by 1883 film
When I speak to actor Shaun Evans via Zoom in early August, any notion of having a standard question and answer interview is immediately thrown out the window.
After making our introductions, Evans says he’s interested in having a nice conversation, which I happily agree with, and thus we descend into a nearly hour-long discussion about several different topics while skirting around the main thing I’m meant to be asking him about: his acting career. Evans is charismatic, warm, and inviting, and we discuss our shared love of Donna Tartt, his passion for photography, and my desire to write a novel. Throughout our conversation Evans does discuss several of his current projects, including the upcoming BBC series Vigil as well as the eighth season of his beloved ITV/PBS drama Endeavour. But in between these tidbits he encourages me to follow my dreams and we laugh so heartily that it feels like I’m talking to a friend, not someone I’ve only just met.
Evans has been acting since the early 2000s and has had notable roles in films like Being Julia and The Scandalous Lady W. He’s about to start production on the new play Manor, a dark comedy that will grace The National Theatre stage in the late Fall. We begin the conversation with a question about his somewhat sinister character in Manor, and this is what unexpectedly spurs us on our looping journey for the duration of our chat.
He excitedly shares insight about his burgeoning career as a director and what it was like to film the intense thriller that is Vigil. Ultimately though, I ended up learning more about him as a person than as an actor, which is something I hope his fans will enjoy as much as I did. Yes, Shaun Evans is immensely talented—his quiet mannerisms and thoughtful acting choices immediately draw your attention. But, perhaps more importantly, he is a genuinely kind individual who leads from a place of dedicated wonder, which is what seems to be the key ingredient to his success.
1883 Magazine spoke with Shaun Evans about a medley of subjects including, but not limited to: bookstores in London, how Annette Bening helped shape his career, and the gratification of doing what you love for a living.
I wanted to ask, first, about your role in the new play Manor. Not a lot of information is available right now other than the announcement that it’ll be in production at the National Theatre in London. But what can you tell us about your character?
It’s a new play by a writer called Moira Buffini and it’s going to be directed by their sister, Fiona Buffini. I’ve not worked at the National Theatre before, but obviously I’ve seen an enormous amount of plays there and I’ve always been dying to work there. And so, they sent me the script and I was really taken with it as soon as I read it. In fact, I was like, Yes! This is fucking brilliant! [Laughs].
[Laughs]. That’s how you want to feel, though!
Yeah! That’s always a good sign! I was like, Yes, this is fucking great! It’s about, I would say, the state of the nation. In a very humorous and dark kind of way. The setup essentially is a manor house and the lady of the manor…it kind of…I don’t want to say Agatha Christie, but it’s that kind of vibe. And there’s an apocalyptic storm raging outside, and then people sort of descend upon this house to shelter from the storm, essentially. And then my character arrives with his cohorts and he’s the leader of a Far-Right extremist group. So he comes in and sort of turns everything on its head in a very interesting, mercurial, and fascinating way. What I particularly love about it from reading…because we haven’t really started on it yet…I love that it sort of speaks to where we are now. But in a way that’s in no way heavy handed. It’s actually incredibly light, incredibly funny, but also really dark, too. So hopefully it’ll be a good experience.
When you mentioned the Far-Right aspect of your character, it definitely felt like something that’s really relevant to our time right now. But it’s reassuring that it’ll be more of a lighter tone, because obviously we have a lot of heaviness surrounding that in the news.
I also feel like when you’re holding a mirror to things, there’s no point in doing it in a way that…well, not that there’s no point, but it’s my taste that if you want something really brutal, you can turn the news on. But if you want something to really touch people, you need to bring them in in a kind of humorous way, do you know what I mean? Make them laugh, then suckerpunch them. It brings a more interesting experience, a more theatrical experience, rather than a reflective experience, in a way.
You don’t want to start off with that severity because, like you said, you’re already inundated with those sorts of things in your daily life with the news. So, it’s better to have a slight of hand where you draw them in with the humour but then you’re like, Wait!
Yeah! Exactly. You should come along when we start. We start rehearsing at the end of October and it’s on in November/December, if you fancy coming along.
That would be amazing, I would love that!
I’ll make sure there are tickets for you.
Wow, thank you! That’s incredible. I’ve never been to the National Theatre, so I would love that. I’ve only been to London once so I’d like to plan a trip back.
Oh, fuck! I thought you were like in London and that you were just from Boston!
No, I wish! I would love to live in London but it’s actually incredibly difficult to get a visa to live in the U.K.
Oh, well you should still come over!
I was actually wanting to plan a trip because there are a bunch of bookstores in London that I really want to visit.
What bookstores do you want to visit?
I have such a big list! I’m a really big reader, and I only did the sort of tourist-y things the first time I went to London, so I want to make sure I hit all the bookstores this time around…see a show…
I love London because it has so much going for it. There’s always so much going on. Sometimes I think, God, I feel exhausted by this place but then I’m like…you can go and do anything. There’s so many amazing, interesting things you can do. And even little adventures as you walk down the street. I feel like London is such an awesome, alive place in many ways. But listen, I’m a big reader too, so what bookstores do you want to visit? And what are your favorite books? If I’m putting you on the spot, it’s okay.
