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.”