Bulletproof South Africa: Stunt injuries, Cape Town capers and going off-script – Secrets from the Set

Pike and Bishop are back! Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke reveal how they got on when they filmed the latest Bulletproof episodes in South Africa.

By Becky Gamester-Newton Updated: 12 January 2021 - 11.59am
Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters in Bulletproof: South Africa

Bulletproof fans, the wait is over – Pike and Bishop are back with a bang!

The London cop duo’s latest outing takes place in the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa – but things don't go as planned. Intending to have a relaxing holiday with Pike’s family, they instead get caught up in a kidnap plot.

Luckily for us, that means even more explosive action scenes, witty exchanges and a brand new location to boot.

We chatted to Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke, who play Pike and Bishop and also created the show, about what it was like to film the special episodes.

Noel didn't fancy South Africa

Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke in Bulletproof: South Africa Sky UK Ltd

The boys get to grip with their latest crime caper in the stunning surroundings of Cape Town – but Noel admits it wasn’t a location on his radar for the special episodes.

“You go through a process of eliminating countries based on how easy it is to shoot etc… South Africa was then deemed to be the best choice.

“I’ll be honest with you, South Africa was never really a place I wanted to go in my life for various reasons which I think are mostly obvious. I was pretty like: ‘I’m not going!’.”

He jokes: “I’m like BA Baracus, they knocked me out and put me on the plane. I wake up there and I was like ‘ah, this is alright!’”

However Noel was pleasantly surprised on arrival – and feels the location makes the show even more exciting.

He says: “It’s a place that’s really trying to elicit positive change and really be a beacon for the world. I think people work really hard and it was beautiful.

“It really adds a cinematic feel. Familiarity breeds contempt, and because we see London all the time it never feels as cinematic as New York or Chicago, and that’s because we’re not there.

“What South Africa does is make the whole thing feel bigger even though it’s been as good as it has been with the UK shoot but it makes it feel bigger and I think that’s really going to stand out when it comes on TV.

Ashley also loved working out there and feels there was a “different energy” on set.

“Camera ops, cameramen, grips, lighting teams, the stunt team were absolutely amazing for us out there. They’re so desperate to prove how good they are on a daily basis and they really took care of us. I learnt so much working with them.

“There was definitely a different energy. I wouldn’t say it was any better than anywhere else, but the energy was different.”

Ashley laughs that it wasn’t a bad place to be for some down time either.

He says: “The setting for us, having a day off was amazing. The apartments we had, we were right by the marina and the restaurants and the food – oh my gosh the food was amazing. It was really good fun and we really enjoyed it.”

Ashley does most of the driving

Ashley Walters in Bulletproof: South Africa Sky UK Ltd

Bulletproof fans will know the boys do love a car chase – but they may be surprised to learn that Ashley does the driving for most of the scenes (even though he’s love to do all of them).

“It’s quite a touchy subject!” he laughs. “Before we start shooting, I’ll get sent out on rally courses and lessons so I can do all these handbrake turns and whatever. Then you get onto set and they’re like ‘no, no, no – sorry you can’t do that mate. It’s a bit too dangerous, no you can’t do that.’ So you kind of get eased out of it.

“There’s been many an argument where I’ve been like ‘I’m doing it! You taught me how to do it, so I’m doing it myself.’ Sometimes I’ve been proved right, sometimes I’ve been proved wrong.

“I’d say 80% of it is probably me. But I don’t want to disrespect the amazing stunt team that we have in South Africa and over here. These guys are really really experienced and talk me though everything.”

Noel needed stitches after doing a stunt

Noel Clarke in Bulletproof: South Africa Sky UK Ltd

Noel says he loves doing the physical stunts, but he rarely comes out unscathed and even needed stitches while filming the new episodes.

He says: “I do get beaten up quite a bit. I’m the one who nearly did my knee ligaments in season 1. I think in season 2 I was mostly unscathed.

“On this one, I did my neck and I had to have physio every day. And then I did a stunt jumping through a window and cut my knee – I had five stitches in my knee.

“Ash is like ‘why is it always you’ and I’m like ‘I don’t know!’ while I’m bleeding on the floor. But I don’t mind that. Scars are just a memento of Cape Town now. I might get a tattoo over it that says ‘Cape Town’.”