[Laughs]. No, it’s totally fine! I definitely want to go to John Sandoe Books.
Ahhhhh, I used to live on that road! That’s my favorite bookstore in London!
That’s amazing! I’ve seen so many pictures and it looks so beautiful.
It’s the best. I love it. I love that place. Have you been to Shakespeare and Co. in Paris?
No, but that’s also on my list!
[Laughs]. Of course it is! But this [John Sandoe Books] is kind of cut from the same cloth. But John Sandoe’s is way less tourist-y. It’s just…rickety and magnificent. It’s a really fantastic place.
I love a rickety staircase.
Especially when they’re covered in books. Piled high with books.
I would probably have to spend eight hours there.
And all your wages! [Laughs].
[Laughs]. I would spend all my money.
And you’ll have to pay for your heavy luggage on the way back! [Laughs].
[Laughs]. I know! I’ll have to ship stuff out from London like, “Can I just pay hundreds of pounds to send these boxes back to the States?”
And they’ll be like, “You could have just picked it up on Amazon”.
It’s about the experience, though!
What I love about a place like that is when you get to know…I lived near there for about four years and then I moved, but what I love about old places like that is once they get to know you and sort of know your tastes, I kind of like that they’ll say Oh, this is coming out! I think you might like this! Do you know what I’m saying?
It’s better than Amazon saying, Hey you bought this book, you’ll probably like this one. It’s more personal, because a person can pick out the nuances of what you like.
Exactly! And even if you think the book is not good, or it’s not for you, I love being able to say that afterwards and actually be able to have a discussion with someone. You can be like, Thank you for recommending it, but I wasn’t so taken with it for this reason and then it becomes a weird book group. And that’s what I love about London.
You start a book club by accident because everyone overhears you talking about something.
Totally, totally! That’s cool, man.
What’s your favorite book?
What’s my favorite book of all time?
Of all time.
In my top three at least would be “One-Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez. What I love about it is…we share a birthday. Take from that what you will. [Laughs]. What I love about it is…I can come back to it anytime and pick it up again and find something new. And I also feel like when I read it that there’s no sentence which is spared. I feel like each sentence is like a wave that’s like crashing on the shore, and each one is adding to the next, and each one is building on the next and building on the one previous. So, when it comes to the end it’s like…it’s been a full experience…a really full on, incredible experience. I love it. It’s one of my favorite books. What’s yours?
Mine would be “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt.
Oh, she’s fucking amazing, isn’t she?
When you were describing all of that, that’s also how I feel about “The Secret History” because every detail matters. It seems like it wouldn’t because it’s such a dense book, but when you get to the end and you reveal everything, you realize that she just perfectly wrote everything so it all came together. And it’s immersive, and it’s creepy, and I love it. It’s my favorite.
I think she herself is kind of extraordinary. Have you read “The Goldfinch”?
Yes! Weirdly enough, I started with “The Goldfinch” and loved it, thought it was incredible, and then wanted to go back and read her other work. She has another book, “The Little Friend”, I don’t know if you’ve read that?
I’ve not read it yet!
It’s probably not as good as the other two.
That’s good to know actually. She’s such an extraordinary writer. I feel like…and this is so rare but so amazing when you do get it, but when you read something and you’ve felt everything there with those people. I was totally there, I was totally present. That is an extraordinary thing when you think about it, right? Someone has sat at their kitchen table or wherever they’re sitting…at their desk…and they’re just putting words on paper but it’s translated and makes you feel something and you go on an experience. And I feel like that with Donna Tartt. Her work is…I started to watch videos of her on YouTube…weird [laughs] but she takes years to write her books, doesn’t she?
She takes ten years to write them! Which is incredible. I wish that’s all I had to do — to be able to just take ten years to write a book and that’s all I had to do for money, for creativity, for life.
Do you write novels?
I’m trying. [Laughs]. Trying being the operative term. I’ve started, but it’s sort of a matter of making time for it, putting the work into it. I write for a living now, so sometimes it’s hard to do, like, journalism all day and then still feel creatively inspired to write for myself.
You have to do it. Because only you can. If it means setting your alarm at 5:00 a.m. and writing until 8:00 a.m. every morning before you have to start your day’s work, you’ve got to do it. Because life is short, and you don’t know what genius and brilliance is lurking away…that you don’t even know yourself, do you know what I mean? It’s so important to do your work. So, please do that.
I appreciate you saying that, thank you. I want to make the time for it because I want to grow old, hopefully, and not look back and think I should have done that because, what else am I doing with my time? What’s more important than doing what I want to do?
