Explain a bit about Year of the Rabbit.
It’s a Victorian sitcom based around three people, two of which are police, solving crimes in London’s East End in the 1880s.
You play Inspector Rabbit. How would you describe him?
He’s typical of the time but with a warm heart. He only really has the job, that’s all that he has. And he’s only got one eyebrow.
Is he your cliché hard drinking maverick cop…
I hope he isn’t, because I wanted to do something different in as far as you think that’s what he is but he’s actually very generous and very warm with Mabel and with Strauss. He protects both. Everyone else is an enemy but he’s kind of protective of those two.
What was the inspiration for the show?
What happened was, myself and Ben Farrell at Objective are both obsessed with The Sweeney and both thought about doing some kind of prequel to that show. I know that show backwards, as does he, we’ve watched it so many times. I love it, I love the warmth between the characters in that which was the inspiration for this.
There is something about some of the language and turns of phrase that sound a bit Berry-esque. That came from you, did it?
It certainly did.
It’s an odd concept, a period police sitcom. What made you want to do it? Why does it work?
I don’t know that it works. We’ll find out. It’s very kind you say that it does. I just wanted to do something different. Those kind of shows based around that time, they’re always dramatic and without much of a sense of humour. If you were to watch Peaky Blinders and one of the characters did a pratfall, followed by a forward roll, some kind of physical comedy, you’d think it was odd. But that was what I wanted to do. That was my inspiration. I just wanted to do something you hadn’t seen before with that backdrop.
The show’s also going to be shown in America. What on earth do you think an American will make of it?
I don’t know. I’ve no idea. The same they made of Toast I suppose. You can never tell. When you make a show you don’t consider that. You just consider what you find funny.
Was there any improvisation in the show?
Yeah, there is. Not as much as I would like or am used to. That’s mainly down to how tight the plot is. You can’t deviate that much because everything is sewn together. The scope it provides is there but not the extent I would be used to. I’m always happy for everyone to try things out but you’ve got to have half an eye on the fact that everything is linked. There is scope and people did it but you always had to be careful.
It’s got an absolutely stellar cast. Were you involved in the casting? You must have been thrilled by all the people who said yes?
Yes, well that’s the thing: they were all first choices. When you’re in that position and they all say yes, it’s such joy, because they needn’t, but they all did. I couldn’t have been happier.
A lot of your scenes are with Freddie and Susan. How did you enjoy working with them?
I love working with them. They both came in, regardless of their backgrounds – Fred had hardly done any comedy, if any – and they were the funniest people so they were hired. We had chemistry when we all read together, we did those scenes and by far I was most comfortable with those two. That’s why they ended up doing the show.
There’s an absolutely fantastic turn from Paul Kaye. He makes a fantastic antagonist, doesn’t he?
He’s brilliant. He was born to do that sort of stuff. If there’s anyone who was ever Victorian, Dickensian, that would be him. It was a joy writing for him because I gave him short speeches in every episode where he would talk about some horrors from a war he had witnessed. It was such a delight seeing him bring them to life.
Did you do any research, or have any inspiration.
Yeah, lots of research. One of the episodes was based on Dirty Harry, the Jill Halfpenny assassin. Someone shooting from the roof. I was watching Dirty Harry and was inspired by that: what if we did that in Victorian times? I worked in the London Dungeon for a year before I got into all this. You have to know your history there because people would ask you. I don’t know what it’s like now but it certainly was back in the early 2000s, when I was there, you had to know about Jack the Ripper because people would ask. It just stayed with me. Then my interest in Victorian London widened. You use bits and pieces.
Lastly, now it’s all over, how do you feel about it? Are you pleased with the results?
It’s difficult like you say, because it’s only just finished editing. I just hope people like it.