Next of Kin star Jack Davenport reveals why he thinks he'll never work again
We’re sitting on a catering bus on the set of Jack Davenport’s new TV series just after filming has finished, and he’s having a little bit of trouble discussing the show.
‘It’s trying to honour the emotional landscape. Sorry, that sounds so w*nky,’ he says, about Next Of Kin, the hard-hitting drama about the impact on a family when one of its members is linked to a terrorist attack.
'I mean, “emotional landscape”. That sounds like a prog-rock album. But it’s delicate. And you want to get it right.’
The show, which started on ITV this week, sees Jack play Guy, the husband of Mona (The Good Wife’s Archie Panjabi) whose nephew is the one suspected of terrorism. It’s a big return to British TV for the actor who has been beavering away in Hollywood for nearly two decades.
Despite ridiculous successes – he got his first movie break in the late 90s in The Talented Mr Ripley which led to, among other things, his starring role as Norrington in the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies – Jack is terribly self-deprecating and beyond modest. Seriously, the answer to almost every question we ask is peppered with stuff about how he’s not that great at his job.
He is, of course, and has been ever since he first came into our lives in the iconic This Life as young lawyer Miles (which still gets talked about more than anything he’s ever done, including those very famous pirate films). Awfully handsome, in a middle-aged posh boy kind of way, Jack has been married to actress Michelle Gomez (who starred in Doctor Who as Missy) for 17 years and they have a son Harry, who’s seven.
He talks This Life reunions, the joy of having your own Lego figure, and thinking he’s never going to work again…
Must be intense on the set of a show like Next Of Kin. Can you switch off?
Well, I certainly don’t go ‘method’. I’ve learnt to be in it, and then out of it. I haven’t been living alone in the woods for six months. I might be a bit better in it if I was, but I guess we’ll never know.
Is it weird when you’re filming a full-on series like this and then it’s all suddenly finished?
It’s bittersweet. But it’s been my way of life for 25 years. When I started out I took it quite hard when a big job ended, it felt like a bit of a loss; you have this temporary family who adopt you and then you’re flown off to the four corners of the Earth. I may see some of them again in two years, or 10 years, or never, but, however long it is, you’re like, ‘Anyway, as I was saying…’
So you don’t feel all empty?
Well, that’s my natural state of being. That’s why I need other people’s words to fill me up. But there’s also always a part of me that’s like, ‘Clearly I’ll never work again.’ You can’t take anything for granted.
You’ve had a great career in Hollywood, with fancy winnebagos and all the glamour. Is it down to earth with a bump coming back to England?
It’s the same, apart from the accents. It’s just a group of people getting together at stupid o’clock in the morning and trying to achieve the same thing: record people faking behaviour. It’s very odd when you break it down.
Did you always want to be an actor?
I grew up around it because of my parents [actors Nigel Davenport and Maria Aitken]. To discourage me would have been hypocritical, and to actively encourage child acting is a murky area – some people come out of it better than others. But I ended up doing it because if you’re a kid, actors are fun – they’re not accountants, they’re in touch with their silly. I just wanted to be in their tribe.
What was your big break?
My first proper job was This Life. But I wrote a letter to John Cleese when I was 22 to try and get a job as a runner on Fierce Creatures and he gave me a part as a zookeeper. No one has ever played a smaller part in anything ever. You’d have to freeze the frame and look really, really carefully to find me in the crowd.
What do you make of the fact that people still love This Life?
Isn’t that funny? It’s amazing. I mean, it’s so dated most people probably still have it on VHS. Or possibly even Betamax. But only middle-aged people know me as Miles. Our director on Next Of Kin is a younger man and This Life came up in conversation and he looked puzzled. I was like, ‘Oh yes. So you were seven when that came out.’
Could it ever make a comeback? Cold Feet did…
No. First of all they couldn’t afford Andy [Andrew Lincoln, who now stars in The Walking Dead]. We did do the 10-year reunion one-off. We were all very close, it was a very formative time in our lives, so we said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And we also said, ‘Just you watch, this will get sha* on,’ and it totally did. People were like, ‘It’s not like the series.’ Of course it isn’t, it’s a film. Anyway, we’ve missed the window now, it’s past 20 years.