Totally. That’s why I think it’s important to get up super early and like, knick an hour or two hours or three hours for yourself where you’re like….make it your sacrosanct where you’re like, I’m not answering any phone calls, I’m not answering any emails, I’m doing my thing.
You do have to block the world out.
You have to be selfish! But I think it’s worth it because it’s your work, it’s important.
Thank you for saying all of that. And obviously that approach is paying off for you in so many ways, because you’re not just acting but you’re directing and producing, which I think is incredible that you’re able to pursue all these passions simultaneously. That must be rewarding?
It is, it is! It’s really rewarding. I feel incredibly privileged with it, you know? I also think as well the more you sort of…your role as a storyteller, as an actor, you realize…this is for me, anyways, but I realize my limitations. My limitations to tell the stories I can tell, just my physical limitations. And, so, it’s good to feel like you have the agency to tell stories that don’t depend on you being able to play the part but to have an overview of something. But also, more importantly, to have your opinion and your overview taken seriously. And then to realize yourself, Oh, I actually do want to do this, I do want to do these things and I feel like that goes across most things. I take a lot of photographs as well, and it’s like going back to what you were saying about writing, I think that is, for me, one of my times where I’m really selfish. If I’m not working, if I’m not doing my work, then I’ve got my camera, I’m in the darkroom, and I’m just making sure I’m doing it. Because it’s important. And similar to what you were saying about the writing, I feel like…that’s just me. If I don’t do that, it’s not going to happen. And also…nothing is dependent on this. I’m not trying to make a living off this, I’m not trying to impress anyone, I’m just trying to make pictures that I think are interesting and capture a little bit of something in the world. That seems like a weird and sort of stupid waste of time to most people, but I think it’s one of the most important things.
Yeah, absolutely. Have you always been really interested in photography?
I have, actually. My first job was in a photography store when I was like fifteen. So, I’ve always been super…it’s always been analog though, never digital. And…yeah, I’ve always been into it. But recently I’ve printed like 20 years worth of images…some of them are just snapshots, but interesting, and others are much more abstract. What I like is to be able to take the pictures, go to the darkroom, and sit with them over a period of time, and then if you think they’re any good I can frame them and hang them on my wall or I can give them to friends. But I like that I’ve built up a community of photographers around me as well whose work I really admire, and we can share images and you can learn in that way. I learned from these guys, and ladies, and learned without the pressure of anything.
Do you still use only analog now? Or have you gotten into digital photography, too?
I’m actually more analog than ever, to be honest with you. I shoot one color and one black and white. I’m much more black and white now.
I love black and white photography!
Me too, me too! Because I feel like people look at black and white more closely than they do at color photography. There’s a degree of…I like many, many different types of photographs, but what I like about black and white is that I feel like it’s from my memory sometimes where I see images or from your subconscious, because they’re not as pin sharp as digital.
It’s a little imperfect because you’re paying attention to the details, but it doesn’t have to be as crisp or in focus. You can go with the flow of whatever you’re seeing at the moment.
Exactly. It can be natural, but you’re not trying to replicate life in a way. You’re just saying, this is what I see right now and things might be out of focus, but in a way that’s kind of a good thing. And also, I think with film, it leaves a little bit of room for like a bit of voodoo. There might be a light leak or something, which I always think is an interesting thing because then when you’re developing you’re like, Oh, bloody hell, I can see that! but it adds to it in a way and reminds me of a memory or a dream that I’ve had or something from my subconscious that doesn’t depend on being super sharp because it never really is. There’s something about it that I get a monster kick out of, yeah.
I think that’s incredible. I’d love to see the photos, I bet they’re amazing.
Some of them are cool. I mean, again, they’re kind of a bit abstract in a way. I went to France just before the lockdown and went to this place of holy pilgrimage where I just checked into a hotel…but again, this is kind of going back to what I was saying to you earlier about getting up early and doing your work as a writer, because I was just writing some stuff down and was like, It could be interesting to go to this place and check into a hotel and see. Because the story of it is that a hundred years ago, this girl…do you know the story of Lourdes?
No, I’ve actually never heard of it before.
It’s complex but…not that I’m a religious person, but I just find people interesting, you know? So, basically this girl was…I think she was sixteen, and she claimed to have had a vision of the Holy Mother who had told her to dig on a particular spot. And everyone in the village was like, Come on. But this apparition kept appearing to her, so she started to dig, and then on that spot a well sprung and then it became…she became a Saint, even though she died really early, and then from the spring, in the Catholic faith, people go to be cured. And so people believe that it’s got curative properties. So I thought it might be interesting to go to France and to take some photographs, collect the water from the spring, bring it back to the darkroom and then make the prints with the water, just to see. And then you’ve taken the physical elements of that space and tried to put them into your work and make them something else. And see what could happen.
I think that’s an incredible idea. Not only that you were going there, but that you were using the water from there as well.
