Broadchurch was a big hit when it was shown in England in March. What does it offer that other series don’t?
Very often in television crime dramas, for very obvious and often quite legitimate reasons, you don’t really feel the genuine impact of what crime does to the victim and those around it. In Broadchurch
, you can taste the grief and the horror and the extraordinariness of this random ghastly event happening to these people. It just felt electrifyingly real. And [Alec Hardy] is a great character — he’s noble, inscrutable and rather taciturn. He also has terrible people skills. Why is rudeness so funny?
I suppose because most of us go through life fantasizing about being ruder than we are. You kind of replay moments in your day when you wish you’d been a little blunter than inevitably you were. There’s a certain wish fulfillment in getting to portray someone who is very candid about what he’s feeling from moment to moment. We may recoil from it, but part of us want to be like that. Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm
? I’m glad that’s not me, but sometimes I wish it was. Did you know the killer’s identity when you started filming?
We were all completely in the dark. [Pause.] As far as I know, that’s true. Obviously, if certain people knew certain things, they weren’t letting on. In the past you’ve traced your interest in acting to being a 3-year-old Doctor Who fan. Really?
It all seems kind of absurd, doesn’t it? But broadly speaking, it’s true. I remember distinctly a conversation with my parents — or at least I think I do — about the people on TV and the fact that they were people pretending and thinking that was what I wanted to do with my life. When you were cast on the series, did it signify the fulfillment of a long-held dream? Or was it mostly sheer terror?
When I became an actor, Doctor Who
had been off the air for however many years. It wasn’t something that I could imagine being part of. Then suddenly it came back, and suddenly I was in it. It was very surreal. But the pressure not to muck it up? It was quite extreme. In Britain, Doctor Who has an enormous fan base. What’s your sense of its popularity in the United States?
It’s increasingly difficult to walk around without a hat on, which is my very crude thermometer for such things. I’m not saying it’s House
, but it’s gathering a following that it didn’t used to have. Can you tell me anything about the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special to be shown in November?
No. I cannot tell you anything. I’m sure that BBC America is listening in to this call, and if I tell you anything, they will send an electric charge down the phone line and kill us both. I’m only thinking about your personal safety. You’ve done comedy, drama, sci-fi, movies, television, theater. Weren’t you once the host of a TV quiz show?
I was. I love the idea that one can have that kind of variety of professional experiences. But I don’t know if that makes me versatile or a bit of a whore. You almost added NBC’s Hannibal to your résumé, right?
I did talk to Bryan Fuller [the creator of [i]Hannibal[/i]], and I certainly had some discussions. But they went for Mads Mikkelsen, and why not? I’d have cast him. I’d cast him in everything. He’s one of my favorite actors on the planet. Dustin Hoffman has spoken about how Tootsie opened his eyes to the struggles of being a women. One of your first roles was as a transgender barmaid on a Scottish sitcom. What did you learn?
Dustin Hoffman prepared for Tootsie
and played the part for several months. I did three days. I could make something up, but the truth of it is it was about my second or third television job ever, and I was just very thrilled to be in something that my mom and dad had heard of. It was and still is a career highlight. This winter you’ll star in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard II. What excites you most about playing a king who loses his crown?
I love the politics of it. At first he’s quite an unappealing monarch. He’s not particularly good at it. He’s being arbitrary and thoughtless. I’m saying all these things before I’ve even started rehearsal. I’ll probably change my mind. Ask me in two months’ time, and I’ll be saying [in a defensive voice], “He’s the most loving, compassionate king that England has ever had.”