Martin Compston reveals all about his claustrophobic new TV thriller

Think you know what to expect from Prime Video’s The Rig? Think again, says Martin Compston. 

When he got a call from Line Of Duty director John Strickland about a role in a new thriller series, Martin Compston was quick to say yes. All about an oil rig stationed off the Scottish coast in the dangerous waters of the North Sea, he assumed The Rig would be about “hard-drinking men who work hard in a dangerous environment”.

“My dad worked offshore, and that was one of the reasons I said yes,” he tells Stylist’s Holly Bullock. “And I know the trailer looks fantastic, and it draws everyone in, but I wish people could see it the way I read the script.”

He continues: “I think [my dad] was lucky because he had his family life to come back to. Because on the way back home on the train, you know, they would all have a right good go at it, and me and my brother would literally be carrying my dad off the train to get home.

“Some of the other guys, though, would just keep going. That was their life, so they would just party for two weeks and then go back to the rig. Because for somebody from our area, for working-class boys, it was a way to make really good money, so they kind of made the most of it.”

Compston adds: “That’s what I thought The Rig was going to be about. So when I was reading it, and I got to episode two, I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on? It’s just wild.”

Watch the trailer for The Rig below:

This isn’t your standard thriller fare, essentially. Because, by blending the horror and thriller genres, The Rig serves us up something that’s not unlike a crossover between Vigil and Stephen King’s The Mist.

“It’s like a supernatural kind of end-of-days madness,” Compston tells Holly, but he’s quick to add that the series is still rooted in real-life horrors – particularly the global warming crisis.

“Climate change isn’t up for debate; it’s here,” he says, noting that the series doesn’t hammer people over the head with any big messages: it is, first and foremost, pure entertainment. Still, though, “there’s an air of believability about it,” he says. “And I’ll be interested to see how people react to it.”

Intrigued? Read on to find out more about Martin Compston’s intriguing TV thriller below…

The Rig makes for intense viewing. What was it like to film the project?

Even if you ignore the supernatural elements, a rig would just be a fantastic place for a drama because it is so claustrophobic. And if there’s somebody you don’t like, you’re going to still see them several times a day; there’s nowhere to hide. Plus we know that they are, by their very nature, dangerous places to work, so that brings natural tension. But yeah, the fact we were in the studio day after day, in pure darkness apart from our artificial light, did feel a wee bit like the walls were closing in. 

Martin Compston will take on the role of Fulmer in The Rig.

Did you manage to bond with your castmates away from the claustrophobia of the set?

It’s by far one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had in my life. Because it’s such a big ensemble, you don’t feel like you’re carrying the weight of it. You look around and you see Iain Glen and Emily Hampshire and Owen Teale and Mark Bonnar and you know they’re going to be bringing it every day, and that their work is going to be of a high standard, so you better be on your game as well. It’s inspiring, and also a kick up the arse.

And you introduced Emily Hampshire to Irn Bru, right?

Emily’s an incredibly healthy person, but she can put away…. I mean, we call it juice up here, but she can definitely put away her sodas. She loves a Diet Coke. So I said, “Look, if you’re here and you’re drinking that much of it, you should be drinking the good stuff.” So I got her on to Irn Bru, and she’s hooked. She’s one of us now. 

Emily Hampshire as Rose in The Rig.

On that note, what’s it like to be part of a project that is so inherently Scottish?

I love it because I’m a very proud Scotsman. And credit to Amazon, you know, because they really have Scotland at the forefront of The Rig. They’re embracing the Scottishness rather than keeping it as a sideline. Even the fact that we had our first premiere in Edinburgh was wonderful. 

When I was working on BBC’s Mayflies, we were getting lost at times because when we were filming in Glasgow, there were three other productions going on. So you had four in total, all with location signs, and you didn’t realise whose truck was whose, and then we would get back to the hotel and see pals on other jobs. And the fact that they’re all sittingputting the world to rights, you know, over a glass of wine and doing what actors do and moaning about everything was a lot of fun. So I’m really chuffed. 

