Shaun Evans talks to Digital Spy about his role as a young Morse.
By MORGAN JEFFERY for Digital Spy
It's been 11 years since Inspector Morse last appeared on our screens, but now the dogged detective is back, with a brand new face! 31-year-old Shaun Evans takes over the mantle from the late John Thaw, playing a much younger Morse in '60s-set prequel Endeavour.
Digital Spy caught up with Shaun to discuss the project, how it felt to work alongside John Thaw's daughter Abigail and the new-found fame that comes with playing one of Britain's best-loved TV cops.
What is the setup for Endeavour?
"Basically, it's a story set in the '60s about a young police officer who returns to Oxford - the place where he went to university - to help solve a crime. There's a missing girl, and while he's there, he confronts a load of ghosts from his past.
"It's revealed that he got his heart broken in Oxford, failed to get his degree and left in a hurry, sort of shamefacedly. So what we get is someone who's confronting those issues, while also helping to solve the case of this missing girl."
That young officer grows up to be Inspector Morse - were you a Morse fan before signing up?
"I was aware of the character, but I'd hesitate to say that I was a fan. As soon as I got the call, I read the books and became a massive fan of them. It was only then that I began to watch the films.
"So although I'd seen them and I knew them, I hadn't really watched them, if you know what I mean. But as soon as I started reading the books, I was like, 'God, this is brilliant'. I started to wonder what kind of character they were going to make him as a youngster, who turned into this [familiar] character in his late fifties. I thought it could be really great."
How did you land the role of Morse?
"To be honest with you, I had a lot of good fortune. I'd done a job with the production company [behind Endeavour] previously and they called me directly about it. They asked me how I felt about playing it and what my ideas were.
"At that stage, I hadn't read a script and I didn't know much about it. Hence me doing so much research and reading the books before we took the meeting and before we began to speak at length about it.
"So it came about in a very straightforward way, really. Rather than reading a script and there being a bunch of people in the running for it, it was something that came my way. I was excited and picked it up and ran with it."
You have a scene with John Thaw's daughter Abigail in Endeavour...
"Yeah, that's right. She played a brilliant part of a newspaper journalist. She was fantastic. It was the first time we'd met. Apart from anything else, the work she was doing on set that day was brilliant.
"She was lots of fun, really light and worked in a way that was conducive to everyone else doing good work. There wasn't any kind of heaviness or sentimentality that she brought to set.
"It was fun - she was an actor coming to set to do a day's work, you know? And then we had the added bonus that her dad had played the part that I was playing a couple of years previous! But first and foremost, she was doing a great job."
Are you worried how fans might react to seeing someone other than John Thaw playing Morse?
"Well... you've got to suck it and see, haven't you? Check it out and if you don't like it, then turn over! But there's so many nods to stuff that's gone before, that I think it will please those fans.
"To be honest with you, my hope is that it brings a new audience to it. I don't think any of us wanted to be a slave to what had gone before. You want to... I'd hesitate to say 'reinvent', but to put your own stamp on it.
"Like I say, if people are going to be naysaying at the beginning, then that's fine, that's cool. But I hope people do enjoy it. I don't think too much about it or concern myself with it."
What do you think the core appeal of the Morse character is?
"I think, for me at least, he's someone who's lost and makes mistakes. He's very human, I think, and I think that's what differentiates him from a lot of the other detectives. He does makes mistakes, he's flawed, and it's really easy to see that.
"I think that's why people have previously latched onto him and enjoyed it so much. So it's my hope that people will continue to enjoy this interpretation of it."
Did you get a chance to meet Morse's creator Colin Dexter?
"I did, yeah - a bunch of times actually. He came to set a few times, and we met before we started filming. Colin has the final say on who plays Morse, and always has done. He was very specific about it, so we chatted a lot and got on well.
"He was kind of everything I wanted him to be - very funny, very witty and very intelligent. He was a great guy.
"He played a small part in Endeavour as well - he's kind of in the back of a shot. I know he's done that in all of the previous Morse films, so I was pleased that we honoured that."
14 million people watched the final episode of Inspector Morse - are you prepared for that level of fame?
"I didn't know that! I haven't really given it much though, to be honest, my friend. Like I say, I just hope that people enjoy what we've done. I've yet to see it myself, so it's a bit difficult to comment! But I just hope that people enjoy it."