Yeah, the physical elements of it. Last weekend there was this mountain climb in Ireland, so again it’s kind of spur of the moment so I went and checked into a hotel and there’s this mountain that people climb and it was even…like, Pagans used to do it. We’d climb at a place called Croagh Patrick, and sometimes people would even do it in their bare feet. And you get to the top of the mountain and depending on how the weather is you can either see for miles, or you’re sort of in the clouds and it’s white, it’s just a white out, and you’ve got figures moving around and saying prayers and laughing and joking. But it’s a very strange and unusual place. But again, I did the same—I took a bag of film with me, took my camera, took a bunch of photographs, and there’s a stream that comes down so I was like…Got my bottle of water, drank it, then filled it with water from the stream and came back and put that water in the dark room. So, I’m going into the dark room next week to see what comes of that. But I think it’s like…when I’ve got time where I’m not doing acting or directing, you have to pay attention to things and think, Oh that could be an interesting thing to go and do. Because you’re just doing your thing. And also, at the same time, I’m trying to train my eye so that when I’m coming back to storytelling…
You’ve got a different perspective. Because you’ve creatively opened how you’re viewing things.
Exactly, exactly. And also you’re doing your work but in a far less pressured way and more of a Let’s see what happens if we go on this journey sort of way. Which I really dig.
That must be helpful to you in terms of when you’re directing. Because now, when you’re looking through a lens and seeing how things organically come together, it’s probably easier, right? I know you have to stick to specific scenes and things when you’re directing for Endeavour, but…
Exactly. I think that’s the art of directing though is how you shoot those things. That is, for me, what separates it. It certainly adds to that. You should educate your visual eye. And the more work you do, the more you’re getting to know your tastes, what you actually feel about things, what you like and what you dislike and what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.
Everything you try isn’t going to be successful or give you that same fuzzy feeling when you’re like, Oh I’ve got something right!
For sure, for sure. I also think the great thing is you can balance it out. You’ve done your work, your photography work, and that’s just for you. But then you have to fit yourself to the project if you’re working as director, you have to be mindful of what the product you’re trying to make is. So, you can’t be like, I wanna do it all! It’s not going to work if you shoot it.
PBS is gonna be like, Yeah…I don’t know about all this. [Laughs].
Who said we’d let him direct?!
Put him back in front of the camera! It’s funny to hear you talking about photography like this because I actually interviewed Lauren Lyle and she was saying that when you guys were filming Vigil that she was doing a ton of photography on set and that it’s something she’s really interested in, too.
Our paths didn’t cross because I was only on the submarine in Vigil.
I know, I was very interested in that because when I spoke to her, she could say so little about what was going on. I was actually able to see a preview of the show thanks to the BBC, which was very exciting, but what was that like for you to film? It’s obviously an extensive cast but like you’re saying, you’re on the submarine so you’re completely separate from the cast on land.
I really looked at….you know, to be honest with you, it just felt really joyful. Coming from Endeavour where you’re wearing a lot of hats to come and do this, and be like, I’m simply going to come in and just do my acting work, and then I’m gonna leave. Like, I’m going to be part of this group but I’m not going to be. I’m going to take responsibility only for my work and be a part of a team rather than feeling like you have to lead something. So, I wanted to just enjoy the very simple act of acting, again, to be honest with you. And so, which is a joyous life, can be a joyous life. But, you have to feel free to do so. I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed being part of the team on the submarine because it felt very much like a team, and also the part I was playing which, is the coxswain, he sort of stands between the officers and the crew in a way and sort of liaises between the two, he’s got to have a foot in both camps. I got to have a relationship with both the officers and also with the crew, and so that meant I got to hang with everyone on the submarine. And I was really blown away by everyone…by many, many things on production, but the young actors from Scotland who were more , ike, at the beginning of their careers, were so fucking ace and so full of enthusaism. It was just delightful. And to also work with the more established actors who were coming in, doing their work, and being brilliant. And the directors as well, it was nice to come in and watch…that’s the great privilege, and it’s rare too, to be able to watch the directors work. So, I can sit and watch them in a very easy way and ask them questions and see how they do things. How each different director does things. James [Strong] and Isabelle [Sieb] both of whom I admire as a director, who directed the first and second blocks. It was great to be able to see their work, you know?
It’s nice that they facilitated an environment where you could feel comfortable asking questions and why they made the artistic choices they made. It must be such an interesting filming experience because…it feels cramped, when you’re watching it. It feels claustrophobic on the ship.
The set was like that! It was like that. It was vast in a way that was incredibly detailed and enabled you to shoot in a very narrow and condensed, claustrophobic way, so it was an extraordinary set, so I have to pay tribute to those guys. But, to go back to the director thing. I would never ask them, Why did you do this? Tell me about it. Because, as a director, you don’t want to feel like people are breathing down your neck. So I would simply observe them.
You’re not like, What’s going on here? [Laughs]
[Laughs] Excuse me, before we go on, why are you doing that? Is that a wise choice?
They’re sweating, like Uhhhh…
And it’ll be my last job as an actor as well!