Do you still have to audition or do the parts come to you?
Sometimes they’re kind enough to ask me and sometimes they’re like: ‘Show me what you’ve got.’ And then I show them what I’ve got and they go: ‘No, thanks.’ They offered me the job on Next Of Kin and that was very flattering. The universe of actors is big, so it’s nice to think people want you. But you can’t ever allow yourself to think, ‘Oh yes, clearly I was the first person they asked.’ You can’t buy your own bullsh*t.
You’re terribly modest...
It’s a job. I’m no more or less important than anyone else. Like now, we’re sitting on a dining bus, and this is not false modesty, but the cooks here are as important, if not more important, than me, because people won’t function if they don’t get fed. All these other people have to make a huge collective effort to allow me to do some ‘behaving’. I'm just the last person on the production line.
Do you watch yourself?
Well, I don’t settle down with a boxset of me of an evening. I’ll watch it once because I’m curious to see how it turned out and I want to see what everybody else did. The scenes you’re not in are much more enjoyable because you can relax, but I’m dubious about actors who say, ‘I never watch myself,’ because why wouldn’t you? You need to see if something works or not, you have a duty to check how it panned out.
Does your son understand that Mummy and Daddy are famous actors?
He sort of gets it. He can’t watch Pirates Of The Caribbean because that’s quite scary. He has friends who’ve seen it, and when they figure out who I am they’re like, ‘Woah!’ But if I’m completely honest, what we do is what makes us leave him to film, so it’s not that brilliant, it’s sh*t really.
There must be perks, though…
My son doesn’t quite understand that not every little boy can send a video message to Doctor Who and get one back within 10 minutes. That’s down to what a gentleman Peter Capaldi is. The only thing I’ve got in reserve to impress him with is my Pirates Of The Caribbean Lego character. I was in a toy shop and I was like, ‘Wait, is that me? I’m a Lego man! I’m having that.’ He’s never seen it, but at some point I’ll be like, ‘Listen mate, I know you think I’m an idiot, but look what I’ve got.’
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? Did you ever play a tree in a school play?
Some would say I’ve been fairly wooden for years… We’ve all got a few duds in our back catalogue. You’ll be sorry to have missed my Hamlet. As a 16-year-old, I got all that psychological stuff down.
How do you feel about social media and everyone wanting selfies with you?
I’m a middle-aged actor, no one wants a selfie with me! I do absolutely no social media. I don’t get it. It feels like a completely transactional way of communicating. And people behave badly on it. I’m of an age where I didn’t grow up with it, but also – and this is an old git’s viewpoint – I believe that when you’re an actor not doing your job, you should be quiet and go away. If you know everything about me and I’m going on about my new kitchen on Twitter or whatever, when I next turn up in doctor’s scrubs on TV, you’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s the guy with the new cooker.’
Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever been recognised?
It’s never much fun in a changing room. Or pub toilets. People mostly say, ‘I know you, what was that thing you were in?’ So I say, ‘Maybe it was so-and-so,’ and then they go, ‘No, never seen that.’ And then it’s just mortifying for everyone.
The low-down on Next Of Kin
Next Of Kin is topical and close to some recent real-life terrorist events. How do you feel about what’s going on?
I responded with no more or less alarm than anyone else. Then after a certain amount of time, like everyone else, you say, ‘We have to continue as before. Get on with life as usual.’ Otherwise the terrorists have succeeded on some level.
What made you want to be in this series?
Whether we like it or not, this is a subject that isn’t going away. It makes people uncomfortable and reactive and is difficult to comprehend. Next Of Kin looks at it by thinking about the wider humanity of families who become involved simply because they are related to someone who may have made certain decisions. That struck me as a very intelligent and interesting way to approach the unapproachable.
Tell us more about your character Guy…
Guy is a Westminster political lobbyist, who works for one of those firms with fingers in all sorts of pies. And being the slightly stiff, public school, emotionally constipated type of person he can be, he gets this extended very non-Home Counties family. It’s something so outside any of his experiences growing up, it’s like the making of him. It opens up parts of himself I’m not sure he knew were there.