Interview with Brian Ferguson (Michael Rebus) from new BBC crime series Rebus

Interview with Brian Ferguson (Michael Rebus) from new BBC crime series Rebus

Series launches May 17


Image: Brian Ferguson as Michael and Richard Rankin as John Rebus

Rebus launches on Friday 17 May. All episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer from 6am, with episode one airing on BBC Scotland on Friday 17 May at 10pm and on BBC One on Saturday 18 May at 9:25pm.

Based on the best-selling books by Ian Rankin, Rebus reimagines the iconic character John Rebus (Richard Rankin) as a younger Detective Sergeant, drawn into a violent criminal conflict that turns personal.

Shaken after a violent encounter with gangster Ger Cafferty, Edinburgh detective John Rebus finds himself at a psychological crossroads. At odds with a job increasingly driven by corporate technocrats, involved in a toxic affair he knows he needs to end, and all but supplanted in his daughter’s life by his ex-wife’s wealthy new husband, Rebus begins to wonder if he still has a role to play – either as a family man or a police officer. In a time of divisive politics and national discord, Rebus’ broke, ex-soldier brother Michael desperately crosses the line to provide for his family, and Rebus begins to wonder if the law still has meaning, or if everyone is reverting to an older set of rules? And if so, why shouldn’t Rebus do so too?

What made you so eager to be involved with Rebus?

When I read the first two scripts, it was very clear immediately how good they were. I thought they were fantastically written and a really new take on Rebus. They felt very contemporary and really honoured the books, whilst being something totally different. I knew that director Niall MacCormick was on board as director for episodes one, two and three, and I was lucky enough to work with Niall on The Victim. He’s as good as they come really, in terms of a director. So really, it was very easy to say yes!

As you said, this is a new take on Rebus. Is it the contemporary setting that that makes it so fresh?

Yes. I think it’s only when you read it that you realise, “Gosh, it was 20 years ago that we last had Rebus on our screens and just how much has changed in those 20 years.” The gap is getting bigger between the very rich and the rest of us. This shows how difficult that is for the majority of people who are living with the cost-of-living crisis. So you’ve got these really, really pressing issues that are absolutely part of the story and of these characters’ lives. That all feels very, very contemporary.

Talk us through your character.

I play Michael Rebus, John Rebus’ older brother by about three years. This Michael is quite different from the Michael in the books. He is married and he has two teenage boys. In the last couple of years, he’s come out the army after 22 years. He and his wife try and set up a business just at the time of COVID and the pandemic, and then the cost of living crisis hits and the business fails. They’ve put everything into it. They’ve remortgaged and all of that. So when we meet them, they’re in a pretty desperate situation. They’ve moved back from Edinburgh to Fife, almost to the street that Michael grew up in. They live in a very cramped, very rundown flat. Michael is a man of real honour, a real family man. His priority really is that his family are OK. I think you get this a lot with men; their sense of honour comes from how they’re able to look after their family. And when we meet Michael, he is a man who is not able to do that. The family are really, really up against it. They can’t get enough work, the business has failed, and they don’t have enough money to make ends meet.

How would you characterise the relationship between the brothers?

I would say that they have quite an antagonistic relationship, I think this is very familiar, particularly among working-class men. The only way that brothers know how to express their love for each other is through aggression. We sense that there’s a real love there, but they have no idea how to communicate that to each other really.

How does the relationship between the brothers develop over the series?

Michael comes to need his brother more as the series goes on, mostly in a professional capacity, as he gets involved in some unfamiliar territory. John actually initiates it, but then it gets out of control. However, I think through that what we see actually is that the brothers become closer. What really bonds them is this discussion that runs through the series about the difference between the laws and the rules. The laws are set down. The police are there to enforce the law, and when you go to court, that’s all about the law. But actually, I think there’s something underneath the laws, particularly in these kinds of working-class communities, which is an older set of rules. That’s what brings the brothers together. It’s about an eye for an eye and a really basic set of tribal rules. The brothers become closer because actually when it comes to it they both believe in these older rules.

Did you know Richard before?

Yes. A few years ago, we did a short job together on a play, just for a few days. But my wife knew Richard quite well. So going in, I didn’t know him that well, but my wife had told me a lot of good things about him. Over the course of the job, I have to say that, as I got to know him, I was just more and more impressed by him. I have a real respect and admiration for him as an actor and as a person. The way that he goes about it is brilliant. I loved watching him work. I think he’s fantastic. He’s always bringing something different to each take. He has a real sense of play about the work. Particularly in something like this, I think that will be really refreshing because so much of it is quite serious and quite dark. Richard has got a natural humour and enjoyment and warmth that he brings to it.

Did you have to work to develop that brotherly relationship, then?

Funnily enough, in the last project we did together, we played antagonistic brothers as well! So there’s obviously something there. Clearly, it’s a dynamic that Richard and I settle into quite easily. But the heart and the warmth that Richard brings is something that certainly through the series allowed us to find the more nuanced details of their relationship. It also enabled us to discover the care that they actually have for each other. And that felt genuine between us as well. It was a real treat.


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