Endeavour is a one-off for now, but would you be interesting in playing Morse again?
"Yeah, definitely. I had such a great time. Such an interesting time on it. I had a lot of fun, so if it was to come back around… but who knows? I want to see this and then I can be more accurate about it.
"But I certainly had a good time and I feel like, in terms of the story and where he's at, there's definitely room for growth. But I didn't want to think about that at the time. You can only do the task at hand, and I wanted to bring this film to life in a way that was vivid.
"If it goes well, brilliant. If it doesn't [continue], then it's still brilliant, because my hope is that we've made a great one-off. It honours what's gone before, but it's kind of something new as well. That is my intention - I just want this one to be great. And then I guess we'll see things in a new light next year…"
Shaun Evans says he wasn't intimidated by taking on the role of a young Inspector Morse.
The relatively unknown actor has stepped into John Thaw's shoes to play the massively popular TV detective in his younger days, in one-off ITV prequel Endeavour.
"It wasn't intimidating, no, it was exciting," said the 31-year-old Liverpudlian. "I think that's because I'd guessed they were looking for the right person, so I was excited they thought I could do it."
The prequel, which fans will know takes its title from Morse's closely-guarded first name, is based on a short story by Morse's creator Colin Dexter and is scripted by Russell Lewis, who wrote the Morse spin-off, Lewis.
It sees the young Morse working as a police inspector after being kicked out of Oxford University, and lays the foundations for the Morse we came to know during the original series.
Shaun explained: "You see the beginnings of all the things which made him so popular in his later period; he's struggling with women even then, struggling with work and struggling with himself, but he already has a love of classical music and crosswords, poetry, old cars and beer."
But anyone thinking the title suggests we might see a more open and carefree Morse is mistaken - as the actor revealed his character is just as curmudgeonly in his earlier years.
"It's called Endeavour, but he's very secretive about his name, even then," he said. "That was one of the things I found so interesting about him. Can you imagine being embarrassed by your first name? And having issues of letting people in and keeping everyone at arm's length? We see the beginnings of that, because only a close few get to know his name."
Endeavour is on ITV1 on Monday January 2
Morse is back!: They’re big boots to fill, but the actor playing the young Morse in a new prequel does it – and says he was just as irascible then.
By Michael Hellicar for the Daily Mail
Eleven years have passed since Inspector Morse breathed his last . And when he did, Oxford’s grumpiest policeman – with his love for crosswords, opera, real ale and his vintage red Jaguar Mark II – became the 82nd death after 33 episodes and 13 years.
‘Thank Lewis for me,’ he muttered, finally recognising his loyal sidekick’s crime-solving talent as he succumbed to a fatal heart attack. There would be no more Morse stories, declared his creator, Colin Dexter, and in any case, John Thaw, who played him, died of throat cancer two years later.
But now Morse is back on TV, looking decidedly younger but being just as curmudgeonly as ever. The fledgling Morse, played by the relatively unknown Shaun Evans, is a disgruntled detective constable in his late 20s, unlucky in love, unhappy in his job, unable to settle and unwilling to compromise. So no change there then.
The two-hour prequel, which will lead to a series if successful, is called Endeavour, his rarely used first name. At its peak, the original Morse attracted more than 18 million viewers in the UK, and the show, which began 25 years ago, was sold to some 200 countries. So taking over a role that will be for ever associated with the award-winning Thaw would be a formidable task for any actor.
Yet Shaun, 31, says, ‘I’m more excited than daunted. I’m not really following in his footsteps because I’m stepping into Morse’s life when it’s a freshly laundered sheet. If they’d tried to continue Morse from where he left off, by replacing John, it would have been an almost impossible task for anyone. But for me there’s no tradition to carry on because I’m the prototype.’
The Liverpudlian, who has also appeared in Ashes To Ashes and Inspector George Gently, is tall, dark, skinny and brimming with enthusiasm – the antithesis of Morse as we knew him. But Shaun says, ‘You won’t get any big surprises with young Endeavour. The back story is still the same: dropped out of university after a love affair went wrong. Spent two years in the Army. Joined the police by default, but can’t take to the discipline and routine. Even in those early days, he’s still a loner.’
