The only detail that Timothy Spall hasn’t got exactly right when playing his new character Maurice Grosse in the new Sky Living Drama The Enfield Haunting is the exotically twirly moustache sported by the real-life paranormal researcher.
But Spall being the dedicated performer he is, there is an important creative reason the veteran actor grew a shorter and stubbier piece of facial hair in the drama about the supposedly genuine haunting of a small house in north London in the late 1970s.
“I didn’t want it to be distracting,” he says. “You have to pull certain things in for a modern audience. If you are going to present a character who has this great big moustache you are going to take half an hour convincing the audience that you’re not doing a Terry Thomas impersonation,” laughed the actor when we met on set.
“He’s a man of a certain age from a certain time. He has an old world quality so we went with this. It’s a moustache. It’s mine. Well, when it has not got the colouring in it….
“The director told us to keep it right down, play it totally naturalistically. You don’t need to overdo it because the things that happen in it are so extraordinary anyway. You don’t want to over gild the lily.”
In the drama, Maurice Grosse is a rookie paranormal researcher drawn to the house on Green Street in Enfield after the tragic death of his daughter in a motorcycle accident. He is joined in his quest to investigate the strange incidents at the address by his wife Betty, played by Truly, Madly, Deeply and The Village star Juliet Stevenson.
Matthew Macfadyen plays Guy Lyon Playfair, an experienced investigator who helps Maurice and Betty get to the bottom of the hauntings.
Rosie Cavaliero, John Simm’s co-star in the ITV drama Prey, takes on the role of single mother Mrs Hodgson with the part of her youngest daughter Janet played by Eleanor Worthington-Cox.
Along with Janet’s siblings Margaret and Billy, played by Fern Deacon and Elliot Kerley, they complete the family who were terrorised by the ghostly force in their home for more than two years before seeking help.
Spall describes Maurice as an Old School Edwardian – someone who remembered the Second World War but lived through an age of burgeoning technological advancement; he seems like to like him, too, speaking of his “great warmth and kindness and passion and enthusiasm”.
“Maurice never did anything by halves. He was an inventor, he invented revolving posters in bus stops and had a very successful business. He wants to help this child, this family… His tragedy is that he doesn’t realise himself this desire is going to grow within him.”
Spall is referring to Maurice’s own bereavement – the death of his journalist daughter Janet in a motorbike accident in 1976 not long before he went to the house in Enfield – and how his paranormal sleuthing represented some way of getting back in touch with his own lost child.
“I think to a certain degree he is intelligent enough to think it’s something he needed to be convinced by. But that’s the sophistication of the script.
“What are Maurice’s intentions? Does he want to find his daughter? And what about what he does in the house? This relationship between this old man and this young girl who have almost old souls to a certain degree. This is pre-paedophile hysteria. You don’t see many dramas where old men sit in young girl’s bedrooms, alarm bells go off. This is a more innocent age.“
In preparation for the role, the Mr Turner actor met the real parapsychology investigator Guy Lyon Playfair (Macfadyen’s character) who wrote the book This House is Haunted on which the drama is based.
According to Spall, the encounter calmed his terrors about taking on the job which he initially turned down because it “frightened the life out of me”.
“I asked him, ‘didn’t you worry that when you came back there would be demons sitting on your bed or something?’ and he said, ‘oh no, made a nice cup of tea, went to bed’.
“So I was heartened by that because I certainly didn’t want to wake up at night with the doors opening and shutting because, being an actor, I am someone who works off my imagination.”
As for whether the Enfield haunting was real or not, Spall seems open-minded, although he won’t say either way.
“There is a slight aspect of is it mass hysteria. Is it what people want to see? Does it happen? What I liked about it is it’s a very healthy story because people to find a conclusion to their despair. Maurice finds a solace helping this girl.”
But Spall also admits to having one supernatural experience in his own life and, while he does not wish to talk about it, some nudging by RadioTimes.com prompts the admission that it was “good…it was unusual.”
A bit like The Enfield Haunting itself.
The Enfield Haunting begins on Sky Living on Sunday May 3 at 9pm
First look pictures of Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson and Matthew Macfadyen in The Enfield Haunting