Speaking of Mayflies, how does it feel to have two big TV projects come out so close together?

It’s just the madness of this job. The Rig probably would have been out sooner, but there’s just so many huge special effects in it that just take time. I’ve never been on a show of this size, you know, to be honest. I mean, the fact that it drops in something like 200 territories on the same day is wild. 

On the other side, there’s Mayflies, and I’ve never been on a job with such a turnaround.I think I got the job at the end of August or beginning of September, and it came out this December. I mean, credit to the production team because we had something like 60-odd locations in 27 days. It was mad.

It’s nice that they’ve both dropped together, but it can get a bit overwhelming when you see your face pop up every two months because after a while people start to get sick of you. So it’s kind of nice to kind of get both of them out and then sort of disappear again for a while.

You mentioned the scale of The Rig, which is obviously such a big part of it. Did you love that side of it??

There are two sides to that: the production team were phenomenal, but I would have loved to have got on a real rig at some point. We filmed in the end of Covid-19 restrictions, though, so we weren’t allowed to travel, and were in this huge studio in Leith. They practically built a working rig for artistic points of view. It felt real, you know, and it gave us the chance to get a bit physical.

It’s sort of wider knowledge now that they set me on fire in the series, which was one of my more interesting days of work, but again, it’s like where else could you get permission to do that and do it safely?

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I am a huge fan of the Indiana Jones films – they were a big reason I became an actor, and Harrison Ford is somebody I’ve always loved, and I read that he said it’s best to have the actor performing stunts wherever you can because you see the jeopardy in their face; you see the emotion of what they’re going through. 

Stunt people are there for a reason; they’re the professionals and they take the big risks. But I think sometimes when you cut to that wide shot and the audience automatically goes ‘stunt person’, you sort of lose a connection and the emotion of what the character is going through. So as an actor I love to get involved.

On the other end of the scale, Mayflies is much more low-key, but above everything else it just feels like a really touching portrayal of long-term friendship. Why did that appeal to you in terms of getting involved?

It’s such a well-loved book, and the scripts were gorgeous, but a huge part of it was working with Tony Curran, who is a dear old friend of mine. We’ve been close friends for, Jesus, nearly 15 or 20 years now. That would have been difficult to do with another actor because the turnaround was so quick, but when I saw Tony’s name on it, that just made me excited to do it because not only do I love him as a person, I really respect him as an actor. 

He’s an effervescent nuisance. He’s just a big ball of energy. You’ll do six, seven hours together in the morning crying your eyes out and you get back to your trailer to get five minutes rest and then he’s in and you spend your whole lunch together eating and him talking and then you’re back to another, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. You know, he’s magnetic to be around. And it was perfect casting for him to play Tully. 

Martin Compston and Tony Curran in BBC’s Mayflies.

That sort of middle-aged male friendship is probably something you don’t see as much on TV these days. So I think it was quite important to play it. It’s just a heartbreaking portrayal of love and loss.

It’s very different themes in The Rig, as you’ve said: all about nature and the environmentfighting back. Why do you think that feels so relevant now?

Because it is relevant. I mean, again, I thank David MacPherson, our writer, because I think he comes at it froma place of respect; his dad also worked on oil rigs. And we should absolutely cherish what has been achieved in the North Sea as a feat of engineering, you know; it’s incredible what’s been done out there and the skill used to do what they do – I couldn’t do the jobs that people do out there. It’s scary and incredibly skilled work. But the world’s changing, and we need to evolve with it.

Finally, I read that you normally have a kind of festive curry with your Line Of Duty co-stars. Has that happened this year?

We really did try, but we’re all… I think Adrian Dunbar’s been in Ireland and Vicky McClure was doing a Cancer Trust thing in Nottingham and I was in London. But we’ll have a Christmas Zoom. Just to catch up and have a wee glass of champagne or something

Mayflies is available to stream now on BBC iPlayer. 

The Rig will become available for streaming via Amazon Prime Video on 6 January 2023.

Images: Getty/Prime Video/BBC

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