It’s unusual for an actor to spend two weeks filming in the area they grew up in. It’s even more unusual when that place is Shetland, an archipelago that marks the most northerly part of the British Isles.
Steven Robertson, native of the Scottish isles, knows he was lucky to get a part in the new BBC murder mystery Shetland, shot, unsurprisingly, on a stunning Shetland island. “It was a joy to work there,” he says. “I loved being back within the elements and seeing my family and friends.”
You might recognise Robertson as one of the sinister twins from Luther, or from Inside I’m Dancing, in which he played a cerebral palsy sufferer.
Back in Hertfordshire, where he lives with his partner of 12 years, Charlotte, also an actor, he manages to go about life without being recognised, bar the odd Luther heckle.
“Once a guy came up to me in the pub and said, ‘You look just like one of those evil twins off Luther’. I didn’t tell him the truth for a while but eventually I did. Most people in the pub have no idea I’m an actor.” It’s a story that sums up Robertson’s apathy for fame-chasing.
Shetland is based on a book, Red Bones, by award-winning crime writer Ann Cleeves. Having played a role in a radio adaptation of one of Cleeves’s books, Robertson had always hoped that if her writing was dramatised for TV, there would be a part for him. He was delighted when he was chosen to play PC Sandy Wilson, a hard-working Shetlander who has always lived on the islands.
Wilson makes his first appearance in the show when he discovers the death of his grandmother, Mima, at the start of episode one. He alerts Detective Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall), a native who has recently returned to Shetland with his stepdaughter after a long time away. An investigation ensues that uncovers secrets and lies from the past and lifts the lid on a rift between two families - Wilson’s own and the Haldanes - which Wilson denies.
Robertson, who is used to playing unusual characters such as the mysterious Dominic Rock in Being Human and a serial killer in The Bletchley Circle, revelled in the opportunity to play everyday man Sandy.
“Apart from the murder in his family, Sandy is just a guy who just wants to get on with life. He doesn’t want to bring down the world, he just wants to do a good shift and impress his boss,” he says.
He also loved working with, and learning from, the Shetland cast. “Henshall quietly led by example by getting on with the job. He was very tolerant of the many questions I had about the scenes. Alison [O’Donnell, who plays Perez’s police partner ‘Tosh’] was great too - we’ve all stayed in touch.”
There’s a strong sense of ‘the boy done good’ with Robertson. Growing up on a small island far away from the ‘big city’ (Glasgow, in his case), he battled with severe dyslexia as a child.
He’s surprised when asked about it, not just because he’s never spoken about that part of his life, but because with his positive attitude it’s just something that he’s always got on with.
“Everybody has something. Over the years I’ve just kept working at it,” he says. “Charlotte must get bored with me always asking how words are spelt, but I’ve learnt some coping mechanisms for dealing with dyslexia.”
When asked where his upbeat, attitude comes from, Robertson is unable to answer.
“There have been years when jobs have fallen through, and I’ve had to make sacrifices, but you can’t sit around worrying about it. Nobody’s shooting at me. I got proper acting training, met Charlotte and made a living out of what I really like doing, I’m positive because I feel lucky.”
He’s currently filming an episode of New Tricks, and after that he’s leaving the phone off the hook as he’s getting married to Charlotte.
l Shetland begins on BBC One on Sunday, March 10