In the new episode, set in 1965, Morse is on the point of handing in his resignation when he’s dispatched from his police station in rural Oxfordshire into Oxford itself to join the hunt for a missing schoolgirl. He takes lodgings for the temporary assignment, arriving by bus carrying his small collection of opera music and a cheap record player.
In later years, of course, Morse would have a state-of-the-art stereo to play discs from his vast library. The only Jaguar he gets to drive is a police car but there is a nod to the future when Endeavour has to make some inquiries at a used-car garage.
Shaun says, ‘I see this beautiful red Jaguar Mark II, and I’m sorely tempted, but a detective constable’s pay wouldn’t stretch to a car like that. And there’s a nice touch. The registration number is 248 RPA – it’s the exact car that Morse will drive in later years. In real life it’s had a couple of owners since Morse finished in 2000, but we tracked it down to make a guest appearance, and it looks as good as ever.’
Morse fans will see other pointers to the way the young Endeavour will turn out. Attending his first postmortem, he faints when the pathologist gets to work with his scalpel. ‘This was just the start,’ says Shaun. ‘Even in latter years Morse would be squeamish around dead bodies and try to avoid looking at a corpse.’
Endeavour is taken out by his boss, DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), who tells him he needs a beer to steady him after his collapse in the mortuary. ‘But I don’t drink, sir,’ he protests. Yet being forced to swallow the pint sparks the beginning of Endeavour’s interest in real ale. Morse fans will spot Colin Dexter making his usual cameo appearance in this scene, while several directors of original Morse episodes get a mention in Endeavour because some characters have been named after them.
Another link with the original show is that Thaw’s actress daughter Abigail, from his first marriage to Sally Alexander, plays a journalist. ‘There was no getting away from the history of Morse,’ says Shaun. ‘It was touching, and sentimental, to have Abigail there and, if possible, to get her blessing for putting my own stamp on the part her father made famous.’
When he was offered the role, Shaun realised he didn’t know much about Morse. ‘I’d seen a few episodes on TV but hadn’t read any of the books. So I read everything I could and tried to see what made the man tick. I found someone brilliant at his job, but not very good with his life. He wanted desperately to make every thing work – his relationships with women in particular, and his need for friends – but he had failed. And that’s what so endeared Morse to viewers.
'He was human, with flaws. He was moody, difficult, taciturn and stubborn in his later years, and now we see he was no happier when younger. His life isn’t complete and probably never will be, and he knows it. He can’t find his place in the world. He’s asking himself, “Am I in the right job? Is Oxford the right place for me?”
‘I decided that if I was being asked just to do an impression of Morse then I wouldn’t be interested in the role. It didn’t make sense to have me play a part in the same way someone else had years earlier. But there was no conflict; it was agreed I should give young Morse a life of his own.’
And that new life might continue – at the end of the show there’s a line that suggests Endeavour could develop into a full series. DI Thursday offers the young man a job with him as they drive past Oxford’s dreaming spires. ‘The world’s long on academics, Morse,’ he observes, ‘but woefully short of good detectives.’
ITV's 'Endeavour' imagines the early years of Oxford sleuth Inspector Morse. Olly Grant meets its star.
Liverpool-born actor Shaun Evans was under no illusion of the daunting task he faced stepping into the shoes of the late John Thaw. Last August, 31-year-old Evans was unveiled as the face of ITV’s Inspector Morse prequel, Endeavour – the title referring to Morse’s long-hidden Christian name – which airs on Monday, marking the 25th anniversary of the original series.
Set in 1965, it sees Colin Dexter’s beloved sleuth transformed into a younger version of the Morse we knew from 1987 until 2000. A rookie cop. A teetotaller. A proto-Morse. And a disillusioned one, on the brink of resigning from the force. “You find him at a point where he’s like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this any more,’ ” says Evans. Until, that is, a murder case sets him on the road to, well, everything that follows.
News of the prequel catapulted Evans from rising star (best known for gangster drama The Take) to object of mainstream scrutiny. Fan reaction, though, was mostly disapproving – not of Evans so much as the toying with Morse’s legacy. “IS NOTHING SACRED???” read a typical tweet. Evans didn’t go online to read them. “That’s not my bag,” he says. But anyway, he adds, why be cowed? “You just have to get on with it.”
