Until recently, Nicola Walker was one of those actors you would recognise immediately but not necessarily be able to put a name to.
By nature, she is modest and unassuming, and the roles she takes reflect her demeanour – nuanced characters whose understatement is the very thing that makes them stand out.
But after her performance in the hugely popular crime drama series Unforgotten, in which she played inscrutable DCI Cassie Stuart, and her twice BAFTA-nominated portrayal of Yorkshire farmer Gillian in Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango In Halifax, Nicola is now a bona fide primetime TV star.
Pictured left to right: Nina, Hannah, Rose. The Split, a legal drama set in the high-end world of divorce returns for its final series
She also features in The Split, a legal drama set in the cut-throat world of high-end divorce courts, which has been a hit over the last two electrifying series. Now returning to our screens, the highly anticipated farewell series promises to be the most explosive yet as Nicola’s character, divorce lawyer Hannah Stern, faces the trauma of her own separation – with her dream of having a ‘good divorce’ left in tatters.
The cult show, one of the most watched dramas on BBC iPlayer, follows the messy lives of three sisters – Hannah, Nina (Annabel Scholey) and Rose (Fiona Button) – and their formidable mother Ruth Defoe (Deborah Findlay) as they navigate bitter legal wrangles for their London divorce law firm Noble Hale Defoe.
This final series is set ten months after Hannah and her husband Nathan (Stephen Mangan) called time on their seemingly rock solid marriage with the disclosure of Hannah’s affair (Nathan also cheated via an extra-marital dating site). Now the two lawyers are negotiating their own split, but a shocking revelation raises the stakes and Hannah realises just how much she could lose.
‘Hannah gets very involved with her clients and that makes her good at her job,’ says Nicola, who’s married to fellow actor Barnaby Kay, with whom she has a 15-year-old son, Harry. ‘She’s always talked about the potential for a good divorce, that it doesn’t always have to be a fight.
‘Our writer, Abi Morgan, is using a show about divorce to talk about love, and how complicated it is to commit to each other. The show’s given me a peek behind the curtain of the divorce world, but I don’t want to experience it in real life thank you very much.’
She admits she was out of her comfort zone playing sharp-dressing adulterous lawyer Hannah. ‘The scripts are incredible but I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to get this job.”
‘I’d never played that woman – a woman so successful and seemingly so together. I was coming fromtrying to fix a tractor in an old man’s shirt in Last Tango, so I gave them the names of five actresses who could do the role,’ she laughs.
It’s a good ending – you won’t be disappointed
‘Then when I got the job, I found it daunting – the slick wardrobe and the manicures. I found all of that difficult to begin with.
‘It took until season two for me to start thinking, “OK, I’ve got Hannah’s professional armour on. That’s her.”
‘It was weird after lockdown going back into these tailored clothes and high heels again. But that’s a superpower I now have – I don’t know if anyone will want me to look like that again, but I can do it.
‘Just don’t take off the heels or you’ll never get them back on!’
As Hannah confronts her own separation, adding fuel to the fire is the return of her former lover Christie (Barry Atsma). ‘This role gives people license to have strong opinions,’ say Nicola.
Stephen Mangan (pictured) plays lawyer Nathan. This final series is set ten months after Hannah and her husband Nathan called time on their seemingly rock solid marriage with the disclosure of Hannah’s affair
‘One woman shouted from the other side of the train tracks, “You should’ve done my divorce!” I replied, “Yes, I could’ve got you a huge settlement.” Others have shouted things like, “I can’t believe what Nathan did to you!”
‘This series is a very bumpy ride. Hannah has hit rock bottom so, for me, it was really interesting to play someone who’s got to look at herself in the mirror before she leaves for work every day.
‘And she’s beginning to understand what being honest to everyone really means. It was fantastic actually, as I like playing people with ordinary human failings.
‘When I’m reading the script I think, “Oh, what is she doing?” She’s not always completely appealing – and that’s what’s appealing about playing her.’
