Former EastEnders bad boy Nigel Harman is swapping a recent stint on the stage for roles in comedy-drama Mount Pleasant and Downton Abbey this month. The 40-year-old, who will also be starring in The X Factor musical next year, sat down with RadioTimes.com to chat about his return to our TV screens...
Tell us a little bit about Mount Pleasant.
The show is about people living in a close together, and how they intertwine and interact. It’s based in Manchester and it’s very Northern-centric. This season – God, that’s so American. For this series, sorry – they are bringing up two southerners [played by Harman and Samantha Womack] and their daughter.
We join the close from afar overnight, literally, under a bit of a cloud because [my character] Bradley’s dodgy dealings have perhaps got a little too hot, so they’ve decided that in the interest of safety the family should go. We arrive quietly – and then within two weeks Bradley's wife throws a party because she's very gregarious and outgoing. They are the life and soul, for a bit...
There’s a simplicity to its comedy which I really like and I like the fact that it’s a happy show. There’s so much cop drama and serial killers, which I also love, but I think part of the joy of Mount Pleasant is that it’s got a good heart.
It's less dramatic than something like EastEnders, I suppose…
Yeah. Mount Pleasant is less the grind of everyday life and more, you know, there are some dodgy things that happen to people but it’s about how they get through it and end up smiling. It sounds like a simple metaphor but it’s a really strong one.
What was it about Bradley that you liked?
I like someone who is a bit unpredictable. When I came to the show they were still creating him so it’s kind of been an ongoing process through the series and I think that’s interesting – we weren't quite sure where we were going to go or how we were going to end up. We have a tendency, in drama especially, to know everything about everyone as a character, whereas with him you are never quite sure what he’s up to. If the life of the show was to continue and we were to continue with him, there’s a lot more to talk about and reveal.
Was it hard to join the cast after two series?
Not really. You do worry, though, because there is that thing of here’s a show that’s doing well and you’re joining it so if it stops doing well it’s going to be quite easy to work out why!
But in terms of the people, I’d met nearly everyone before which shows you how old I’m getting. They are very friendly. There are no stars in the show. Well, there are, they are all stars, but it’s not an ego-led show, which makes things a lot easier.
You and your on-screen wife Samantha Womack have both spent time on Albert Square...
I left eight years ago so I feel so out of touch with it. I don’t even know how they run the show. It almost feels like I was in black and white! We swapped a couple of war stories but that was about it really…
Do you not pay attention to the storylines at all?
I did tune in, out of pure interest, to see Tisha’s return and little Denny. This little boy came out with a massive mop on his head and I was like ‘that’s brilliant’. But that was it.
You're currently in Downton Abbey, too. How does filming a show like that compare with Mount Pleasant?
Wearing a stiff collar all day every day in Downton was hard work! But they are both good shows in their own right and I enjoyed the contrast.
With Downton there’s a lot more precision because, especially as a valet, you have to stand in certain ways, you can’t wear your hat in certain places, you wouldn’t have your coat on, you wouldn’t sit until everyone else sits, you’re not allowed to have your hands on the table when you’re eating. There are a lot of things to learn, whereas with Mount Pleasant it’s a lot more fluid and naturalistic. Mount Pleasant is more jazzy but saying that you weren’t allowed to stray from the script, you very much have to say what’s written.
So will you be paying attention to the reactions from fans when Downton Abbey airs later this month?
I’m not on Twitter or Facebook or any of that. I don’t pay attention really – it’s way out of my hands. I think we are in danger of smothering ourselves in immediacy and feedback. As an actor, ultimately it doesn’t help you, to receive the feedback or to give everyone details of your life because next time you’re on screen they are just seeing your life and not the person you are playing.
Do you steer clear of reviews, then, too?
If I'm on stage I read them maybe at the end. Sometimes you can’t avoid them because they’ve literally put them out the front of the theatres but I tend to avoid them. If they are good they can still take away and if they are bad they can break you.
How about watching yourself back on TV?
I’ve seen myself on TV but I don’t really watch it. It’s a bit like the answerphone. You know when you listen back and go ‘do I sound like that?’ I’ve been on telly since I was eight years old so I kind of don’t want to see it.
Who has control of the remote in your house?
The dog has it mostly.
When you manage to grapple it out of your dog's jaws, what will you put on?
Grey's Anatomy. The Bridge – I couldn’t miss any of that. I’ve watched the first series twice now, it was absolutely brilliant. I’ve watched all of Dexter, even when it’s been a bit… I’ve still watched it.
I am a little bit addicted to Hannibal, too. I think Mads Mikkleson and Hugh Dancy are fabulous and the writing is extraordinary. I get quite attached to stuff and a bit panicky…
What makes you turn off the telly?
Where to start! Hate is too strong a word because life is too short to get wound up about television. But I’m not massively into Jeremy Kyle, that kind of exploitation of the working class. I’m not too into reality. It’s a difficult one because I do get sucked into a little bit of Britian’s Got Talent, so I’m kind of lying to myself. A lot of reality stuff I don’t watch though. Some of it’s lazy…
The flip-side is that I will watch nearly any sport on television. I had a lovely hour and a half yesterday watching diving. What am I doing? I’m watching people diving thinking ‘this is fantastic!’
You must have loved Splash! then...
Ah. Any sort of celebrity sport is a no-no. Celebrity Wipe Out, I got phoned about that. ‘Will you fly to Argentina and jump around on a balls and land in a load of mud?’ Er…. No!
So we won't be seeing you in the jungle any time soon?
Well, I’ll never say never because you never know… I would hope not, but some things are more important than my career, like my family. You know, if I need to, I will. But I doubt it...
What would you like to see more of on TV?
Me! I think I should have a whole channel. I do watch quite a bit of telly but the older I get the less interested I am. I often sit there thinking ‘I could be reading a really good book’. Sometimes it makes me feel guilty. As a viewer I’m drifting further away, but I’m getting more interested in working on it.
What would be the dream role?
I'll always be a bit eclectic I think. I don’t have to be on television, I don’t have to be on the stage. I just like going where the work’s good. I’d like to do a Shakespeare.
With telly and film... something naturalistic and hard-hitting. I’d like to work on BBC2. There you go, that’s the best way of describing it. I’ve done Channel 4, BBC1 and ITV. I’d like to do BBC2. Not that fussed about 5. That kind of sums it up, doesn't it?
Mount Pleasant starts tonight at 9:00pm on Sky Living