In the shocking new TV series from the makers of Killing Eve, Thalissa Teixeira plays a detective investigating a nauseating murder – while waking up to racism within the force. It was harrowing work, says the rising star
Thalissa Teixeira does not cope well with extreme gore, which made starring in the year’s most gruesome police drama something of an ordeal. Ragdoll revolves around a nauseating crime scene: a figure sewn together from the body parts of different victims, suspended from the ceiling of a London flat. When she was introduced to the eponymous monstrosity on set, Teixeira recalls: “It properly spun me out.” Thankfully, the cast and crew were on hand to “pick my limbs up off the floor and stitch me back together”.
Ragdoll – which is written by Freddy Syborn, best known for his comedy work with Jack Whitehall, and loosely based on the novel by Daniel Cole – is in its own way a similarly outlandish patchwork creation. Teixeira plays DI Emily Baxter, tasked with solving the case, alongside her already-traumatised colleague DS Nathan Rose (The Inbetweeners’ Henry Lloyd-Hughes) and newbie DC Lake Edmunds (Lucy Hale, of Pretty Little Liars fame). Blending the knotty plotlines of Line of Duty with a barrage of surreally bizarre deaths, the show, which launches tonight on Alibi, is a serious meditation on the institutional failings of the police with a very high gag rate, the joke kind and the other kind. This fusion of tones reminds Teixeira of Killing Eve (they share a production company) and she says the show’s creators took inspiration from South Korean films, such as Memories of Murder and Oldboy, that weave humour into their horror.
Fans of disturbing drama might recognise Teixeira and her distinctively gravelly voice from the recent Emily Watson thriller Too Close. Fans of envelope-pushing fare may know her from the BBC polyamory drama Trigonometry. The 28-year-old, who spent part of her childhood in Brazil, moving with her British mother to Buckinghamshire when she was eight, first made a name for herself in classical productions in the West End, before cropping up in a slew of interesting and diverse TV projects. She recently featured in Channel 5’s Anne Boleyn.
That said, this is the second time Teixeira has played a police officer in little over a year, following her part in the also-very-irreverent Maisie Williams comedy-drama Two Weeks to Live. But acting in a police procedural is not the uncomplicated gig it once was. “After the last two years, the way that we view cop shows is going to change dramatically,” she says, referring to the global protests prompted by the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.
The show began filming in April, soon after the murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer, a crime that occasioned a huge shift in perceptions of the police in Britain. Both cast a shadow over the production, but Teixeira says that, as a woman of colour, she has been distrustful of the police for most of her life. “The other night, I was cycling home and the fear I had was being stopped by the police. The only encounters I’ve ever had with the police have been to do with race problems and none of it anyone’s fault.”
Ragdoll also examines how it feels to be a person of colour inside such an institution. Baxter is hugely conflicted about her job, says Teixeira. “She’s definitely not fond of it, but she feels like she has an obligation to be there and represent something.” She also worries that “being in the police is actually a Judas move”. But (spoiler alert) it’s even more complex than that: despite making a significant mistake, Baxter is not fired because the “optics would look bad. Yet she’s asking for some sort of equality.” Syborn, who is white, was keen to involve Teixeira in these issues. “He put his hands up and was like, ‘I’m very aware of the sector I represent, so let’s have conversations about your experiences.’”
In person, Teixeira is wry and witty, appealingly prone to self-deprecation. “I hope this comes across OK on a page,” she says sheepishly, “but luckily I haven’t stopped working since I left drama school.” Despite her success, though, Teixeira is now planning to “step away a bit” from acting to focus on writing. “Possibly talking about Brazil a bit more, because there’s a huge lack of that in this part of the world.” The country and its culture still loom large in her life: her housemates are Brazilian and they speak Portuguese together at home.
Still, she will be tempted back if a second series of Ragdoll gets the go-ahead. Teixeira is already bracing herself for more depravity from the mind of Syborn. “I think there’s something fascinating about why we want to watch programmes about the extremes humanity can go to,” she says. “I haven’t got an answer for that yet. But I certainly won’t be going to Freddy Syborn’s house for dinner any time soon.”
Ragdoll starts on Alibi in the UK tonight, and screens on Foxtel and Binge in Australia.