Seated in his on-set caravan, Evans shows me his character’s jacket, bought from a period clothes shop in London’s Ladbroke Grove. “It’s an original 1960s Burton suit,” he says proudly. “It took me five hours to find,” which says something about his eye for detail. A singular dedication to a correct outcome. Now, who does that remind you of?
Morse fans can take comfort in the knowledge that Dexter had a hand in Endeavour. Following a short story he wrote for a newspaper in 2008, Dexter was asked to consider a TV version. Dexter said yes. And though he didn’t pen the script (that fell to Russell Lewis, who had previously written episodes of both Morse and its spin-off Lewis), he did approve Evans’s casting, and also wangled his trademark cameo.
In fact the film is rammed with intertextual nods and winks. We meet The Car: a black Mark 1 Jag rather than the burgundy Mark 2. And we watch Endeavour Morse have his first beer, solve crosswords and recoil at corpses – Morse being famously squeamish. The Morse-Lewis coupling is also reworked, with Endeavour playing understudy to DI Fred Thursday (The Thick of It’s Roger Allam). There’s even a reference to Thaw himself (who died in 2002) via his actor daughter, Abigail, who plays a journalist.
Evans hopes all the references won’t be seen as de trop. “You have to pay attention to those things because you want to please the audience,” he explains. “But you have to want to do your own thing with it as well.” Did he ask Dexter for pointers? “Not really.” He thinks for a second. “It’s like any job. You don’t want someone telling you how to do it. I need to find out for myself.” Pause. “I’m not being overconfident. But if I was to go cap-in-hand to everyone who had an opinion, I’m not paying attention to my own.” While he devoured old episodes, he was determined not to simply replicate Thaw: “I certainly wasn’t copying any walks, talks or tics.”
One thing Evans did borrow from Thaw, though, was his intensity. Allam, who once appeared in a 1997 episode of Morse, thinks this was one of Thaw’s gifts. “There was always the sense of a rich interior thought process,” he says, and he thinks Evans captures this too.
Has Evans absorbed Morse’s pedantic qualities? I ask it jokingly, but Evans considers carefully. “He’s a big thinker, and I’ve been thinking about things more,” he says. “You end up taking on a predominant atmosphere of whatever that person is like.” For example, he says, three years ago he played Kurt Cobain in the play, Kurt and Sid. “It was only afterwards that I thought, God, I’ve gone absolutely mad.”
The question is: will viewers now see Morse through the prism of Evans? ITV certainly hope so, since the concept would translate naturally to a series. But Evans thinks Endeavour can stand alone. “Listen, I hope previous generations enjoy it as much as the original. But my hope is that we get a new generation of people who enjoy this one film, too.”
BY WILLIAM MARTIN - CULTBOX
Shaun Evans will star as the young Endeavor Morse in ITV1’s Endeavour next month, marking the 25th anniversary of the very first episode of Inspector Morse.
Written by Russell Lewis (Lewis, Kavanagh QC), the one-off drama is set in 1965 and follows the hunt for a missing schoolgirl which draws Endeavour Morse back to the place which will ultimately shape and define his destiny – Oxford.
Liverpool born Shaun Evans was under no illusion of the task that faced him when he decided to step in to the iconic shoes of John Thaw. Rather than impersonate a younger version of Morse, Evans was keen to put his own stamp on the character and produce a performance that not only complemented what had gone before but would also make the role his own.
How did you feel when you got the call about playing the young Inspector Morse?
“Intrigued and delighted. I didn’t know much about the project beforehand – I mean I knew about Inspector Morse but I wasn’t familiar with the books, or to be honest, the films. Nonetheless I thought it was incredible for them to call me about a project so big – so I was really excited.
“I then ordered all the books and really got a good grasp of Morse’s character. I think I’d read them all before the script had even arrived! “
So you really did your research then…
“I wanted to make a real effort with Endeavour, not that I don’t with my other roles but there’s such a rich history with Morse. I was working in America at the time and my agent called me and said, Mammoth Screen have been in touch and want to know how would you feel about playing the young Morse?
“I thought if someone has gone out of their way to approach me about this then I should honour that. So I read all the books and the script so I could be fully prepared for my meeting with the Producer and Director. When I heard that Colin Dexter had approved the project and the casting I got really excited at that point. “
Can you tell us the journey Endeavour Morse takes through the film and what happens to his character?
