Gemma Whelan: Sarah Collins solves murders, endures misogyny in ‘Tower’ S2


Gemma Whelan can now be seen in "The Tower 2: Death Message." Photo courtesy of BritBox

Gemma Whelan can now be seen in “The Tower 2: Death Message.” Photo courtesy of BritBox

NEW YORK, May 16 (UPI) — Game of Thrones alum Gemma Whelan says her British police detective character Sarah Collins faces a new set of challenges in the mystery series, The Tower 2: Death Message.

“She’s moved on from where she was with her former set of misogynistic colleagues and is, hopefully, moving on to this new job in Homicide Command and I feel like she is pretty optimistic about this fresh start she’s engineered for herself,” Whelan told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

“Then, very quickly, she is taken down a peg or two and given a cold case,” she added. “She’s ready to dive into the next job and she’s quickly deflated and has to prove herself again.”

Premiering Tuesday on BritBox in North America, Season 2 of 2021’s The Tower co-stars Jimmy Akingbola, Emmett J. Scanlen, Tahirah Sharif as Sarah’s fellow cops Steve, Kieran and Lizzie.

The new episodes follow former anti-corruption cop Sarah as she works the case of a decades-missing, presumed dead teen, while Lizzie becomes involved in a domestic violence incident that leaves one woman in the morgue and her former partner on the run with their young daughter.

“Sarah is someone who doesn’t quit and will take the challenge. She’s not going to argue. She just takes it on. She is so methodical and meticulous about her work,” Whelan said.

“She’s pretty much married to her job, so she will go the extra mile and stay the extra hours. She will find a different set of questions or a different angle,” she added. “It feels like the boss might try and [expletive] her over, but she’s not going to show that she feels like that. She’s going to solve it.”

Season 2 offers a glimpse at Sarah’s personal life, showing how her experiences and sense of compassion help her dealing with the families of victims.

“We learn about a possible loss of hers, which speaks closely to what one of the victims’ mothers is going through,” Whelan said.

“Her ability to be quite cold and closed to things is challenged here because it really speaks to somebody that is really close to her heart and something that happened in her life that is difficult for her to talk about and difficult for her to deal with, so she is forced, in a way, to unwrap a bit of her grief.”

Sarah is starting to regard rookie Lizzie as a good cop even though she doesn’t operate by the book the way Sarah thinks she should and is having an affair with Kieran, their boss.

“She likes the idea that Lizzie is going to try to prove herself, so she’s going to give Lizzie the space to do that. I think she is very cautious, very suspicious about just how Lizzie might prove herself,” Whelan said.

“Once again, Lizzie maybe gets things wrong or does things differently pretty early on in a case,” she added. “On paper, what Lizzie is up to is not at all how Sarah would play it. So, I think she judges that as bad practice.”

Working on the show has given Whelan some insight into the emotional and psychological toll that police work can take on people, particularly women.

“There’s so much demand on them. There is still a great deal of misogyny and judgment on the female contingent of the workforce,” Whelan said.

“Women are really often asked to prove themselves and do double the work to prove that they are capable,” she added.

Whelan said its a man’s world challenged by women, who still have to work harder.

“It’s nice to represent certain aspects of real life and what people might be going through,” she said.

Kate London, author of the books that inspired the series, has first-hand experience in the world of law enforcement, having worked for years as a police officer.

“I don’t kind of intend to write about issues, but because I was a police officer, they naturally tend to come out in the writing,” she said.

“It’s the same with the female characters,” London added. “I was a female police officer. I dealt with crimes against women, violence against women.”

While the show and novels are intended to mirror the world we live in, they do take liberties pick up the pace to avoid the drudgery of investigation that makes up the days of most law-enforcement personnel.

“Of course, if you wrote real life, just as it is, there wouldn’t be suspense and thrills like there are in the books and the television series,” London said.

Bel-Air actor Akingbola is excited to act on a show that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, but also explores important topics such as racism, sexism, power and corruption.

“It is so satisfying because it makes the show authentic. We aren’t hiding from all those issues,” the actor said.

“It’s very important to reflect those things, as well as reflect the other side — what police officers have to go through. In Season 2, you see multiple scenes where the officers really risk their lives.”

He pointed out that most cops in the United Kingdom don’t carry guns the way they do in the United States.

“So, if we come up against someone with a weapon, we have a baton or [tear] gas, but that’s it, so it really does increase the danger,” the actor said. “Their lives are always, constantly in danger.”

Season 1 of The Tower was the mystery of how and why a veteran cop and a teenage girl fell to their deaths from a London apartment building. Sarah, Steve and Lizzie were all dragged into the high-profile case.

Akingbola thinks the characters are still reeling from the aftermath of those events at the top of Season 2.

“It really did affect the whole police force and the whole community and also, emotionally, he’s really being challenged with how he’s having to balance his life — how he’s having to be a father to his kids and also step up, in a way, for his ex-wife,” the actor said.

Steve also misses his former partner Sarah from whom he is estranged after the Season 1 case is closed.

“Trying to do his best work for the police force is making him feel stretched and tested,” Akingbola said.

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