Endeavour's Shaun Evans doesn't discuss his private life; and doesn't do small talk. 'Life's too short - let's do something interesting,' he tells Paul Kirkley.
Shaun Evans has never seen Inspector Morse. 'There's never been time,' says the actor, who plays the younger version of John Thaw's grumpy detective in Morse prequel Endeavour. Added to that, he didn't want to 'slavishly do an impersonation of someone else. But it's nice to feel part of something that's good and loved,' he adds of the show's distinguished pedigree. 'Nice to feel that I've added to it.'
Indeed he has: a sizeable hit since its launch in 2012, Endeavour has traced Sergeant Morse's bumpy journey through 1960's Oxford, solving a string of satisfyingly baroque murders under the watchful eye of veteran DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). Now the latest series finds Morse ringing in a new decade by investigating the death of a young woman found on a towpath in the early hours of New Year's Day, 1970.
Shaun has also directed the opening episode - his second time behind the camera on the series. 'I've been directing for about five years now,' explains the 39-year-old in his soft Liverpudlian accent. ' I learned my trade on Casualty for a couple of years. I'm never one to sit on my laurels. You want to be pushing yourself, and for it never to feel too easy. You want to keep yourself interested, and therefore interesting.'
Although Shaun hints that Endeavour is approaching its endgame, an eighth series has already been confirmed, by the end of which he will have played Morse in more films than John Thaw. Another actor who's been on board since the start is Abigail Thaw - John's daughter - as Oxford Mail editor Dorothea Frazil. Did it feel important to have her blessing?
'It was never as heavy-handed as that,' he says. 'It was an unusual situation for both of us at the beginning, because we're just actors who've been employed to do a job. It's everyone else who brings that baggage to it. When we made the first one, they flew myself and Abbie out to LA to do publicity, and gave us money behind the bar. So we spent three days getting drunk, and having a laugh. Now Abbie's one of my greatest friends. Likewise with Roger.'
Unusually for a leading man, Shaun - a former member of the National Youth Theatre whose first regular TV role was in Channel 4's Teachers - tends no to take on other acting jobs between each series of Endeavour. That's partly because he's been easy earning his director's stripes, but also because he prefers to spend his six months off travelling, reading, taking photographs and generally expanding his horizons.
'I've always been interested in lots of things,' he explains. 'I love travelling. I'm interested in not being a slave to being an actor, but in trying to find my own personal route to a full life.
'I'm not just an actor sitting by the phone or having a smash-and-grab time doing all the work he can. I actually pay attention. I'm interested in the literature of Japan, or whatever. It's gratifying, at the end of the year, to say: yeah, I did that, I played that part, I directed that, I took all those pictures, I visited a new place I'd never been before... That, to me, is a full year, and a life fully lived. That's what gives my life meaning - not just pretending to be someone else.'
At one point during our conversation, Shaun refers to Morse as 'a truth seeker' - something you feel could equally apply to him. Born in Merseyside to a working-class Northern Irish Catholic family, he gained a scholarship to Liverpool's prestigious St Edward's College - early evidence, perhaps, of a restless, enquiring mind? 'Yeah, maybe,' he considers. I'm just hungry for things, you know? Always have been.'
His dad was a taxi driver and his mum worked in a hospital. Weekend points out that Morse's dad was also a taxi driver. 'Yeah,' he says. 'I'm reluctant to talk about that, though. Only because I made the choice to do this job. My family didn't. So I don't think it's cool to... I mean, it's not a big deal but...'
What he's politely - if a little awkwardly - trying not to say is 'mind your own business.' Because while Shaun is warm, convivial company, he also guards his privacy fiercely. His relationship status has never been up for discussion (although we know he dated singer Andrea Corr for four years in his twenties) and the word that tends to crop up in all profiles of him is 'enigmatic.'
'Why am I going to divulge the most intimate details of my life to a stranger?' he asks. 'And wouldn't I also be shooting myself in the foot? Because the more you know about me, my life and where I come from, the less you're going to believe in the story I'm telling. ' (For a while, he was even reluctant to let viewers hear his native accent, lest it break the spell.)
Presumably he’s baffled by the age of social media over-sharing? ‘I just think people might live to regret it,’ he shrugs. ‘We evolve, why would you make all your mistakes public?’
Would it be fair to say he’s quite intense?
‘I am intense,’ he nods. ‘But only because I can’t bear small talk. We have such a short time in the world. Let’s do something interesting.’
It’s an approach that makes him an unusually fascinating interviewee: almost entirely devoid of the usual airy platitudes these occasions demand, he appears to want to make every word meaningful.
‘I try to,’ he says. ‘I’m just trying to be honest, to let you get something out of this conversation. Equally, I want to get something out of it as well. I want you to leave with something,’ he adds, with a smile. ‘But I don’t want you to leave with something I don’t want to give you.’
Shaun partly based Endeavour’s voice on a young Michael Palin, who, like Morse, moved south to Oxford during the 1960s.
Kevin Whately called time on his own Morse spin-off, Lewis, because he was reluctant to exceed Thaw’s tally of 33 episodes, but Shaun doesn’t feel they should be ‘restricted by numbers’, arguing: ‘ it should be story led, not number led. When we feel we’ve put an end to this in a way that does justice to the work we’ve done, then it’s time to cal it a day.’
Shaun’s desire for privacy doesn’t extend to being rude to people in the street. ‘You should always be gracious,’ he says. ‘Hell, I do it all the time. I didi t the other day to Cathy Newman, from Channel 4 News. She didn’t have a clue who I was, but I totally fanboyed her. I love Channel 4 News!’