal other side of the world, that proved “almost unbearable” for the actress during filming.
“Having two children [sons Valentino and Luca] myself,” she says, “some days I found certain scenes almost unbearable to approach. As much as I enjoyed them as an actor and stretching myself I found it really difficult because it was highly emotional.”
Asher is quick to stress that although she is not a “scorned wife” – “I have a wonderful husband and a very supportive family life,” she adds – starring in The Cry taught her how to process some of the more difficult moments of parenting. “There are certain vulnerabilities as a mother that you sometimes try to tackle privately and don’t find as much strength as you quote like. Playing Alexandra gave me more confidence to understand my role as a mother.”
It also gave Keddie, 44, the chance to unpack the stereotype of the bitter ex-wife or girlfriend so often canonised onscreen in movies like Kramer vs. Kramer, Intolerable Cruelty and The Break-Up.
In The Cry, Alistair subjects Alexandra to immense emotional trauma by carrying out an affair behind her back and Alexandra’s response is suitably dramatic. But over the course of The Cry’s four episodes Keddie says that Alexandra never reverts to clichés of shrill bitterness, a decision crafted with screenwriter Jacquelin Perske and director Glendyn Ivin.
“She’s an honest human being who is really, really trying to be the best version of herself that she can be,” Keddie explains. “There are a lot of grey areas in The Cry and the grey is what I’m interested in as an actor. It’s the black and white that frightens me and that I want to run a mile from.”
There is a tension in the character of Alexandra that Keddie found fascinating. “She’s a really strong woman but she’s also incredibly vulnerable,” the actress says. “She gave up her career so that Alistair could excel in his and she never regained the confidence to begin that career in law again.”
As a mother, she poured herself into raising her daughter Chloe only to be told that she might be taken away from her to live in Scotland with her ex husband and the woman he cheated on her with. It’s the kind of thing that would break even the strongest of people.
“I actually think there’s quite a lot to learn from The Cry,” Keddie adds. “There are two sides to every story and I think it has been easy for us culturally to persecute the scorned woman and the actions she takes in response to being betrayed. But what we’ve really tried to do is smash those stereotypes as much as we can.”
But anyway, no spoilers. Keddie doesn’t believe in them.
“I’m a stickler. I love the surprise,” she says. “I have a husband who likes to give me a running commentary as we’re watching something and we have endless arguments over this because I just want to watch it and be really immersed in it,” she adds, laughing.
“The twists and turns are complex,” Keddie hints. “It requires a sit forward kind of engagement as opposed to sit back. That’s what I want in television. When you can enjoy the thrills and spills and the complexity of it all.”
The Cry premieres at 9PM on Sunday on BBC1.