Utopia is back for a second series. Can it possibly be as good as the last series?
Yes is the short answer. The things which you liked about it in the first series are all there again. All the themes it was exploring are back again. The characters are taken further along their overall arc. It’s really interesting to see where each of the characters goes in this series. It really is pretty unexpected. It stays a few steps ahead of the audience in that sense.
Wilson Wilson is a fantastic character. How do you see him?
I seem him as a person who is quite idealistic in how he perceives the world, and I think in pursuit of that idealism he ends up struggling a lot. He definitely takes the path that’s more difficult to go down, because of his idealism. It’s a massive struggle for him. He has a very strong moral direction, and because of that, he finds himself in situations he wouldn’t ordinarily end up in. But he can’t be any other way.
Utopia was received with massive acclaim. Did you know when you were making it that it was something very special? Can you tell?
No, I don’t think so. I think you do something to the best of your ability, and the value of it is in the actual doing of it. When someone says “Action” you just get on with it, and hope that that is translated on to the screen for other people to see. All you can ever do is work as hard as you can on it and make sure you’re doing your job.
The eye torture scene was one of the iconic moments of series one. What was it like to film?
It was rewarding, to have done it. In the moment of actually doing it we were going to go to emotional places that were surprising us. There’s another level of satisfaction, which was that people then talked about it. That’s a good feeling, to know that it’s been seen, and it made an impression on people. You always hope an audience will respond to something you’ve done, but there’s no way of knowing whether or not they will.
What was it like coming back to film the second series? Is it easier, because you know your character and other cast members, and you’re familiar with the style of the show?
It didn’t feel easy, because the journey that Wilson has to go on in the second series is a real challenge. There was a familiarity to it, but just because there’s a familiarity doesn’t make something easier. From an acting viewpoint, this series was a real challenge. But yeah, it was nice to be back with other cast members, and to be back with Marc [Munden, the director].
Is it true that you trained as a lawyer before getting into acting?
I studied law, I got an alright degree, and then I was going to go and do something called an LPC, which is a Legal Practice Course, which qualifies you as a lawyer. But I didn’t end up doing it, because I went to drama school instead. I went to drama school, came out the other end, was out of work for a bit, then found some work, and now I’m playing Wilson.
How did your family feel about you giving up a stable and secure career in law for the notoriously precarious one in acting?
On some level, as much as they look at stuff that I’ve done and appreciate it, there’s always a hope that I’m just going to end up doing something sensible. Maybe not be a lawyer, but at least have a recurring role as a QC or something on tv. Just so they could see me in a suit, looking a little more well-presented, maybe addressing a courtroom. They’ve got their heads round it, but like you said, I think they’d like me to have a stable career. It’s the hope every parent has for their kid, that they are happy and stable.
What do you think you would have been like as a lawyer?
I would have probably been alright. I think I would have done a lot of pro bono work. I wouldn’t have gone in for it for the money. I’ll tell you who I really like – the lawyer Imran Khan. I did my dissertation on stop-and-search powers, and I put in loads of quotes from him. Years later, when I was selling insurance over in Harley Street, he rang up and asked for insurance. He told me his name and I asked him if he was the lawyer, and he said yes. We had a good chat about all the stuff that he did. He’s excellent. He didn’t buy any insurance, though. I’m terrible at selling.
What have been the roles that have meant the most to you over the years?
Wilson Wilson would be right up there. I’m still in the middle of it, so it’s all still a bit of a mystery to me, who he is and what he’s about. Unlike all the other stuff on TV, you can’t put a parameter around this and say “Oh, I understand it,” you’re always going to be trying to figure it out. So Wilson is a character I’m still trying to get to grips with. I’m not even sure he’s got to grips with himself.
At the other end of the scale, I’m currently playing Smee in the new Peter Pan film, and that is so much fun. Every day going there is such a massive release. I can be a bit silly. And way back, when I was at school, and I was 16 or 17, I played Lenny in The Homecoming by Pinter. It was the first time I ever acted, and it was the first time people said “You can do this,” and I thought “Okay then, I will.”