“At the beginning of the film we see Endeavour’s dissatisfied with his job and with his life. He’s thinking of resigning and he takes steps to make it happen, but a call to help out on a case in Oxford puts a stop to his plans.
“So he’s sent back to Oxford to help on a case of a missing school girl who turns out to be murdered. During his time back in Oxford, he’s confronted by a lot of ghosts from his past and along the way we discover some truths about Morse’s origins, such as his love of classical music, real ale and of course – crosswords.”
Can you describe Endeavour and DS Thursday’s relationship?
“Thursday becomes a mentor to Endeavour, although it doesn’t start out that way. They have quite a few differences of opinion a lot of the time as they both have a different way of approaching the investigation. Endeavour doesn’t feel supported by the police around him and he feels a little isolated. As the film progresses we start to see their relationship begin to form.”
What was it like working with Roger Allam?
“It was amazing working with Roger – I’ve been a big fan for a long time and I was excited to see his name on the cast list. I knew him from years ago and we were supposed to make a film together years ago but it never worked out. I always wanted to have the opportunity to fulfil what I’d missed out on so I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with him on Endeavour.”
What was it like meeting Colin Dexter after you’d researched Morse?
“I didn’t feel any pressure because I knew Colin had played a central part in deciding who should play Endeavour. I also knew he had always supported John Thaw in the role. He has the final say over who is playing Morse – which is how it should be.
“I think Colin had been reluctant to allow a stream of different actors to play him – not that there’s anything wrong with that but he wanted to maintain a certain level of control.
“So I knew it wasn’t a decision taken lightly that I had been cast – as a result I felt excited rather than nervous. I love meeting people who have created characters which have really grabbed the public’s attention – I think there’s something really special about it. He was everything I imagined and more, he was funny, down to earth, intelligent, interesting and engaged – priceless!!”
He used to sit on the local examinations board in Oxford. Did he ask you what school you went to?
“He didn’t ask, he knew what school I went to, he’d done the research himself! I think he had some knowledge of the teachers that had been there also. I thought, isn’t that funny, it shows such a difference in the generation and also shows a difference in thinking, I just don’t feel we do that anymore.
“When he said it to me – I mentioned the name of the school and he said ‘was such and such a teacher still there?’ and I thought you really are one in a million. “
How about driving the black jag; what was that like?
“Fantastic! I love cars and it was incredible – it smelt great, like old classic leather. Just the feel of it as well, just a fantastic, traditional, well made motor and they look so sleek and beautiful as well – a real head turner.”
Did you have any difficulties driving it?
“Ah, yes the Jag was occasionally problematic, although that could have just been me! I really struggled with reversing. I’d be trying to look smooth during a scene but there’s nothing more emasculating than when you’re desperately grinding the gear box, especially when the proud owner is looking on off camera and biting his nails – thinking ‘please find third gear and stop ruining my car!’”
What was it like acting a scene with Abigail Thaw?
“It was incredible – obviously at this there’s no point shying away from it. This role comes with a lot of history and I was excited about that and delighted to have the opportunity to play it – and to put my own personal stamp on the character – that’s very important to me but at the same time to know that you have the blessing of the people who are responsible for what’s gone on before is a lovely feeling.”
It must be reassuring as well?
“Sometimes things are a really an uphill struggle in life and then sometimes things just go really smoothly – this was one of those times where it just went so smoothly. It was like working with an old mate – I really enjoyed her company. She has a great energy and was up beat and we had a great vibe.
“Aside from wanting to do a great scene that wasn’t overly sentimental it was a real pleasure and I got a kick out of working with her. It was like hanging out with a mate.”
Did she tell you any old stories about her Dad?
“We spoke a lot, and a lot of it’s kind of personal. She told me a lot of stories about him and I was really pleased to hear them first hand. I also wanted to make it as much about her as possible.
“I was reluctant to be too reverential about her heritage in a way – and to be excited about the work she was doing on the day, which I genuinely was. I thought she was brilliant and made some great choices, she really brought it to life.”
Final question, what are you up to at the moment?
“I’ve got a film out at the moment called Wreckers with Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy, both amazing actors and it’s something very different to Endeavour.”