While Nicola, 51, admits she put off having children until her mid 30s as she was terrified of not being able to work again, Fiona Button, who plays youngest sister Rose, was able to bring her own daughter Fordy to work to play the part of a baby Rose was looking after in series one.
I should have been a lawyer
Had Annabel Scholey not made it as an actor, she could have become a lawyer.
‘I did consider it briefly. At the beginning of series one, some of the cast and I met a top divorce lawyer in her office – a big skyscraper with glass doors. She was in a pale pink twinset with immaculate blonde hair.
‘She had two children and she looked very gentle but my God, you could tell that underneath she was cutthroat.
‘She taught us how to speak more like lawyers and to look clients directly in the eye and that as soon as you come into the room, you turn on your clock and start making money.
‘When I was filming as Nina in my beautiful corner office with a view of St Paul’s, I did think, “Oh my God, why didn’t I do this instead of acting?”’
‘My daughter is about the same age as The Split,’ says Fiona, who married writer Henry Fleet in 2014. ‘She was nine weeks old when I got the job, and I thought it’d be great to bring her to work.
‘But even though the production team were really supportive, I couldn’t do two jobs at once – act and be a mum. I couldn’t perform a scene as Rose when Fordy kept looking into the camera, which you’re not supposed to do.
‘Normally, mothers whose babies are in the cast wouldn’t be worried about that, but I was because I know it’s wrong. So it was actually a bit of a disaster!’
Unlike her sisters and mother, Rose doesn’t work for the family law firm, but she has her own challenges. ‘In the final series we see how, after her miscarriage, Rose and her husband have realised it’s not going to be possible for them to conceive naturally and, at the start of episode one, they make the decision to adopt,’ explains Fiona, 38.
‘It was helpful being a mother to understand what Rose has been through in terms of fertility, and to understand that she’s missing all the amazing things that being a mother has brought to me.
‘But in true Rose fashion, she’s having last minute doubts about adopting. She’s going through a pretty huge change where you see her true colours and she grows up.
‘Perhaps she’s the strongest of all three of them. She doesn’t have the high-powered job and the fancy suits, but she’s made of tough stuff.’
Annabel Scholey’s character Nina is the wild child of the family, often late and up to no good both in and out of work. ‘She’s definitely on a roller coaster,’ says Annabel, 38.
‘We’ve seen her at her worst. We’ve seen her drinking heavily, shoplifting for the fun of it and dating clients while being a commitmentphobe.
‘When she finally dedicated herself to Rex Pope, it was a step in the right direction, but that didn’t happen. Then she realised she was pregnant.
I’m drawn to characters who have a crisis going on
‘She stopped drinking and almost had an abortion, but then decided she couldn’t do it. She’s in a more grown up place at the start of series three.
‘I was auditioning for Rose, but when I read the script I just thought, “I’m not her.” I’m not 100 per cent Nina either but I love how she has all these difficulties and how she’s an open book in many ways.
‘I’m always drawn to characters who’ve got some kind of crisis going on. I think you have to have a little bit in common in order to really get insight.
‘In the final series, we see Nina trying to deal with being a high-flying lawyer and having a newborn baby. It’s not often shown on TV, but it’s seriously difficult.
‘I went back to work on The Split with my three-month-old baby, Marnie, who’s now three years old. So I can understand that feeling of chaos as there’s still an expectation, even in 2022, to try to look like nothing has changed.
‘You’ve got to look as if you’re gliding like a swan when underneath you’re paddling like mad. I can identify with that, but I don’t have a drink problem – thank goodness!
‘Nina doesn’t know whether she can be a good mother, so that’s an interesting journey she’s on.’
Without the likes of Annabel, Nicola and Fiona, we wouldn’t be able to peek into the world of divorce law. Despite its acrimonious twists and turns, Nicola promises an ending that viewers will be satisfied with.
‘Like everyone else over the last couple of years, I’ve watched a lot of drama, and sometimes you find yourself thinking after the last 20 minutes, “I don’t know if that ending was fulfilling.” I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed with the finale of The Split. It’s a good one.’
- The Split, Monday, 9pm, BBC1
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