BY WILLIAM MARTIN - CULTBOX
ITV1’s new adaptation of Blake Morrison’s best-selling suspense thriller The Last Weekend stars Shaun Evans (Endeavor) as disillusioned working class primary school teacher, Ian.
Written by Mick Ford (Ashes To Ashes) and directed by Jon East, the three-part mini-series unfolds over four days across one hot summer bank holiday weekend in the Suffolk countryside. The scene of what should be a relaxing break for two couples with a long shared history becomes the backdrop to a chilling nightmare that no one could forsee, except perhaps for one person.
Morrison’s themes of male competitiveness and old friendships resonate with actor Shaun Evans who plays narrator Ian and husband of Emma in The Last Weekend. Like most people, Shaun still has a core group of friends from his past that he sees from time to time and like Ian and Ollie they get together for catch-ups and weekends away, albeit
without the tragic consequences.
“You always find that no matter how life has changed friends on the outside, inside us we each have our own role within a particular group that defines us and that’s what I like about this script. The characters have known each other since their crazy days of boozing and then they go away for this weekend and what an interesting place that is to begin a story.”
“I’m still friends with a handful of people from school,’ he continues, ‘but inevitably you do move on because life happens. People get married and have kids and develop but there is still that connection from childhood or university that you can’t escape and that’s one of the themes that makes The Last Weekend so interesting and relevant,” claims Shaun.
The fundamental bedrock of Ian and Ollie’s friendship is a curious one that Shaun believes is based on a true friendship despite the intense jealousy and fierce competitiveness that exists between them.
“The relationship between Ian and Ollie is crucial to the story,’ says Shaun. “Here we have two men, with a curious posturing vibe between them that is almost sexual. There is a continuing theme of jealousy underpinning their relationship, which is sometimes at odds with them because in many ways they are two sides of the same person. Ollie seems to have everything that Ian craves – respect at work, success, status, wealth and Daisy, while Ian has nothing but disappointment, insecurity and a lack of fulfilment. Yet there is something that has kept them together for the last 20 years.”
A central theme in both the book and script that resonates throughout the drama is the resurfacing of Ian’s feelings for Daisy. Despite his relationship with Ollie, Ian has always resented him for falling in love with Daisy and what slowly reveals itself over the weekend is Ian’s delusion that in his mind, his relationship with Daisy was so much more significant than in reality it was in hers. Coupled with his own feelings of inadequacy and his and Emma’s inability to conceive, convincing beautiful Daisy, mother to Archie and partner to his ‘best friend’, that they are meant to be together, whatever the cost, becomes the focus of Ian’s weekend. That and, of course, beating Ollie at every challenge they have set each other.
“Ian believes Daisy is the love of his life and he has always held a torch for her, so when he gets to spend the weekend with her he immediately becomes obsessed,” he explains.
“When Ian realises Daisy may potentially become single again [through Ollie’s illness] in the imminent future, it drives him wild with possibility. At the core of it we’ve all had our hearts broken and feel like we haven’t been given the things that perhaps we deserve and that’s what makes us human. It’s also how we deal with those things that propel us forward in life. Ian clearly has difficulty coming to terms with his lot and despite having a loving wife and a steady job, someone else always seems to be responsible for the disappointments in his life.”
“I think Ian is aware of his flaws but his passion and desire for Daisy is stronger than everything else. I find that very interesting – the idea for him that this one other person is going to make everything ok, and the idea that if he possesses her everything will come good, well life just isn’t like that.”
Both Ford and Morrison have written Ian as a dark and complex character but Shaun insists he must find some degree of empathy in order to play him.
“It’s always interesting to play someone with another side,’ explains Shaun. “The reality is we all have a dark side and the task when you go to work as an actor is to find that duality in the character you play. In addition, most actors myself included, need to find something about the character to connect with and in Ian and Ollie we find men who are, on the surface, ordinary and likeable until we dig deeper – and we all know people like that.”
One of the highlights of the production for Shaun has been the outdoor physical elements of filming and the unpredictably that inevitably comes with the territory.
“With this particular story a lot of scenes were filmed outside and with the UK weather being the way it is – it can be problematic! So each day we never knew what we were going to be doing though luckily the sun shone on the day of the naked swim in the North Sea.”