You’re getting fired from everything. Now you have to do photography full time because they’re like, This guy is overly excited…[Laughs].
[Laughs]. That’s me, jack of all trades, master of none!
The show feels tense when you’re watching it, so it’s nice to know it wasn’t that type of environment when you were filming it.
It feels very claustrophobic, and I’m a little bit claustrophobic anyways. But it feels that way, I think, which is what I imagine submarines do feel. So, it’s good, I’m glad that comes across. But, on set, I always think it’s important to have a laugh and to not feel pressured. You have to feel free in order to do your best work. You have to feel like you can have a laugh, do your thing, make mistakes, and hopefully something interesting will happen. If it’s a pressure cooker atmosphere, that won’t work.
Because then you’re going to feel like everything is being scrutinized, and you’re not going to feel like you have the creative freedom to play off someone in a scene. Or, someone might bring something to the scene that you weren’t expecting, and you should be able to react to that freely.
That’s the hope, right? That everyone will bring something. But you have to be open to receiving that. So then you can go, Oh that’s amazing and react to it. But if it’s pressured where it’s, Do this, stand there, say this, it can become a tedious thing and it wasn’t that way on Vigil, mercifully.
I always feel like my favorite scenes in movies and things are the ones that sort of feel unscripted, where someone is just playing off whoever they’re with. So, it’s good when you have the ability to do that in your own work.
That starts with the directors. And I completely agree. I always look for those and I think that’s the most interesting behavior, and one of the most interesting things to watch, if you just leave the camera on people and let them be actors and let them do their thing. Their own little thing, in their own private moment, where they can pretend they’re not being looked at, where it’s beyond scripted things. That’s where I think the non-verbal communication can reveal so much about our business. It’s kind of fascinating.
Do you feel like you have that same experience when you’re on Endeavour?
I think it’s always important to go through your script to highlight the, for me at least, to highlight the moments which are incredibly important for you from an emotional point of view, you know? Which may on the surface not seem that way, but actually where you can open up that doorway, and reveal something about the inner world of your character, rather than just getting on with the plot. I’ve always tried to make it my mission to do that both as an actor and when I’m working as a director as well, to try and make it that way because… on the one hand, you’ve got something where each scene needs to lead to the next in order for the plot of the story to work, but actually how we feel about each other, how I feel about a certain thing, the topic, how I feel about myself….All of those things are actually what are interesting to watch.
It’s the characters that make it and their interactions. I feel like as a viewer, it’s amplified when it feels real, like when it feels like somebody is really responding to something or you can see it just by a facial expression, how they’re responding to something. I definitely think your plot could be great, but if the characters aren’t sort of living in it and contributing to it, it’s not the same viewing experience.
I completely agree. I completely agree. And so, I mean with some filmmakers, you know, I’ve worked with some filmmakers. That is the style. But it’s not my taste. My taste is to, like…I want to see people doing things that I can, if not relate to, understand them on some level. And believe that they are that person, in that thing, having that experience.
When I watch certain actors perform sometimes, I’m just like, Oh, it’s that person. You don’t believe they’re the character and then it pulls you out of the experience.
I mean, it’s tricky. Very early on, I had the enormous good fortune of working with a terrific actor called Annette Bening. She is always alive when she works. The work is always incredibly alive. To me, and, and she’s different in everything that she does and so I always believe she is that person having that experience, you know? I think her work is extraordinary and I worked with her when I was in one of my first jobs actually, and that’s something to aspire to. That is what it means to be an actor.
She’s so convincing in everything. Even something like the way she’ll squint her eyes to emphasize something, you’re immediately drawn into it. You’ve focused on her.
Sometimes you watch movies and you’ve got movie stars who can be dazzling, and that’s not me, but that’s kind of cool, too. But I think Annette is kind of amazing. I don’t know how we got onto that, but it’s good. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. Well I was going to ask if there was a specific actor or performer who made you want to get into acting yourself, so that was good timing.
I think I was 21 or 22 when I worked with her. So, it was like my first year of working. And I remember thinking…I had so much to learn, to be honest. On that piece of work I thought, Wow, she’s so in control of her shit. Like, both as she conducts herself on set but also in her work, too. I thought that was really something. For you as a writer, is there anyone you see where you’re like, That’s exactly what I want?
Oh gosh. Yes, Joan Didion. That is the perfect career because she’s done everything. She’s done nonfiction, fiction, screenwriting, all things I’m interested in pursuing. There’s such an honesty to her work you would never mistake it for somebody else. Like you would read something and be like, Yeah that’s Joan Didion’s voice. Everything she does is incredible. She’s just authentic in who she is and how she views the world and that comes through in her writing, which I admire.
For sure, for sure, but I also think it is about sharpening your tools and making sure that every day, you’re doing your work. And so, you have your technical facilities which can serve your own true voice. Going back to what you were saying at the beginning, about the novel you want to write, and my photography work as well, it feels like those, all of them, it all adds to you being able to speak to your work.
