SOLVING clues as crack detective Endeavour Morse has earned Shaun Evans heaps of praise. Yet the actor is quite an enigma himself.
By DAVID STEPHENSON - SUNDAY EXPRESS
Like his famous detective character Endeavour Morse, Shaun Evans is something of an enigma. It’s not that the 35-year-old actor won’t reveal anything, it’s just that he’s careful with his choice of words, often pausing mid-thought to make sure he’s saying exactly what he means. What is clear though is that ITV couldn’t have found a better actor to play the young Morse, in both talent and presence.
Shaun works extremely hard, respects his audience and has a high level of professionalism. For instance, he’s keen to say he would rather not continue making this popular prequel unless both the cast and the audience “are engaged”.
We’re engaged all right. His performance has been widely praised, unlocking a vulnerable side to Morse – through the writing of Russell Lewis – that was barely explored in the original series.
While he’s anything but an over-sharer, shunning Facebook and Twitter, Shaun doesn’t hesitate to say he’s delighted with series three of Endeavour, which comprises four feature-length films.
“It’s really good,” he says, in ITV’s central London headquarters. “It means we’ve had longer to work on the scripts, and that sort of thing.” Does it mean you can do more work on your performance I suggest (not that he needs it).
“We talk about it constantly during the year when we’re all on different things, just so you know where the stories are kind of at. It means there’s more time for it to percolate, which is always a good thing.”
Life is very different for Morse at the start of this series. He’s living in a wooden shack, outside Oxford, suspended from the force, filling his time darning his own socks and chopping wood, like a man who has never used an axe before. In fact, he behaves like a completely different character.
“Well, that’s how it should be,” says Shaun. “Because he’s not a police officer, he’s exploring a different side of himself. My feeling was that his indecision should be reflected in his whole look – the hair, clothes, everything. Even the way he walks. Everything has to keep moving forward in Endeavour, otherwise it will stagnate.”
Details of Morse’s posh student background are also revealed for the first time, via his old Oxford pals. Shaun says: “It’s like a limitless bag of tricks [for the writer]: ‘Oh, here’s an old don now!’ It’s a great device when used well. I think Russell uses it very well and it works best when this whole world is created for an audience.
“Each episode is quite self-contained like that – different worlds. The first one is all these grand stately homes and characters. Lots of luxury cars.” Morse appeared to have his head turned a little. “Well, I think he is thinking, ‘I’m suspended and I’m not going to be a policeman any more.’ He’s been shot at and stabbed. If it happened to me I’d change my job!”
Shaun, who grew up in Liverpool, has Irish parents. His father was a taxi driver and his mother was a health care worker. In his teens he decided on an acting career and his rise has been effortless. What was it that inspired him?
“I couldn’t say,” he admits. “It just sort of popped into my head from nowhere. I didn’t really go to theatre either. I just thought, ‘I think I will do that.’ That’s why I feel quite lucky that it’s always been quite clear to me what I should do.”
He attended St Edward’s College, a Catholic school on Merseyside, where he won a scholarship. “It was very academic, but quite musical,” he says. “I was going to do history and politics at university and then I thought, ‘Nah, I’ll do this!’” So he took himself off to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London when he was 18.
After stage work, he won TV roles in dramas such as Teachers, Silk and Whitechapel. And recently, he appeared in The Scandalous Lady W, a bold performance which involved him looking through his bedroom keyhole at his wife while she was with other men.
When did he realise that he could make a career of acting? “It’s hard to describe, but I never thought I could make a career out of it. And I still really don’t. You know, sometimes you earn a lump sum, sometimes you earn nothing.
I think it’s a falsehood to think you can have some kind of plan. Acting isn’t like that, it’s more vocational I think. The question I ask myself more is, ‘Can I survive doing this?’ Sometimes you have to do jobs in different places just to make ends meet. It’s a strange of way of life in that respect.”
He admits that acting in Endeavour has been a learning curve for him. “It’s really proved how key the writing is to everything. It’s a very different task. In each episode, you have to create the atmosphere and someone has to die. A crime has to be solved in an interesting manner, and you still need to say something about the characters. That’s very difficult to do in just an hour on TV, even 90 minutes. So if the writing isn’t what it should be, the episode falls on its backside. But Russell is just brilliant at doing this – he really is.”
As an actor, Shaun says he feels less challenged now. “I feel I know the character now and for five months while we’re filming I know this is my whole life. The challenging thing is not the acting now. I sort of understand how he works and thinks. We’ve made 13 of these productions now, so if I didn’t know it, there would be a problem. The challenge is welcoming other actors and directors into this world, and making them feel comfortable with it.”
He must have a terrific sense of achievement with the success of the series so far? “Well, yes in a way, and I’ve been lucky to be able to do film and theatre work, too. It’s just down to scheduling. Who knows if we’re going to do any more of these [Endeavour]. We’re busy from May to September with this and anything else has to fit in with that.”
We’re certainly getting more romance in this series than we did in the original Morse, and I ask Shaun about the kiss in the preview of the show that I saw. “Was there?” he asks coyly.
“Oh, yes, there’s a bit of smooching.” And Monica, the nurse from the last series, is she going to be playing a part in the story? “She is there, but no, she doesn’t make a reappearance in that sense. But that’s about it really. We move on.”
He had his own romantic entanglement with singer Andrea Corr for four years after they met on the set of the film, The Boys From County Clare. They broke up in 2007.
As Shaun takes care not to publicise his private life, I ask him how he now likes to spend his time off set. “I’m a big reader,” he says. “And I take a lot of pictures, do a lot of writing. Same as everyone else. But I do a lot of work.”
Would he like to write an episode of Endeavour? “No I don’t think I could. They’re too dense and it would take too long to do.”
Morse does have his antsy moments. I wonder if Shaun has poured any of him his own personality into the role? He pauses. “What, like lacking direction, do you mean?” he asks. Then continues, “No, I’m very lucky. I always had a clear idea of what I wanted to do. Sometimes, you get a little muddled. No, I’m very clear about things.”
Indeed he is. Now that Lewis has gone, the coast is clear for Endeavour to last a decade it seems. What about another 10 or 15 years of the series?
“Never say never,” he says. “I can speak for the whole team that when we began this whole thing our intention was to make something really good. Then we had the good fortune to make another four episodes. So if you are invited to make another series – and there are no contracts by the way – you get to review, ‘Are we achieving what we set out to do?’ Are we bettering ourselves?
Are these scenes better?’ And I suppose, ‘Do we still care as much about it,’ including the audience.
I would be reluctant to continue beyond the point where either the audience or we were not engaged in the series. So if they want more, and we’ve got more to give, never say never, and it could go on and on.”
Endeavour is on ITV tonight at 8pm.