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Broadchurch: David Tennant praises season 3's 'powerful' take on sexual assault

He also talks Miller and Hardy’s changed relationship

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Colin Hutton/BBC AMERICA

For two seasons, Broadchurch has focused on heart-wrenching murder cases that didn’t just focus on finding the person responsible, but also explored life for the victims’ families as they work to cope with their loss and deal with the legal system.

Season 3 — the show’s last one, as creator Chris Chibnall is moving to take over Doctor Who — is set to do the same. But this time, Detectives Miller and Hardy (who’s returned to town following his departure last season) are trying to find a rapist who sexually assaulted a local woman while also parsing their own emotions about a crime that hits so close to home. Through it all, the show also follows Trish Winterman (played by Happy Valley‘s Julie Hesmondhalgh) as she processes what happened to her and navigates life in the aftermath.

With the first episode of this final season airing Wednesday, EW spoke to series star David Tennant (and Ducktales‘ new Scrooge McDuck) about Miller and Hardy’s relationship, how the show is addressing sexual assault, and what Tennant says is “extraordinarily bold” about this premiere.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Last season ended with Hardy actually leaving Broadchurch. Where do we find him when this season begins?
DAVID TENNANT: Well, he’s back. Initially we don’t entirely know what’s happened, and we never find out exactly what went on, but clearly, he’s had some time away. There’s been some stuff with his own family, which hasn’t entirely worked out. But he has brought his teenage daughter to live with him. That’s where we find him, living with Daisy halfway up a hill near Broadchurch Shore and trying desperately to be a decent parent, while at the same time trying to solve the case.

Does he like the town now? Or is he still kind of tolerating it? He’s never been thrilled about living there.
He’s always seen it as something of a chore, if not a punishment. But he’s found a certain peace with it. The very fact that he brought himself back there [means] he’s begrudgingly accepted that that’s where he’s meant to be and that, for whatever reason, fate has decreed that this is his lot in life. Even the relationship he has with Miller — they’re no longer combative with each other. They’ve accepted that they’re the closest thing each other has to a confidant and a best friend, really, which is not perhaps what we might conventionally expect from them. But they’re two people who have been rather damaged by life and buffeted around, and such a kindred spirits. They’re more ready to trust each other while still being very unready to trust the rest of the world. Hardy’s never been one to believe in the intrinsic goodness of humanity and that persists. He trusts no one implicitly. But although they still bicker and have different viewpoints on things, they also rely on each other in a way, and he’s come to realize they need each other.

Considering each case has impacted both Hardy and Miller personally, how will this season’s case affect either of them?
In the past, Miller’s always been the emotional, empathetic one, and Hardy’s always been rather brittle and rather ready to condemn and see the worst in everyone. But partially because of the nature of this case, Hardy finds himself railing against his gender, really, and being sort of ashamed for mankind as opposed to womenkind in general. Miller is the one who, in a way, manages to be a bit more objective about it. Hardy finds it quite hard to be clear-sighted. That’s quite an interesting change to their dynamic. This case really bothers Hardy. With a murder, he feels on safer ground because he knows what that psychology is. He knows the kind of person he’s chasing down. On some level, he understands that kind of psychopathy, whereas he doesn’t feel like he has a handle on this perpetrator at all. He doesn’t understand what kind of man would do something like this. It’s also closer to home because he’s got his daughter living with him. Suddenly, the idea that there might be this terrible attacker on the loose preying on women is all the more terrifying for him as he tries to be a good parent that he never feels he’s managed to be. He’s trying to do that, and at the same time worrying that his daughter might be in danger.

This is really the first time we’ve ever seen a living victim on the show. The last two seasons saw them solving a murder.
It’s a very different type of crime. But what Broadchurch has always wanted to do is to look at the real-world implications of such terrible acts, and how the victims of crimes, whether it’s the parents of a murdered boy or the community that surrounds them, deal with the consequences of those terrible events. Of course with a crime like this, it’s also about someone coming to terms with their life after they’ve been violated in that way. That’s something that’s very much part of what makes this story so poignant and so difficult to watch — but also so fascinating. It follows this woman’s journey as she tries to come to terms with what happened and why it happened to her and trying to rebuild her life after that. That’s one of the things that Chris has been very bold to attempt with this series, but he’s done it beautifully and sensitively. And he certainly did that with a lot of research, and a lot of careful talking to victims and to support services. And he really paid the proper respect to the story that he’s telling.

Did you do any research on your part in terms of how detectives are trained to work cases like this?
We did. Jenny Craig, who’s been our police advisor from season 1, has done a lot of work in this area, as it happens. So she actually has been an absolutely invaluable resource in talking through the mechanics of what one does as a police officer in that situation. But also, how that makes you feel and how you emotionally engage or not engage with the circumstances and how you keep yourself detached enough to be objective while at the same time being compassionate and behaving appropriately. And all that stuff is fascinating. Those officers and some of the people who work in the sexual health centers do the most extraordinary work with people in these awful moments in their lives.

To be honest, that’s been my experience throughout working on Broadchurch from initially meeting the murder detectives that I spent time with on season 1. There’s this incredible compassion, motivation, and real hunger for justice that the police have. It’s made me feel proud of the people who do that job and slightly in awe of them. That was certainly the case this season, working with a slightly different aspect of police work and the services that exist around that. That first segment of episode 1 [which takes viewers through the steps and procedures that follow after reporting a rape] is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television. To really go through that experience with Trish’s character is quite hard to watch at times, but it’s also wonderfully delicate. To really read through those terrible moments as Trish tries to come to terms with what’s happened to her and to see people around her trying to help her and come to terms with that is an extraordinarily bold way to open a series. It’s quite powerful.

Broadchurch premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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