Ox In a Box
‘Morse is suffering' Shaun Evans on the new Endeavour Series 8 plus Morse's relationship with DCI Thursday, alcohol and Joan!
“It’s great to be back. We have all known each other such a long time, both the cast and the crew. So, it was good to get back and make sure everyone was OK. And for everyone to be doing their work,” Shaun Evans says.
As Shaun reprises his role as DS Endeavour Morse for three new compelling cases on ITV in Endeavour this Sunday at 8pm alongside Roger Allam as DCI Fred Thursday, he is obviously relieved to be on our screens once more, after filming was delayed by over a year due to Covid.
More than that, so many questions remaining unanswered for his millions of global fans; is Morse heartbroken after Violetta‘s death at the end of Series 7? Does he ever get together with Joan? How is his relationship with DCI Thursday now, what was it like directing himself again? And more importantly, how is DS Endeavour Morse?
“Morse is suffering. When we pick Endeavour up in February 1971 he is drinking too much, not coming into work, phoning in sick quite a bit. That’s what we see over the course of the whole season. That getting slowly worse.
“But a drink problem is only a manifestation of something else. It’s not just the booze. It’s everything. Then finding a release in booze. It’s too easy to explain something away as alcoholism. That’s not what we were reaching for with it. It’s actually about not being able to cope with life on life’s terms. It is incredibly complicated.
“I do think there is something really interesting in where we find him and how his misery manifests. There was more of a drinking culture then so it was much more acceptable. You could definitely hide it in plain sight,” Shaun says.
Does that keep things fresh for Shaun then, this eternal evolving of his character? “The challenging thing is always to try and take Endeavour to a new place, but without changing it completely from what we’ve done before,” he says.
Filmed on location in Oxford, the cast which reunited with Shaun and Roger for the eighth series include Anton Lesser as CS Reginald Bright, Sean Rigby as DS Jim Strange, James Bradshaw as Dr Max DeBryn, Abigail Thaw as Dorothea Frazil, Caroline O’Neill as Win Thursday and Sara Vickers as Joan Thursday.
And having directed the first episode himself, Shaun is right in the thick of it. So where do we find our favourite TV detective when the series screens on ITV on Sunday night?
“The first film includes scenes of Oxford Wanderers playing a football cup tie match and then a replay. Because of Covid we couldn’t use lots of people for the crowd scenes. It’s difficult to fill a stadium as you might have done,” he says.
Presumably that was a massive obstacle? “In terms of the pandemic, it’s all difficult. There’s no two ways about it. If you think about the nature of the stories, there’s an intimacy even in the smaller scenes. So, you have to be able to get close.
“But what I would say is that it was our intention not to make the best thing under Covid restrictions, but actually make the best thing full stop.
“So in terms of the crowds, it just becomes very expensive, because getting a group of people, as many as possible, you will test them in advance and you’re asking them to self-isolate.
Which must have made it even harder to direct? “From a directorial point of view, you have to be very judicious about what you’re going to see and where, which is no harm to me because I’m really into preparation anyway,” he says.
“One of the wonderful things about it was, it just brought everyone together at the very beginning. How are we going to make this work while keeping everyone safe? It was a tireless effort from the crew. I have to take my hat off to them. It was also an extraordinary learning curve. That is one of the great things about directing and producing as well. You are certainly part of a team.
“It’s very clear to me in my mind what we’re trying to achieve and it was when I read the first script and then read the books. So, staying true to my own vision of it was important.”
And what of his relationship with DCI Thursday. Can that ever be truly healed?
“Things have been slightly fractious between them. Thursday was with Morse when Violetta died at the end of the last season so at the beginning of this series it’s more about concern.
“Thursday can cut him some slack but he sees that Morse is not turning in on time and when he is coming in he’s not presenting very well. Always looking a bit scruffy and stinking of booze.
“The balance is trying to do these things with a lightness of touch. The great thing about these stories is the audience get to see way more about Endeavour than the other characters do. They are always one step ahead of Thursday in a way, in terms of Morse’s personal life. I think it’s a slow dawning for Thursday over the course of the season.
“Russell Lewis has really done a great job with the scripts. Human beings are so complex. People want to label things and explain them away. But you can’t. One of the beauties of being able to do something long form like this where we return to it again year on year is that hopefully you have the opportunity to show that in a way that’s a little more subtle. That has always been the intention from us all.”
And what of Joan. Are they finally going to get together?
“Where we meet them at this point in the new series, because he’s made himself so vulnerable in the previous season, there’s a certain reluctance to be as open. There is more of a protective quality, a shield, that has grown over,” Shaun confides.
“Joan has seen Endeavour at his worst a couple of times now. There’s a choice to either continue on that path and go deeper or to feel embarrassed. You don’t want that person to keep seeing you at your lowest ebb. And so, you have a defense mechanism, you push them away, you antagonise them and put the focus on them. But only because he’s in so much pain.
“There is a balance because you’re making a TV show. The balance comes with the trade off between the detective story and all of those beautiful, lovely character elements. We all aspire to make them as truthful and as relatable and recognisable as possible. Then you put it against crime stories which just by their very nature have to be incredibly complicated.”
Which begs the inevitable question about Series 9 and whether it will go ahead? “That’s a decision for the whole team. As we have always done, we need to finish this series, take a look at it, take a view over what was done well, if there’s still a story to tell and if we all still want to tell it. So, we’ll see.
“You want to make it the best it can be. Tell the stories and do justice to Russell Lewis’ work and everyone else’s work. That spurs me on. Yes, it’s tiring. But anything worth doing is tiring. You’ve just got to get on with it. I love work. So, it’s all good.
“My hope is that by the end of film three we have really managed to drill down over the course of these three episodes into something interesting and what the response is like. To be honest, we will know then where we are with it.”
Endeavour Series 8 returns to ITV at 8pm on Sunday night.