TV Choice - 'Christopher Eccleston, Accused'

By Martina Fowler

Christopher Eccleston is one of our finest actors, but although he is just as intense in conversation as he is on screen — and woe betide you ask too much about his private life — he’s courteous, modest, and has the disarming habit of calling you by name throughout your conversation with him. (Later when I check with other female journalists, it turns out he’s pulled exactly the same stunt with them! Damn!)

He’s starred in Our Friends In The North, Dr Who, and Hollywood films such as The Others, with Nicole Kidman, but he’s also well known for his long-standing collaboration with Jimmy McGovern in shows such as Cracker and Hillsborough. Now he’s appearing in the first of six stand-alone dramas penned by Jimmy McGovern, which chart how six people came to be in court. The series boasts an impressive cast, including Mackenzie Crook (see our interview with him in next week's TV Choice, on sale Tuesday, 16 November), Juliet Stevenson and Andy Serkis.

Christopher plays lapsed Catholic plumber Willy, who is on the brink of telling his wife Carmel (Pooky Quesnel) that he’s leaving her for a younger woman, when their daughter arrives home and announces she’s getting married. But Willy’s well-meaning attempts to pay for the wedding soon see him heading for the dock….

What’s it like working with Jimmy McGovern again?
It’s a pleasure and an honour. I first worked for him in 1993, when I was about 30, and I think this is the sixth time I’ve worked with him. The piece of work I’m proudest of, Hearts And Minds, was written by Jimmy. Without his writing and those opportunities to work with him, my career wouldn’t be where it is.

Do you have sympathy for Willy?
Yeah, because he’s intensely human, as are all of McGovern’s characters. That’s what I think appeals to audiences about Jimmy’s writing — he credits his audience with the intelligence to make their own decisions.

One thing you can say about Willy is that he’s definitely trying to do the best for his kids.
I think that’s very moving about him, yeah. I think he loves his children, particularly his daughter. I think he admires his daughter because she’s not asking for a big wedding — she will be just as happy upstairs at The Crown — and he’s moved by that and proud of how she is. He tries to give her the best. I think fathers across Britain will hopefully identify with that.

Does it feel odd to be cast as the head of a family, with three grown-up kids?
[Chuckles] Yeah, it does. But that’s the beauty of what I do for a living. I can pretend to be all kinds of things.

The drama after yours stars Mackenzie Crook. Have you seen it?
That is an unbelievable episode. I’ve not seen the finished version but I heard the read-through, and that is an extraordinary piece of writing. Great cast. We read Willy’s episode and we read that story. And it was electric, the read-through for that second episode. Electric!

The six dramas are going to form a talking point because everyone will have their own opinions about them…
A lot of the psychological pressure, of course, is applied by Willy’s own conscience. I think it’s important to stress that Willy is a man with a conscience.

Do you still live in Eccles?
No, I live in London at the moment. I’ve lived in London for about 16 months. I lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years before that, before that I was based in Manchester. I don’t live anywhere, particularly, which sounds romantic — it’s not! I go where the work is. But at the moment, I’m based in London. I’ve not put down roots anywhere, particularly.

Do you tend to watch your own performances and analyse them?
I try to avoid watching myself. I know when I’ve delivered the goods or not, and if I’ve not delivered the goods for whatever reason, I just don’t watch it — why put myself through it? You know, it’s not false modesty, and it’s not neurotic, it’s just a fact. If you’re in something, you can’t judge it because you know exactly what’s going to happen. And also, you, for instance, know yourself, you hear your voice on a tape machine, you watch yourself on a family video — I bet you’re pretty critical of yourself. Well, actors are exactly the same. So, if I can possibly avoid it, I avoid it.


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