I totally understand what you’re saying. Because if you hone your technical skills, you’re able to more easily express yourself through that medium. If I’m struggling to write a sentence, I’m not going to get out what’s in there.
Totally, exactly. And something that’s going to kind of hit people. And not just once, but repetitively, so every time you do your work, like what you were saying about Joan Didion, regardless of what the genre of work is, that each time you have the same profound effect.
I think that that’s all I would want. I would want to be the type of writer, like if you read something that I wrote, you would feel it, or you would feel like, Oh I’ve experienced that, I feel recognized. I think that would be…I wouldn’t care about anything else. I wouldn’t care if I made money from it, it would just be gratifying to know it spoke to someone.
Listen, I know that’s gonna happen. And I wish you all the best with that.
Thank you so much, I appreciate that. It’s nice to have the support and encouragement.
I’m sure. I’ve no doubt, no doubt. But, also, isn’t that a common thing even historically when you think of like, the French writers, they would be happy just eating a baguette in a garage as long as someone is like, That’s an amazing piece of work that you’ve done.
I feel like nothing else would ever compare to that. No amount of money or luxury. I wouldn’t want to be rich for the sake of being rich. I don’t want to sell out.
But you would be rich, that would make you rich, in a different sense.
[Points to chest] I’d be rich in here, absolutely. And that matters more than the bank account.
For sure. I completely agree. Oh, that’s exciting! I wish you all the best with that.
Thank you so much! I really do appreciate you. I’ll send you a copy of the book when I’m done writing it.
Please do! That’ll be great. I’ll buy it at John Sandoe’s!
[Laughs]. That would be incredible! Take a picture of it and send it to me like, It’s in John Sandoe’s! That would be perfect. I don’t want to keep you too long, but I wanted to ask about the new season of Endeavour. What can you tell me about it?
For sure. We finished it two weeks ago. Well, I finished all my post production on it two weeks ago. And I think it’s really…I’m really pleased with it. I think it’s not difficult, but it’s a challenge, when you do something repetitive to keep it new and fresh. My feeling was that this should be a sort of emotional turmoil that we can hit on in a way here which is a facet that we’ve not seen before. So I was very determined that we could incorporate that into it. And that’s not about necessarily shifting plots but it’s about how we tell the stories. So I directed the first one and then we had a terrific film two and film three director, and each of the stories is obviously separate but over it, you get to see where I am at in it, where Endeavour is at in the story. And I feel like we’ve been pleased with the way we’ve done that. My hope is that people enjoy it when they see it. But I think yeah, we’ve pushed ourselves to…I mean, apart from the whole COVID thing…I feel like we’ve pushed ourselves to make three very interesting, topical, and completely different visual films in this series. Yes, it’s been an amazing experience.
It’s nice that you were able to start it off by directing, and that you didn’t do anything so crazy that they just took the camera away from you. [Laughs].
[Laughs]. Quite the attempt! I chained myself behind the camera, so.
You’re like, I’m fine, I’m fine, I just needed to get it out of my system! [Laughs].
[Laughs]. All right guys, come on, please?!
[Laughs]. Totally throw your entire reputation away. They’re gonna be like, So, he’s gonna be recast for season 9…
[Laughs]. And could you lose our phone number, please? Trying to call them like, Hey, I’m Endeavour! And they’re like, Not anymore!
[Laughs]. Everyone can be replaced! You’re just muttering in your dark room like, I used to be an inspector once.
[Laughs]. Like, I much preferred photography anyway. As I just do some interesting self-portraits.
As long as you don’t cut your ear off, you’ll be totally fine! [Laughs].
Can you imagine?
Terrible, but hilarious.
[Laughs]. Terrible but hilarious, yeah!
Vigil starts on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on Sunday 29 August, continuing with episode two on the Bank Holiday Monday, 30 August, at 9pm. It will then continue on Sundays at 9pm through September
Endeavour will be returning to ITV this September
Manor will be at The National Theatre from November – more info and tickets here www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/manor
Interview Sam Cohen
Photographer By Pip
Grooming: Charlie Cullen using Benny Hancock
Styling: Way Perry at The Wall Group
Vigil - BBC Media Centre
Please tell us about Glover.
Elliot Glover is the coxswain on HMS Vigil. It’s a role that sits and liaises between the highest-ranking officers on board and the rest of the crew, so Glover has to straddle both worlds on the submarine. At the beginning of the series someone aboard the ship - and I won’t say who - needs disciplining, which is a job for Glover, and then a couple of hours later that person is found dead. As a result, a detective (Amy Silva, played by Suranne Jones) is flown aboard the submarine to investigate. The subsequent investigation by her unearths a whole world of simmering tension and hidden agendas.
In terms of Glover’s personal life, there’s not a lot I can say without ruining a few twists for you, but it’s safe to say he’s got a secret! When we meet him at the start of the series he’s onboard Vigil working away from his family - his wife and child - for 90 days, which could potentially turn into 180 days.
