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Grieving mum goes to extremes

Jonas Armstrong welcomed the opportunity to film in his native Ireland.


By Karen Butler

"Robin Hood," “Ripper Street” and “The Bay” star Jonas Armstrong says he enjoys the challenge of acting in TV mysteries because they require him to walk the tightrope of leaving subtle clues for viewers to follow without giving too much of the plot away.

The 40-year-old Dublin native’s new four-part thriller, “The Drowning,” is currently streaming on Sundance Now and Acorn TV.

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In it, Armstrong plays Jason Walsh, a lawyer whose sister Jodie’s young son Tom vanishes during a hectic family outing at a lake.

A decade later, Jodie becomes obsessed with Daniel, a teenager she spots on the street, and sets out to prove is her missing child, much to the distress of the shadowy man raising him.

The cast includes Jill Halfpenny as Jodie, Rupert Penry-Jones, Cody Molko, Deirdre Mullins and Deborah Findley.

“It’s about something that’s happened so long ago,” Armstrong told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview.

“From Jodie’s perspective, she still hasn't come to terms with the grief and the loss of her child, so that when she sees this school boy, immediately, she thinks: ‘My God! My son is still alive.’ I just found that concept really interesting,” the actor explained. “It was filmed over in Ireland. I'm Irish, so it is always nice to go back home to Dublin.”

The audience is kept in suspense about Tom’s true fate until the show’s final moments, thanks to the morally questionable decisions the Walsh family -- and the people around them -- make along the way, causing viewers to wonder who is genuinely wracked with sorrow and guilt, and who knows more about the tragedy than they are sharing.

“When I went to drama school, the teachers always said to me: ‘Whether you are on stage or screen, try to play as if you are hiding a secret...’

"My character is harboring the darkest bloody secret you can think of and he's having to also support his sister throughout. It’s a little gift to be able to do that,” Armstrong said. “You're on screen, but you are hiding something. You are hiding the truth, which is bubbling away.”

The actor tries to understand his characters without judging them.

“In my mind, I had to justify his actions in order to make the character believable for me to play. I tried to empathize with the guy,” he said.

“He's not wired up correctly. That's the way that you have to play him. This guy isn't stable,” Armstrong went on.

“On the face of it, he is a lovely, charming fellow. Yes, he is driven. Yes he is career oriented. But he hasn't got a family, hasn’t got a girlfriend, hasn’t got children. Everything is just work, work, work, success, success, success. That’s the kind of guy that he is.”

Armstrong also understands how erratically Jodie behaves since she is enduring every parent's worst nightmare.

"She didn't know who to blame," Armstrong emphasized.

"She didn't know if she was to blame. She was off trying to find matches for a barbecue and somebody should have been looking after Tom. She blames her father, the father of the little boy. She blames everybody because she wasn't there," he added.

"Everybody was kind of culpable in some way, sense or form because they took their eyes off the little fella."

The awful incident greatly strains the family dynamics within the Walsh family.

"Jodie and the father had a massive falling out," Armstrong noted. "They hadn't spoken in years. She doesn't really want to come to his funeral, but I kind of really force her into it. It's all very fractured, the family, after that, as it would be. I've luckily not been around the death of a child or a child gone missing, but [I understand] nothing would ever be the same again."

Jason isn't surprised by the extremes his sister goes through in her attempt to bring home the boy she thinks is her son.

"I think that would be a mother's natural response. If she thinks that a child is hers, she would go to any lengths," Armstrong said. "I'm not a woman. I'm not a mother, but there's that maternal instinct within any mother whether it's in the animal kingdom or with human beings. They will go to any lengths to protect their offspring. That is what Jodie would do. I found that completely plausible and believable."

Armstrong is currently working with the same director, Carolina Giammetta, on an ITV limited series called “Hollington Drive.”

"It’s down a similar avenue," the actor said, comparing it to “The Drowning.”

"It seems, at the minute, I might be the go-to guy if someone's gone missing," he quipped.

"This is three in a row now. I did 'The Bay' for ITV, then 'The Drowning,' then I'm doing this one. So, the next one, I'm doing a light-relief comedy."