Mathew Horne on playing nasty in new film and Gavin & Stacey return chances
The star speaks exclusively to RadioTimes.com about his against-type role in new film Bolan's Shoes.
When you think of actors well-known for playing unpleasant, nasty characters, Mathew Horne probably isn't the first name to spring to mind.
The actor – who famously starred as the mild-mannered, level-headed Gavin Shipman in the beloved sitcom Gavin & Stacey – has traditionally played comedic roles rather than villainous ones, but in new film Bolan's Shoes he's somewhat changing tack.
The film is the feature directorial debut of former Coronation Street star Ian Puleston-Davies and sees Horne play Jez, a character whose importance to the story is vital despite limited screen time.
The character appears in just one extended scene in which he is shown cruelly teasing Timothy Spall's character Jimmy, a traumatised adult still haunted by a devastating road accident from his past. And Horne really doesn't hold back in displaying his vicious side.
"I've seen it two or three times now, and even I find it quite unpleasant to watch, to be honest," he tells RadioTimes.com in an exclusive interview. "My wife can't even watch it, she finds it so unpleasant!"
Be that as it may, it was this chance to play "something that is so far away" from what he's known for that was one of the key selling points for Horne, who admits it can be "very easy to be pigeonholed in one's career".
"It was great to be offered such a horrible, horrible role," he says. "Ian really, really wanted me to go as far as possible in terms of how unpleasant this person was. So I really embraced it."
Beyond giving him the opportunity to play a character outside his usual wheelhouse, it was the prospect of working with Puleston-Davies that made Horne feel he couldn't refuse the role.
The pair had gotten to know each other when Puleston-Davies was guest-starring on the final season of Agatha Raisin, and Horne had instantly informed him how highly he regarded his previous work.
"I've been a fan of his for many, many years," Horne explains. "He wrote a one-off drama called Dirty Filthy Love many, many years ago – a couple of decades ago now – and I absolutely adored that TV film. I thought it was wonderful. And I've followed his career as an actor since then.
"So he was telling me about writing this film and that he was hoping to get some money to make it, and on our last day of filming he said, 'Will you be in my film?' And I jumped at the chance, I was just so thrilled to be asked."
Horne was immediately told the role was a minor one – and that there was "not very much money" on offer. But despite this, the decision to accept was very much a "no-brainer".
And he went on to thoroughly enjoy his one day of filming on location in Cheshire – even if he was initially a little hesitant about having to act so nastily towards a national treasure like Spall.
"[It's] a very intense environment, and I've not worked with Tim before, so I checked with him that it was okay to man-handle him!" he explains. "And he was wonderful and gracious and said, 'Just do what you've got to do.' And several takes later, we got to a point where I was just terrorising this man!
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"What is strange is that I live very close to him," he adds. "I see him around all the time, and have for the last 15 years, but I'd never spoken to him and never approached him. And it's a bit different seeing him in Waitrose to working with him – and I just thought he was incredibly generous, allowing me to be comfortable in terrorising the character in that manner.
"So I'm very, very grateful to him, and I've seen him since socially, so it's really nice that I have a new friend as well!"
Despite his character in the film being somewhat against type for Horne when it comes to his screen work, it's actually the second time in recent years that he's played a man who could be described as a nasty piece of work.
Last year, he starred as Lenny in a touring production of Harold Pinter's classic play The Homecoming, a project that he put together with director Jamie Glover – another former co-star on Agatha Raisin.
"We'd been talking about it for two or three years prior to it actually happening," he explains. "We'd wanted to do a Pinter play, and we actually wanted to do The Caretaker – which Timothy Spall was in a few years ago at The Old Vic. But the rights weren't available, so we were then offered The Homecoming, and I thought it was a role that I could really get my teeth into.
"It was a really wonderful experience and we had a very, very successful tour with some fantastic reviews. And again, I know I had to kind of set it up myself, but to play a nasty piece of work was really great to kind of mix things up a bit, not just mix up the type of characters I play, but to mix up the medium as well.
"I really like to try and every year do some TV, a play, possibly a film and hopefully some audio work as well. I've always tried to do that – it's about as ambitious as I've got, really, in my career, is just trying to do those things."
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It's undoubtedly for his TV work that Horne remains best known, and one of his most recent small-screen appearances was a brief role in the fourth episode of Inside No. 9's eighth season, Love Is A Stranger.
This was something which had been long in the making for Horne, who says that he had been angling for a role on the award-winning anthology show for quite some time.
"I think I've been texting Reece [Shearsmith] every series for about seven years to get in it," he laughs. "So, yes, it most certainly was on my bucket list. Last year, I went on a little break, a little holiday, and I thought, 'I'm not going to work 'til the end of the year.'
"And then my agent called offering me a part in it, which is just a wonderful thing to be part of, and it was just an incredible experience. Even though it was a tiny role, I didn't care, just to be in that show and have that on my CV.
"Reece Shearsmith is my favourite actor of all time, and Steve Pemberton is not far behind – so to be on the show certainly was one to tick off the bucket list."
Horne lists another anthology show, Black Mirror, as the show he would most like to be a part of at some point in the future, while more imminently he's about to start a three-month run in a West End production of Michael Frayn's famous play Noises Off, which he calls "probably the greatest farce ever written".
But it seems that, despite recent comments from former co-stars Alison Steadman and Larry Lamb about the possibility of another Gavin & Stacey special somewhere down the line, reprising his role as Gavin Shipman is not high on Horne's list of priorities – even if he'd still like to see the previous cliffhanger resolved.
"Firstly, I very much doubt it will be addressed," he says. "I doubt - very much doubt - that anything will happen. It would be nice to find out whether Smithy and Nessa do get married, but I don't think we ever will find out."
Instead, what Horne wants more of in the future is to continue testing himself by tackling a variety of different projects.
"I have been really fortunate in as much as quite a lot of my theatre work has offered that variety, and offers opportunities to show different sides of my abilities," he says. "So I've been very, very fortunate, and so as long as I continue in the same vein, I'm pretty happy."
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