What made you say yes to the role?
Three things, really. I liked the script - it’s fast-paced, has loads of scale, and Tom Edge and the team have done a terrific job. The concept is so interesting, it’s essentially a locked-room murder mystery, in a way that we’ve not seen done before.
Additionally, I’m a big fan of the shows World Productions make, and I’d really admired James Strong’s work previously and knew him socially a bit, so was keen to work with him. Any one of these things would have been enough to get me interested, but all three combined meant Vigil was something I really wanted to be a part of.
As you say, Glover’s job sees him spend months on end aboard the submarine away from home. Could you cope?
I could not think of anything worse! Freedom is the best thing, right? The freedom to go and take a walk, get a cup of coffee, get away from people. The idea of not being able to do that or to even step outside to get a breath of fresh air? It is my idea of hell.
Did you do any research?
I spoke to some guys in the Navy who put me in touch with some submariners - one of whom was a Coxswain - and I spent a good bit of time chatting to them, to find out what their jobs entailed and what was required. Plus, importantly, to find out what kind of person is attracted to that role, because I think if you’re doing it 24/7 then there must be certain common traits or qualities required to do it well. I was intrigued by what the common elements might be, and I think the key one is that you really do have to get along with people.
For the coxswain especially, you have to be available to others - to be friendly, upbeat, able to rub along well with others - and definitely not a loner. There’s a real diplomatic quality required as well, in order to be able to straddle both worlds and liaise regularly between all ranks on board.
The submariners I spoke to were just really fun, interesting guys, and by speaking to them I got a sense of the camaraderie between them, and what it must be like to do that job.
I was really struck by the pride they all take in the work they do, too. The job they fulfil is not taken lightly, and I’m always interested in people whose life is vocational, whether artists or armed forces, for instance. I was really struck by that. Plus what it takes to be away from your family for that amount of time, voluntarily. You can miss so much while you’re away at sea - your kids being born, loved ones passing away, major life events.
On set we worked with an ex-submariner who would advise on the practical elements, such as where we’d stand. There has to be some artistic licence of course, but at the same time accuracy was taken seriously.
What was HMS Vigil set like to film on?
Incredible! The designer had done a terrific job, because it was huge in scale but the details were so incredibly specific and intricate. Working on it was fantastic. And, bearing mind that we started filming before Covid, by some miracle and a lot of hard work from the team we were still able to film on the set after filming resumed, in a way that makes it look like we’re still confined to tiny corridors with a huge crew.
I’ve really got to pay tribute to James Strong and Isabelle Sieb for that too. Having an amazing set is great, but you have to be able to shoot it in a way that’s imaginative and interesting, and they both did that. The idea that you can get a crane shot on a submarine is wild to me and I was so impressed. I was blown away by every department, but the design of the ship is extraordinary.
It was a fun place to work in every day, a real laugh. Everyone really bonded as a team in the same way that you’d imagine we would on a real submarine, without watering down their personalities. And that’s all of us across the cast, from the established actors to the younger ones early on in their careers. I was blown away with their enthusiasm. So yes, the design was absolutely terrific, but it’s also about how you shoot and inhabit the set as well. It’ll look great on screen.
Finally, why do you think people should watch Vigil?
It’s a fantastic story, well told. Simple as that!
Shaun Evans attended the British Film Institute Southbank premiere screening of the new BBC drama "Vigil" yesterday, August 23, 2021 in London. The screening was followed by a Q&A with Edith Bowman, Suranne Jones, Tom Edge and, of course, Shaun.
By Fiona Sturges for Financial Times
The ‘Endeavour’ star on his new series playing the young Morse, his directing stints and his role in the submarine-set crime thriller ‘Vigil’
When Shaun Evans agreed to star in the pilot for ITV’s Inspector Morse prequel, Endeavour, he assumed it would be a one-off; that was nine years ago. Last month, the actor finished work on the eighth series of the show, which one critic deemed as “comforting as cheese on toast”.
Endeavour — the title refers to the protagonist’s seldom-mentioned first name — follows the fortunes of the young Morse, a policeman and opera lover already displaying the dourness for which his older self, played by the late John Thaw, is famous. It’s a classy and engaging murder mystery steeped in nostalgia. Even now, Evans — who is also an associate producer and occasional director of the series — can’t believe they’re still making it.
“It’s totally unexpected but life is like that, and I’m glad it’s lasted so long,” he says. Endeavour is commissioned on a yearly basis, which means, on finishing one series, the cast and crew have no idea whether they will be making another. “That we keep getting invited back to make more I take as a good sign. As long as there’s still a story to be told, and we can push ourselves and improve what we’ve done before, I am happy to do more.”
