Interview: Philip Glenisterby Fiona Rae
The British actor stars in Hidden, a noir thriller about a small-time lawyer drawn into a big-time political conspiracy.
Harry Venn is quite rough and ready character, isn’t he? Yeah, I’m good at those, I like the rough and ready, it suits me. He’s just an ordinary guy at the end of the day, a bit of shambles in terms of his life and he’s got rather a dark past.
Hidden has a noir feel to it – Harry could almost have been a private detective. That was something that the director, Niall MacCormick, wanted to do very much, bring a film noir quality to it, and make it look quite sort-of grey and sepia-ish. That was his influence on the piece, and I think it worked really well.
Half of the action takes place apart from Harry – this neat thing of politicians and businessmen who have got Dial M for Murder on their phone. That’s the thing, he’s a very small fish in this big pond and gets dragged into this huge scenario of politics and darkness and collusion between institutions like the police, the army and government and he becomes embroiled and is quite essential along with Gina [Thekla Reuten’s character] to this whole story. He’s a man out of his depth, in more ways than one, so it’s sort of a redemptive story for him as well. He goes on quite a big journey in quite a short space of time.
It was reported in the Telegraph that you had considerable influence on the script – was that true? No, I don’t think that was the case.
Harry does drive a BMW, I wondered if you had anything to do with that choice? As opposed to an Audi or a Cortina? No, we just thought he should have something, no offence to BMW, quite indistinguishable really; anything too flash would draw attention to himself. Gene Hunt had something quite flash like an Audi Quattro, which of course no policeman in 1982 would ever have been able to afford in the real world. We made a point of giving Harry a seven or eight-year-old BMW Seven Series that I believe was grey as well, so it would blend into the background. That’s one of the differences between him and the Gene Hunt character, Gene Hunt was quite out there and quite happy to be seen and heard and verbal and be the sheriff, whereas Harry is quite the opposite, Harry is somebody who isn’t comfortable being seen and heard, he’s much more comfortable being hidden, hence the title.
There’s a lot of things that are hidden. Including himself, including his own character in many respects.
The Scandinavian shows have been so popular in the UK – were they an influence at all? We did this two years ago, back in the beginning of 2011, so I can’t remember how influential The Killing was then, I think it was just beginning to make its mark over here. The other thing that we had, which is quite interesting, was the riot scenes. A lot of people say, “did you put the riot scenes in after the riots in London, did you just add those to make it more contemporary?” But in actual fact we didn’t at all, we shot that stuff in the spring of 2011 and it happened to be part of the story and then of course, that summer we had the riots in London, so it was purely by chance that that happened.
You were also filming on location – you’re in Kentish Town, on the train, in Paris … This was commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland, so we shot the majority of it in Belfast. We just stuck up lots of boards saying Kentish Town Chippie and Kentish Town Dry Cleaners. I’d say 90% of it was shot in Belfast and then we had one week where we shot three days in London, in Kentish Town, and then a bit in Knightsbridge outside Harrod’s and then we jumped on the Eurostar and filmed for three days in Paris and on the train, actually live on the Eurostar, we took over half a carriage. Thekla was actually there while I was supposed to be on the phone to her saying, “Where are you, Gina? I’m coming to find you,” and she was just in the next carriage having a nice glass of red.
How was it working with the marvellous David Suchet? It was great, David and I share the same agent. He was very sweet, he just agreed to do it, it was a cameo really, a very important role as well. He said to me, “You haven’t done a Poirot have you?” and I said, “No,” and he said, “We’re hoping to do the last three in a year or two’s time, so you’re going to be in it.”
British television production suffered quite a bit in the recession – do you think it’s bouncing back now? I think it’s like anything, it comes in waves an cycles, you know what I mean? The bottom line is that it’s a business, and it’s about being able to sell your wares and your product and obviously it’s a huge market, it’s a global market, and the things that do well invariably are good quality, well written pieces, particularly costume dramas, because the Americans can’t really make our costume drama, they have to buy them and show them there. Whereas, you give them something like Life on Mars and they go and remake it and don’t do it very well. We’ve got Sky, it’s still pretty new to drama production compared to the BBC and ITV, but it’s putting a lot of money into drama at the moment and making an awful lot of stuff and has the money to do so, so it’s good for production values as well.
What’s next for you? I’m currently doing a comedy for the BBC, which is co-written by David Walliams, which he’s in as well and Catherine Tate, Frances de la Tour and Joanna Scanlon. It’s set in a dysfunctional inner-London school and we’re all playing hopeless teachers – he’s the chemistry teacher, Catherine is the French teacher who’s never been to France and I’m the unfit PE teacher.
Was Gene Hunt the role of your career so far? It was certainly the role that changed my career, yeah, definitely. But it’s one of those things that time will tell. I’d like to think I have enough of a body of work before and after that people can see and know that one does other things, you know what I mean?
HIDDEN, starts Monday, UKTV, Sky 007, 8.30pm.
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