‘I don’t know what I’d do’ Jill Halfpenny on her new role as a mum faced with a devastating dilemma

Two parents are faced with a devastating dilemma in new BBC1 drama, Dark Mon£Y, when they learn their movie star son has been abused by a Hollywood producer. Here, Jill Halfpenny and her co-star Babou Ceesay, who play teen Isaac's mum and dad, tell us more...

Landing a lead role in a Hollywood movie is the stuff of dreams for most actors but that’s certainly not how things work out for 13-year-old, Isaac (played by Max Fincham), in this powerful new four-part BBC1 drama.

Written by Levi David Addai, who penned the acclaimed Damilola, Our Loved Boy, the story centres on Manny and Sam Mensah (played by Babou Ceesay and Jill Halfpenny), an ordinary London couple whose 13-year-old son Isaac (Max Fincham) lands a major role in a big-budget US sci-fi movie.

But the dream turns into a nightmare when Isaac reveals that he was abused by the film’s powerful producer while he was out in America.

Amid the rage and guilt, the Mensahs face a terrible choice:  Do they drag Isaac through the courts to seek justice, or sign a non-disclosure agreement and receive a huge payoff to stay silent? When they take the “dark money”, a new nightmare begins…

During a break in filming, former Corornation Street actor Jill Halfpenny, 43, who has starred in Waterloo Road and Three Girls and Babou Ceesay, 40, best known for his roles  in National Treasure and Into The Badlands, tell TV Times more…

TV Times: How does the story begin?

Babou Ceesay: “It starts with Manny going to pick up Isaac. He’s been in the States to star in a big-budget film. He’s the second lead. It’s huge for him and Sam and Manny are excited, but conflicted, because they haven’t seen their son for almost two months.”

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TVT: When do they discover something is wrong?

Jill Halfpenny: “Almost immediately. We have this welcome party for him. But it’s all a bit awkward and weird. And quite quickly you realise there’s something on Isaac’s mind.”

Babou: “Yes, Issac’s not himself.”

Jill Halfpenny and Babou Ceesay

Sam Mensah (Jill Halfpenny) and her husband Manny (Babou Ceesay)

TVT: How does the truth emerge?

Babou: “Isaac builds up the courage to give us his phone, which has a recording of him being abused by the producer of the film [Jotham Starr, played by John Schwab]. He had sort of put the phone down, and it captured – not so much images, but sound – the trauma of it.”

TVT: What’s their reaction?

Jill: “Pure devastation. Sam’s immediate feeling is protection, ‘You’re never going to leave my side. No one’s going to harm you.’ Then she goes into practical mode. But things aren’t quite as straightforward as they thought.”

Isaac Mensah played by Max Fincham

Isaac Mensah played by Max Fincham

TVT: How hard did you find it to film that sequence?

Babou: “It was a very tough scene to shoot. The director didn’t let us see [the phone footage] until he had the camera on me and Jill.”

Jill: “He wanted to see if he could get some immediate reactions. I mean, you end up filming it another 20 times anyway, but it was a very distressing day. But then it needed to be like that, because that scene is the crux of the whole four hours. You need to know why they make the choices they make.”

TVT: Do Sam and Manny feel the same way about what to do next?

Babou: “Neither of them knows whether what they’re doing is right or wrong. They only know the options that are available. One is that they go to the States, report it, and start legal proceedings – and good luck finding the money to do that. The other option is the cheque that’s put in front of them.”

Jill: “I think they very naively expect the film company to say, ‘We’re terribly sorry. This man will never work again – and he’s going to prison…’ And obviously the exact opposite happens.”

TVT: Why do they even consider taking the hush money?

Jill: “The one thing Isaac says to them is, ‘Please don’t tell anyone.’ So they’re left with this dilemma. Isaac doesn’t want anybody to know. But they don’t want this guy to get away with it. Could money ever bring us justice? Obviously it’s dreadful. It feels terrible. But they think, ‘Maybe we could turn our children’s lives around. We could give them a great education. And perhaps Isaac will forget about this and live a happy life…’ And, of course, that doesn’t happen.”

Did you find yourself wondering what you might do in the same situation?

Babou: “Yeah, of course. Most people will go, ‘I’d never settle. I’d go to war.’ But the research shows that over 90 per cent of people settle… I’d like to think I would fight it. But who knows?”

Jill: “I honestly think it’s impossible to say. My initial thought was, ‘Of course I’d never take the money!’ But I think we have to be really careful not to judge, because we’re not in that position. I don’t believe they’re motivated by greed. They just think, in the way that people do in life, ‘Maybe we could put this terrible situation in a box, and close it, and pretend it didn’t happen.’”

What will people take away from the show?

Jill: “I hope the audience will get the humanity of it. When things are reported – especially about famous people – we have a sense of being removed from it. So I think it’ll be interesting to see it happen to ordinary people. It could happen to you, basically. That’s what the show is saying.”

Dark Money, featuring Jill Halfpenny, begins on Monday 8th July at 9pm on BBC1.