The Actor, 35, is back on our screens in the 1960s as a young Inspector Morse in Endeavour. But his passions belong to an earlier generation.
Endeavour is back and he’s in the psychedelic 1960s. Is that an era that intrigues you?
I’m more interested in the decade before. I’m fascinated by the beat poets – Neal Cassidy, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac.
Would you like to play one of them in a drama?
If I had the choice it would be Jean Genet, the French writer who spent most of his life in prison. Or Jean-Paul Sartre. No, no...Arthur Rimbaud. He was a 19thcentury French poet who had the most incredible life. His letters are fascinating: he wrote all this amazing poetry, stopped writing really young, had his leg amputated and was dead by the age of 37. Poetry’s my thing. But I’d better stop rambling on because I’m going to sound like a pretentious w****r. Can you make me not sound like a pretentious w*****r?
I’ll do my best! What was it like returning to Endeavour ?
This is the first job where I’ve come back to the same character, It’s not necessarily any easier, you have to approach it as if it was the first time. What I love is that the show is an education. I knew next to nothing about classical music before starting. I’m no expert but it has given me an appreciation for Chopin, Debussy, stuff like that.
You play 18th century bounder Sir Richard Worsley in The Scandalous Lady W, who spied on his wife having sex. Was it fun playing the villain?
He’s a ‘bounder’ but there was more to that story than met the eye. Why was Richard the way he was? Was his wife complicit or meeting him halfway for her own ends? There’s more in the story than you could tell in one film the ménage a trois element, the relationship between Richard, Lady W and his friend (her lover) George, that could have been another film on its own.
If you could choose to live in an era of history, which one would it be?
I’d like to live in Wong Kar-wai’s version of 2046. I realise it’s fictional but that would suit me, speeding around a neon city on trains, whispering secrets into trees. Yeah.
Acting can be intense. What do you do to unwind?
With the risk of sounding like Judith Chalmers, I like to travel....being somewhere new. No phones or computer, seeing how other cultures live, how they have their coffee, or what music or food is popular, how they cook, what they believe in.......I love all that.
What is funniest thing that’s happened to you on set?
Oh man, recently enough – by the way this won’t sound funny but I’m starting to laugh thinking about it – I was in a circus tent for a scene on Endeavour, and it’s a scene where we’re summing up why the villain has done what he’s done. Anyway I don’t know happened but I couldn’t get my words out, and I could hear Roger (Allam, co-star) giggling next to me and see his shoulders moving silently up and down out of the corner of my eye...Before I knew it, I was in pieces. It was the end of the day and everyone in the crew was cold and tired, so that feeling of knowing you’ve got to pull it together makes it even worse, doesn’t it? I suppose you had to be there.
Chasing fame is a national pastime. Do you think actors need to keep a certain distance to do their job convincingly?
I do but it’s a balance because there is a responsibility to do a certain amount of press to publicise whatever it is you’ve made, and contractually you are obliged to do that. You want people to see the work you’ve done. So you have to find a middle ground of ticking that box without revealing so much about yourself that audiences find it difficult to believe you playing another part. But I’m still finding my way.
What keeps you motivated?
To be surprised is a good thing. People are endlessly surprising, don’t you think? Someone surprised me this morning. But I don’t think I should expand on that.....
Do you have any recurring dreams ?
I do but, no offence, I’m not going to share them with you. Dreams are personal, they should stay private.