No one broods quite like Nicola Walker, whose eyes have transfixed viewers in television shows like “Unforgotten,” “Last Tango in Halifax” and “The Split.”
In “Annika,” the British crime drama now in its second season on PBS, she holds that gaze as a marine homicide detective, her speedboat slicing through the waters near Glasgow.
But in a video interview while just outside London, where she lives with her husband, the actor Barnaby Kay, and their teenage son, Harry, Walker was radiant and witty. When she agreed to talk about her cultural essentials — true-crime podcasts, the theater director Ivo van Hove, the harrowing reality series “Alone” — she recalled her agent asking if she was going to be truthful.
“I said, ‘Is it bad if I tell them that really one of my cultural highlights this week has been sitting in my underwear, eating a bag of Spanish Lays crisps with a can of Coke, watching the ‘Beckham’ documentary?’”
“Now I’m in love with both of them,” Walker added. “David and Victoria.”
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Touching the Art
When I was a young girl, we moved to rural Essex, and the nearest town was Harlow — one of the new towns built post-World War II. Frederick Gibberd, the architect, thought that ordinary people should brush up against art in their everyday lives. On the way to the shopping center, I’d walk past sculptures by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Rodin. I used to climb all over Hepworth’s “Contrapuntal Forms,” and no one ever stopped you. Hepworth said statues must be touched — that’s how they begin.
I’ve always loved stand-up because I could never do it, and Stewart is, for me, the best stand-up working for years now. I recommend “Content Provider.” It’s like he smashes up the rules of comedy, glues them back together and then throws them at you.
Ivo van Hove
Watching Ivo or being directed by Ivo is like having an injection of energy and hope, because he makes theater in a way that you realize you’ve always wanted theater to be made.
I lost my mother a very long time ago. Too young. She bought me a copy of “Beloved” when I went up to university, and she wrote in it, “To My Beloved.” That thing they say about what you would save from your burning house, apart from pets? That book. I was 19, and it opened up the whole world.
The U.S. Version of ‘Alone’
The U.K. one was like a family camping trip gone wrong: They’ve got lost in the dark and they’re scared of the foxes and the owls hooting. Then we happened to see “Alone USA.” Crikey. Ten people. Bears, wolverines. I watched a man win a series because he shanked a musk ox to death.
When I was pregnant, I played “Closing Time” on a loop, and Harry used to sort of wriggle. I don’t know whether I’ve made that up, but all I know is he loves Tom Waits. When Harry was about 3, I went for a fitting at a famous costumier, and Tom Waits walked in. I was too scared to say, “My 3-year-old knows all the words to ‘Closing Time.’” I really regret it, and my son has never forgiven me.
When I was 16, I really identified with her. All that introspection of youth. You’re allowed to be that doom-laden because you’re so young. As a 53-year-old, I don’t see myself. I see Sylvia Plath, and I want to literally jump in the book and save her.
I love reading poetry out loud. This might be due to studying English at Cambridge. One of my favorite poems is Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry” — the idea that you have to tie the poem down to a chair and beat it into submission to give up its meaning. I felt that’s what I did as a student, and it took me ages to find my way back to poetry because, for me, it was work. But now I think it’s flesh and bones when you say those words.
Playlists for Roles
They give me the confidence to step out of the caravan and walk on set. Annika’s playlist was fabulously eclectic: Benjamin Clementine’s “Nemesis,” David Bowie’s “Fill Your Heart,” The Darkness’s “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”
I have a guilty obsession that a lot of women have (as “S.N.L.” pointed out in a very good musical skit): true crime. There’s this Australian podcast, “Casefile,” and the guy always starts with this warning, “This podcast contains stories of a sexual nature, injury to women,” or whatever. And my husband’s shouting, “Are you listening to that bloody man talking about killing women again?” Yeah, I am. Why am I? It’s the same reason we like crime dramas. Because the comfort of watching something that terrifies you and seeing it resolved makes you feel a little bit safer.