It is mid-July when we meet at his agent’s office in Soho, London, which, as signified by the dead plants lining the windowsills, has stood empty since the first lockdown. Endeavour isn’t the only major series Evans has in the works. He is soon to appear in Vigil, a smart and tense new BBC crime thriller also starring Suranne Jones, Line of Duty’s Martin Compston and Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie.
It sees Jones’s police detective, Amy Silva, dispatched via helicopter to a submarine off the coast of Scotland to investigate a suspicious death on board. Evans plays Chief Petty Officer Elliot Glover, who is the ship’s coxswain and whose job is to facilitate Silva’s investigations while keeping the secrets of the captain and senior crew members.
Evans has long been an admirer of the series’ director James Strong, who also directed ITV’s Broadchurch and Vanity Fair. “It was a really great script and I was intrigued by the idea of a locked-room mystery where no one can get off or out of this space,” he says.
The irony of working on a series set on a submarine, a place in which people live and work at intolerably close quarters, was not lost on the cast and production team. They started work on the series in late 2019 but production was paused with the first lockdown, after which they had to rethink how particular scenes were shot.
By way of research, Evans visited a naval base in Liverpool. “I hung out with some mariners, and we chatted about the kind of traits that a person who has that role would have. You need to be affable, and be able to rub along with people. You’re away for 90 days at a time, so you need to be OK with that.
“My character has a wife and child but chooses to be away from them for a large part of the year, without being contactable. I say this without judgment, but it’s an interesting choice that I don’t think I could make.”
Evans, 41, is a friendly but cautious interviewee. Little is known about his early life beyond that he grew up on the outskirts of Liverpool and, after his A-levels, went on to study at drama school. My inquiries about his life as an actor are invariably greeted by long pauses, allowing him to find the correct words while not giving too much away.
He began his career in the Channel 4 comedy Teachers, alongside Andrew Lincoln, and subsequently appeared on the TV series Ashes to Ashes, Whitechapel and Silk and, on the big screen, The Boys From County Clare, Being Julia and Telstar: The Joe Meek Story.
He has never had a career plan, and still doesn’t. When I ask “where do you see yourself . . . ” he butts in and says “I don’t” before I can finish the sentence. He doesn’t look at reviews and doesn’t read interviews either. “No offence,” he adds. “But I don’t want to be made self-conscious. I want to be free, and not feel weighed down [by what others think].”
What I do learn, on the occasions we veer off the topic of his work, is that he is a music fan — he likes John Grant and Teddy Thompson — and a big reader. When I mention that I recently read Sea State, Tabitha Lasley’s book about oil riggers, whose lives aren’t that different from submariners’, he diligently takes down the title. Evans does a bit of writing of his own on the side, as well as photography, though he is clear that these projects are for himself and not for public consumption.
He puts the enduring appeal of Endeavour down to the quality of the stories and the capacity of the viewer to engage with Morse’s character. “There’s something about telling a story in a long form that’s satisfying. You can do so much more with that than a 90-minute film, which comes and goes. The idea of seeing six years of someone’s life, I find that fascinating. I want to help shape that character. That’s the luxury that’s afforded to me in sticking with the series for so long.”
Evans says he deliberately didn’t watch Thaw’s Morse, as he wanted to come to the character fresh. He did, however, read the books on which the series is based. He and the author, Colin Dexter, who died in 2017, were close friends. Previously a teacher, Dexter had the idea of writing a crime series while holidaying in Wales in the 1970s — “and then he got a Biro and an A4 pad and just wrote it. That always blows my mind,” Evans says.
Dexter was closely involved in casting for Endeavour — “it was clear that if they didn’t find the right person [to play Morse] then it wouldn’t happen” — and vetted the early scripts, written by Russell Lewis, who also created the Morse spin-off series Lewis. “The things that he would say about the script were always the things that were troubling me too,” Evans adds. “I felt a real kinship with him.”
Storytelling, as opposed to fame or acclaim, is what drives the actor. “Everyone’s got their own brilliant little story, right?” he says. “That’s what keeps me engaged, the idea that there are so many stories and so many ways to tell them.” It is this that has led him to pursue a parallel career as a director. Before he began directing episodes of Endeavour, he worked on BBC hospital drama Casualty.
“I harangued them to give me a job. I did one episode and then, on the next break from Endeavour, instead of taking an acting job, I went back to do some more,” Evans says. “I really wanted to learn my trade . . . I don’t want to be limited by just being an actor, and by that I mean I want to be able to tell stories that don’t depend on my acting limitations. As an actor, you can feel stymied. You’re always waiting for someone’s permission to do your work.”
Does he think he will move into directing permanently? There is a long pause. “I’ve got a couple of things that I’m developing that I can’t talk about as I don’t want to jinx them,” Evans replies. “But I’m happy to be a gun for hire and act in a job if I think I can bring something to it. Ultimately, you want to feel like your work is your work. So if I’m given the opportunity to create, then that’s what I’ll do.”
‘Vigil’ begins on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on August 29; ‘Endeavour’ returns to ITV in September