Shaun Evans, who returns to our screens next week as the young Inspector Morse in Endeavour, is almost as inscrutable as his TV counterpart. You just need to follow the clues...
By Jon Wilde - Mail Online
He might be the star of one of television’s most mainstream shows but there’s nothing conventional about Shaun Evans.
While preparing for our interview, the 36-year-old Liverpudlian, who plays the young Inspector Morse in the prime-time ITV series Endeavour, refuses to sit down.
For the entire one-hour duration of our talk, he chooses to lean artfully against a window sill, and spends the first few minutes asking more questions than he answers. Have I come far? Do I have kids? Am I doing what I want to be doing in life? He needs to be gently reminded that he’s here to answer questions, not ask them.
‘It helps to be more interested in other people than you are in yourself,’ he says by way of explanation. ‘Inhabiting other characters is what I do.’
The key to unlocking this idiosyncratic and very unique British talent is through his work. When describing the young Morse he plays in Endeavour, Evans says that the fictional detective is ‘in a world, but not of that world. He’s out of sync with the times he’s living in. When everyone else is listening to pop music, he loves opera. When everyone is engrossed in the footie, he’s sitting in the corner doing the crossword. While everyone is trying to have sex, he can be found with his head in a book.’
This sounds similar to Evans, who seems to be out of step with the times himself.
‘I guess I’ve always been something of an outsider. As a kid I was always more interested in watching others than being the centre of attention. I’ve always felt that you can see a lot more and learn a lot more when you’re standing on the edge. Things get too noisy when you’re at the centre of things.’
He’s something of an enigma, and you suspect he likes it that way. He dated the stunning lead singer of The Corrs, Andrea, for four years, but the publicity that surrounded their 2007 break-up has made him extremely wary.
He’s now so protective of his private life that he won’t even let on whether he is currently in a relationship. ‘I think it’s important to live your life the way you want to live it. Don’t live your life in fear. It’s important to me to feel free, not to be hemmed in by what others have to say about me.’
His eccentricities don’t appear to have hampered his acting success, though. Before Endeavour catapulted him into the limelight in 2012, his career was bubbling along nicely, albeit without making any giant waves. Highlights included a role in Channel 4’s Teachers, parts in BBC dramas Silk and Ashes To Ashes, and a role in British comedy movie Sparkle.
Evans was unfamiliar with Colin Dexter’s novels and the Inspector Morse TV series that ran from 1987 to 2000, turned John Thaw into a national treasure and was seen by an estimated one billion people around the world.
Endeavour, which takes viewers back to the mid-Sixties, just as Morse is beginning his career with the CID in Oxford, was the brainchild of Dexter, who gave his seal of approval to Evans’ casting.
Despite the reservations of Morse purists, Endeavour became the highest-performing new drama to air on ITV in 2012, peaking with seven-and-a-half-million viewers. ‘But if people were waiting for me to fail as the younger Morse,’ says Evans, ‘I knew nothing about it.’
Now, on the eve of the fourth season, there’s speculation about how long he’ll stay in the role. Thaw first portrayed Morse in his mid-40s, and so Evans, now 36, could convincingly play the character for another ten years. But Evans says that the shooting schedules are arduous, ‘beginning at 5am and finishing at 9pm’, with each series demanding 20 weeks of his time each year. ‘Never say never. But I doubt very much I’ll be talking about a new series of Endeavour in ten years’ time.’
You suspect that he yearns to stretch himself with less conventional work than Endeavour. He talks fondly of his time on the London stage in 2009, playing Kurt Cobain to Danny Dyer’s Sid Vicious in Kurt And Sid, and he relished his role as a seedy politician in BBC2’s raunchy drama The Scandalous Lady W.
‘I’m not uncomfortable with sex scenes,’ he says. ‘I’ve been known to get my backside out for the camera now and then. As long as it’s not gratuitous, I’m up for it.’
Born to a taxi-driver dad and a care-worker mum, Evans has got genuine working-class credentials, though he pauses long and hard when asked whether the acting world is unfairly dominated by middle- and upper-class actors such as Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch.
‘Acting isn’t a normal job,’ he says. ‘Just because you go to a good drama school and get a first, it doesn’t guarantee you work. What you need most is tenacity. If you come from a lower-income family, you may not have so many opportunities but you may have the tenacity to stick with it and make a living from it.’
Like many British actors on the rise, he’s also been tipped as a future Doctor Who and a potential replacement for Daniel Craig as the next 007. ‘Those rumours sound a bit far-fetched,’ he says coyly. ‘But you could argue that my life up to this point has been far-fetched. So you never know.’
And with that, he’s gone, his mystery intact. Just as he likes it.
‘Endeavour’ returns to ITV on Sunday January 8 at 8pm