He continues: “We try to do as much as we can in terms of the stunts. I’m about five years older than Ash so it is taking it’s toll on me. He’s young. But as long as I can get away with it then I’m going to do it. I love a scrap.”

The stunts were more ‘real’ this time

Bulletproof: South Africa Sky UK Ltd

The boys explained that filming in London can be more restrictive – but in South Africa they were able to do more.

Talking about a car-park shoot-out at the end of the first special episode, Noel says: “What makes that South Africa scene more intense is the stunt co-ordinator decided we’d use squibs a lot of the time.

“A lot of the time in the English stuff with where we are around London, it is a case of ‘bang bang bang bang’ and these really soft little noises, and they’ll do visual effects that are hitting the cars and stuff.

“For this stuff, I use squibs, exploding windows, and there are moments in this South African one where bits of things are flying – and they’re really flying. So if you see Ash react, it’s because wood’s just gone past his head. There’s a bit where I’m behind the car and the window pops. That’s all real.”

Ashley admitted that some of the action sequences aren’t as interesting to film as they seem.

“That was a boring one – it was three or four days,” he says of the car park scene.

“You get moments of real intense action that you’re actually involved in, then as a whole it’s quite bitty. A lot of the stuff gets shot separately – the stuff that’s going on inside the car, I’ll be waiting in a hotel room for four hours looking down from the top floor watching Noel having fun and he’ll be shouting up to me.

“But when you get into it, it’s quite fun. We’re boys with toys really on this show. For us, a lot of it has been about getting into the action. When you’re running round with a plastic gun going ‘bang bang bang!’ instead of a real one shooting blanks, it does get a bit boring.”

The Bulletproof fanbase

Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters in Bulletproof: South Africa Sky UK Ltd

The pair have been in the industry for some time now, so they’re particularly proud that people recognise them from Bulletproof.

“People always talk about this show now,” Noel says.

“Ashley and I have been in very iconic projects that have led people to call us certain names for a lot of years.

“What’s interesting and makes you really know that this has cut through – and we know it has – is when people start asking about this show as opposed to some of the others.

“It’s not that you don’t get the others – with Ashley, every second day [he gets] ‘where’s Top Boy?’. I get ‘when are you coming back for Doctor Who?’ or ‘when are you going to do another Kidulthood film?’

“But actually, more and more, it’s like ‘Bulletproof, man! Love Bishop, love Pike’."

Ashley found playing Pike a huge test

Ashley Walters in Bulletproof: South Africa Sky UK Ltd

With Top Boy being his biggest credit before Bulletproof, Ashley admits that playing a family man on the right side of the law was a good test for him.

He says: “It was a big test for me in the beginning, because my other character [in Top Boy] is on completely the other side of the law. It was a test for me to see if people could see me, people who watch that show [Top Boy], could see me in this show.”

“It’s been amazing for me and I think we’ve done really well…. We’ve killed it!”

‘Bulletproof wouldn’t work without us’

Noel is convinced that the show only works because of the relationship him and Ashley have – even though they didn’t know each other that well beforehand.

He says: “People turn around to us and say ‘oh well you’ve been best friends for years’. We weren’t best friends for years.

“The first time we spent more than a week together, or more than three days together even, was on this job, even though we’d known each other vaguely for 18 years.”

He adds: “The show works because of us and what we bring to it. Regardless of the fact that we came up with it, there’s a humour and element to our relationship that two other actors in that show, it’s just not going to work in the same way. It’s not going to be Bulletproof. They could call it Bulletproof, they can try to emulate it, but it’s a different level of partnership that we built.”

Noel Clarke, Ashley Walters and Vanessa Vanderpuye in Bulletproof: South Africa Sky UK Ltd

He also reveals that they adlib for most of the scenes rather than go by the script.

“There was an immediate bond that really made everything we create easier,” he continues.

“Half the lines, if not more, that you see are either adlibbed or made up. If we’ve written the episodes, we can do that. When other people write them, sure they write the story but we add and bring what we do to it.

“When people see the teasers and trailers, I can promise you that probably all the lines that end up in the trailers and teasers are stuff that we’ve come up with. There’s a relationship there that makes it just different. That’s what really resonates with the audience.”

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