Ten years ago today, future Doctor Who star David Tennant first appeared in Russell T Davies’s Casanova as the titular lothario – a role which many see as having inspired the actor’s later performance as the Doctor. In honour of the anniversary, we’ve dug through the archives and found our preview feature for the series, in which we profiled a man who would soon become very well known indeed…
It takes a certain insane self-confidence to step into (and frequently out of) the shoes of Giacomo Casanova, history’s greatest womaniser. Any actor tackling the role will have to a) appear naked a lot, b) pretend to be an 18th-century Venetian and c) follow in the footsteps of Donald Sutherland and Frank Finlay, who definitively did the business in film and on TV in the 70s.
None of this seems to have phased David Tennant, who cheerfully seduces about two dozen women (and someone he believes to be a man) in the first episode of a new three-part dramatisation. “My initial response to the job was that I wasn’t good looking enough, and they’d give the role to someone from a boy band who fancied doing a bit of acting. Fortunately, the script calls for more of a puppy dog bouncing through life. I don’t have to look particularly handsome.”
Not that this is a problem for Tennant; as DI Peter Carlisle in Blackpool, he got the girl (Sarah Parrish) and garnered a great deal of admiring copy both for his acting and his looks. The papers described him as “the brooding Scot’; writer Peter Bowker hailed his ability “to look ugly and handsome in the same scene”, and Tennant himself reluctantly admits to a fair bit of fanmail.
Playing a sexually charged copper in a shabby mac is all very well, but it takes a period costume to get hearts really racing. Casanova, as adapted by Russell T Davies, could turn Tennant into 2005’s answer to Colin Firth. “I’m aware that it can happen with costume dramas,” he says, “but it would be impossible to predict. Nobody expected Pride and Prejudice to do what it did. You never know if people are going to like you. I don’t think you ever see me in a wet shirt in Casanova; maybe we should put one in during post-production. But you will see me in a lot of ripped lace, if that interests anyone.”
You’ll also see him in a variety of positions with a cavalcade of lovers that more or less exhausts standard editions of The Joy of Sex. In the first episode, the ageing Casanova (Peter O’Toole) looks back on his youthful exploits in double-quick time. “I had to get over any embarrassment pretty quickly,” says Tennant. “We got through about 15 girls, so it was literally ‘Ah, good morning, my name’s David and I’m going to take you from behind. If you could just slip into the nun’s costume…’.”
Tennant isn’t your standard suave screen idol; in fact, he’s played as many unappealing twits as he has great lovers. In last year’s He Knew He Was Right, he stole all his scenes as the appalling clergyman, Mr Gibson. In Stephen Fry’s criminally underrated film Bright Young Things, he was the fly in the romantic ointment as Ginger Littlejohn.
He’s currently putting in a turn as baddie Barty Crouch Junior in the fourth Harry Potter film. “I don’t get jobs because of my looks,” he says, “and Casanova doesn’t get the women because he’s handsome. He gets them through force of personality, through enthusiasm and through actually taking an interest in what they say.”