“I’ve also loved the concept of narrating the story. It’s something I’ve never done before and there is something Shakespearian about it. It’s interesting because you can play public moments and private moments.”
Shaun has worked with Rupert twice before this project which has really helped their onscreen chemistry.
“Rupert is brilliant and we’ve worked together three times in a year. Now we’re playing two best friends who have this history so rather than meeting somebody brand new and having to make up all that backstory we were able to dive into the roles.
“In a way, the back story is there for us because there’s already a familiarity and each of us knows how the other works so it creates something new which is good and I’m really grateful for.”
Keith Watson for Metro.co.uk
From dreaming spires to mind games, Endeavour star Shaun Evans shifts pace for his latest role.
‘I don’t really think of myself as the sporty type,’ confesses Shaun Evans. ‘But I’ll have a go at anything.’ Just as well, because the fast-rising actor’s latest starring role, in psychological thriller The Last Weekend, finds him racing bikes, playing golf and dabbling in a spot of tennis – all topped off with a spot of naked swimming/wrestling in the North Sea.
Was that last prospect daunting, given that he was going bottom-to- bottom with co-star Rupert Penry-Jones ? ‘I didn’t let myself think about it,’ he says in his soft Scouse accent. ‘I just dropped my shorts and I was away. You have to trust the director not to make you look like a total t**.’
The Last Weekend marks a change of pace and age for 32-year-old Evans, last seen as the baby-faced pre-Inspector Morse in prequel Endeavour. The tale of a friendship soured by secrets and jealousy, The Last Weekend explores the fracturing relationship between two student mates whose lives have gone separate ways – one’s a primary school teacher, the other a top barrister – yet who still cling to the friendship, complete with annual sporting challenge, that defines their lives. They know they should move on but they’re stuck with who they used to be.
In real life, Evans is lean and boyish, face alight with piercing blue eyes, yet his ability to yo-yo up and down the age scale is evident in The Last Weekend. ‘It’s amazing what a few whiskers will do,’ he says. His character, troubled teacher Ian, is the narrator of the piece, speaking straight to camera as the story unfolds.
‘I like that because you get to see what’s going on in Ian’s mind,’ says Evans. ‘You’re all too aware of how self-aware he is. Here are two friends and they’re in love with the same woman, they have been for years. It leaves Ian with a feeling of failure that runs alongside his sense of competitiveness. You get to see how that plays out.’
The trick that The Last Weekend plays is to leave a question mark hanging over who is the villain of the piece. Faithful to the Blake Morrison novel from which it’s adapted, there’s a creeping sense of foreboding as Ian and Ollie (Penry-Jones) and partners gather at a crumbling country cottage on a stifling summer weekend. ‘It’s a story about who can dominate the other,’ says Evans. ‘It’s animalistic – where does that primal urge to dominate come from?’
There’s a bromance within a bromance going on, with Ian and Ollie’s relationship echoed by Evans and Penry-Jones, who also appear together in hit series Silk and Whitechapel. It was that chemistry that landed Evans the role. ‘Rupert said to me on Silk: “Do you know what you’re doing next?” He’d already signed up for The Last Weekend and thought I’d be perfect for it,’ Evans explains.
He’s been gay teacher John Paul in Teachers, Kurt Cobain on stage and the criminal cousin of Tom Hardy in The Take. But one part he didn’t think was a perfect fit was the Inspector Morse-based Endeavour. ‘I wouldn’t have seen myself in that part,’ he says candidly. ‘To be given it was a massive vote of confidence.’
Was he wary of the responsibility of filling the brogues of one of TV’s most loved characters? ‘Totally but you can’t get caught up in that. You have to bring your own take to it – and I would have been an idiot not to do it,’ he says.
It proved a smart move, with Evans’s buttoned-up Endeavour Morse winning the approval of author Colin Dexter, as well as striking a chord with a wider audience. He’s been signed up to make a further four films, due to screen next year. ‘What I liked was that it wasn’t just aimed at existing Morse fans,’ he says. ‘It was trying for a whole new audience as well.’
Intense and friendly in conversation but hard to crack, Evans seems more happy interviewing me than straying into anything too personal. Admitting he’s a Liverpool fan is about as far as it goes. Evans could be anybody, which is just the way he wants it.
The Last Weekend is on ITV1 on Sunday at 9pm.