Your character David is a news reporter with a particular interest in Southcliffe. What’s his story?
David has spent 25 years suppressing his feelings towards the people of Southcliffe and never forgetting what they did to him and his family. He’s never confronted it – to the extent that he drinks heavily, is unfaithful to his wife, and treats news as a commodity of entertainment. He has no compunctions about exploiting and manipulating the emotions of others, until he’s finally forced to cover a story that means something to him, that takes place in the town where he grew up.
Did you do anything by way of research into the role? Did you assess the mannerisms and ticks of broadcast journalists, or study the history of mass shootings, for exaple?
The script was very detailed, and you always have to start from the script, because it tells you what kind of person you’re playing. However, my friend’s brother is a lead TV reporter, so I asked him about the mundane elements of ‘what do you pack when you go away?’
Just in case there were any things we could use to embellish the character further. The guy who plays the cameraman in the drama is in fact a cameraman for news reporters, so he gave us little instructions if anything wasn’t ringing true. I also asked my friend’s brother about editorial control, about frustrations you find as a journalist and the emotional impact of dealing with things that are very sad. I didn’t have to read up much about the history of shootings, because I’m just playing a guy who’s sent out to cover this terrible event.
It’s not an easy subject matter. Did you have any misgivings about taking it on?
It’s a story about a very ordinary community, and how something extraordinary happens to them. I have an interest in the ordinary, and in how people cope with disaster. This story could have been told in such a different, more sensationalist way, but with Tony and Sean I just felt like I was in good hands.
The reality is that there are communities out there that have been affected by tragedies like this. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to get things right as a result?
Tony did a lot of research with people who had been affected by sudden bereavement. You don’t want to sensationalise or overly-dramatise for the sake of entertainment. David’s an outsider to the community in many ways, so his response is about his own demons rather than necessarily the loss of life or impact in the present day. But you do feel a sense of responsibility, because the programme is essentially a study in grief. I hope that offering this programme up as a well-written and well-directed and hopefully well-acted piece of drama we can hopefully offer solace to anyone suffering bereavement, no matter how it occurs.
Some actors find filming harrowing drama a very emotional experience, others find it cathartic, and others still just treat it as a job and are able to switch it off at the end of the day. Which category do you come into?
I think of myself as the latter category, but you’re never aware as an actor what effect your job is having on you. Obviously you need to create a fully-rounded human being and inhabit that part and respond to others and the events around you on screen or on stage. I’ve often thought that I go into work and portray the grief of a character who’s just lost a child or is dealing with some terrible trauma, and then I finish and I go home. But it probably does have a residual effect which you’re unable to gauge. Particularly on stage, if you have to do something which is harrowing night after night after night, even though you’re tricking your body into believing it, your body still experiences it. Obviously it’s not as harrowing as having to go through it in real life, but if you do it well and believe it, and connect to it strongly, then those emotions do feel real. So I see myself as an actor who will just turn up and do my job, but in doing that job, I’m aware that it may leave a residue that you’re not really aware of.
Last time you were on Channel 4, you were having sex with a pig. Yours is an odd profession, isn’t it?
Indeed, I remember the night before I met my co-star, Marge the pig; I had been performing excerpts of Henry V on the stage of The Royal Albert Hall for one of the Proms, with the BBC Orchestra. The next morning I was shuttled to Buckinghamshire to take my trousers off and simulate the penetration of a pig. It offers wide variety, the life of an actor. In a microcosm of 12 hours, that variety was laid open to me.
You’ve played Bill Tanner in a couple of Bond Films. Is that fun, and is it a role you’re likely to reprise?
You never know until the scripts are written, but I’d love to do another. It’s great fun, but doing another would be a very different experience. Most of my time on the previous two has been spent filming with Judi [Dench] who will no longer be playing M. We used to spend 12-hours-a-day sitting next to each other. The sheer scale of organisation on something like that is what blows my mind. Things work so well. The part itself might not be the most taxing, except for remembering some of the jargon, but in terms of dealing with pressure, on a big film set where lots of people are expending a lot of energy, time and money, and you know how widely it will be seen as well, that’s another factor you have to deal with.
You’re currently starring with Adrian Lester in Othello. Is theatre your first love?
You could say that, it’s certainly how I discovered acting. It was going to the theatre that excited me about the potential of acting myself, and it was doing theatre at school that turned me on to the enjoyment of doing it rather than just watching it. As a result of that, it’s where I feel most at home and most comfortable. I also really enjoy the variety that film, TV and radio offer. All the variety you can have as an actor is to be enjoyed if you’re lucky enough to be offered it.
Did you go and see your dad [Roy Kinnear] perform when you were younger?
I went to his recordings of sitcoms and studio performances. And I was his dresser during one summer holiday when he was on tour, just so I could hang out with him. He was in The Clandestine Marriage with Anthony Quayle. I used to sit in the wings and watch it. I was backstage on a couple of pantomimes as well. A few years before he died, he did a series of plays which I went to see at The National: The Real Inspector Hound; The Critics; and The Cherry Orchard. I must have been about eight at the time. I wasn’t allowed to see The Duchess of Malfi, because he got his head chopped off in that.
You’ve played Hamlet at The National. Is everything a slight disappointment after that?
“Hold on tight ‘til Lear,” is that the thing? No, because there are lots of other fun parts to do. We did it for ten months, it was quite tiring, and my wife and I had our first baby in that time. It was a tiring period in my life, so it was nice to have a break from the physical aspects of theatre. I took a long break after that. I was offered a couple of plays, and didn’t really feel ready to do them. And then I started thinking “Well, what do you do after you’ve done Hamlet?” And then I got offered this play by a first-time playwright, playing a spoilt, gay, incredibly selfish hysteric alcoholic, recovering heroin addict, and it was so different from anything else I’d done before, and so different from Hamlet - it felt so great to be doing a play again.
What are the roles and projects that have meant the most to you over your career?
My relationships with all of my past productions are constantly changing. There are never any real disappointments, because you’ll always learn something or make a friend or have a good time. Southcliffe is probably the thing I’ve been most interested in seeing, in that period between finishing filming and seeing it, because you do get a sense when something you’ve made is different or special. And it was nice to see it and have that proved. That said there’s always a sense of wanting to move on to the next thing. When you’re in something good, it makes you excited about starting a new project. Southcliffe is certainly up at the top in terms of having a wholeness and integrity to it, as well as being very distinctive.