Philip Glenister on playing an American exorcist in Outcast – and the possibility of a Gene Hunt movie

"Oh, yeah, I’d do it. Yeah, you bet...”

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Philip Glenister is no stranger to the supernatural. His most famous role – in BBC1’s Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes – saw DCI Gene Hunt ultimately revealed to be a long-dead copper, whose spooky calling was to usher recently deceased officers into the afterlife. He then unsuccessfully hunted the undead in ITV’s Demons. And now, in the new American series Outcast, he plays a hard-bitten West Virginian clergyman who – between sermons – performs the occasional exorcism.

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“I didn’t really think too much about the whole exorcism side of things,” says Glenister cheerfully. “The thing that really drew me to Reverend Anderson was the scene where you first see him. He’s smoking, drinking, playing cards – in the back room of the church.” As Glenister sprawls on a sofa in a trendy London hotel suite, mind you, he is vaping from one of those things that looks like a sonic screwdriver. Perhaps, at the age of 53, that’s the most hell he wants to raise.

But Outcast promises greater sins than poker and whiskey. Like mega-hit The Walking Dead, Outcast is adapted from a Robert Kirkman comic book. It comes with the promo slogan “Possession is just the beginning”. The eponymous outcast is a troubled young man called Kyle (Patrick Fugit) who, along with the Reverend, battles demonic possession in violent scenes that could be straight from The Exorcist.

Trying to save a boy called Joshua (Gabriel Bateman), both Kyle and the Reverend are slammed into a wall by an angry demon. “We have stunt doubles for some of the really fast stuff,” says Glenister, smacking his hands together. “They’re on a – what do you call it? – a pulley. And they obviously have body armour on, to protect their backs. Gabriel had a female stunt double, who was small, about his height, and put a wig on.”

This kind of spooky gore-fest is ever so fashionable on American TV at the moment – in particular, hard-drinking vicars played by English actors and with a taste for the undead. Another recently launched comic-book-adaptation, Preacher, stars Dominic Cooper (and can be watched on Amazon Prime Video in the UK). Outcast has been renewed for a second season by its American network, Cinemax, before the first season even premieres. Then there are British supernatural shows, such asThe Frankenstein Chronicles and Jekyll and Hyde on ITV.

“People like to be scared, I think, in the comfort of their own homes,” says Glenister. “They get cosied up, and then get a nice little horror flick on.” Glenister was himself in bed watching TV – though not the supernatural kind – when he found the inspiration he needed to play Reverend Anderson. It was a Sunday morning last year, and the shoot for Outcast was already under way in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Glenister’s wife Beth (Goddard, also an actor) was visiting him from London with their two daughters.

“Beth and I were sitting in bed watching this TV evangelist. He was cool and good-looking, had the ripped jeans on, the T-shirt, legs draped over the edge of the stage,” recalls Glenister. “I thought, ‘It’s rock star time. He’s the rock star. This is his domain.’ That power he wields over people, that brainwashing thing, the celebrity rock stars and the bands, especially over young impressionable kids. Look at One Direction and all that.”

When Glenister filmed a three-page sermon scene for Outcast the following week, he broke out of the pulpit and roamed the centre aisle, eyeballing his congregation and roaring that the devil was right behind them. By the time he’d finished, even his fellow actors were convinced. “One little old lady came up to me and went, ‘Well, I’m converted. I’m converted, Reverend.’ She started calling me ‘Reverend’!”

Despite his melodramatic immersion in American Christianity, Glenister remains an unbeliever. “I respect people, each to their own, who have a faith. I’d like to think I’ve got a spirituality, but I don’t think that’s anything connected with religion – certainly organised religion. I’m quite anti-religion,” he says. “I just think it starts so many wars. What’s fascinating about playing the Reverend is that he really starts to seriously question his own faith.”

As a native of West Virginia, the Reverend also makes Glenister speak with a full-on Southern drawl. “I know I can do an American accent. I have an ear for accents,” he says firmly – despite the fact that the last time he played a supernatural American type, in ITV’s Demons, his accent was roundly criticised. “That show was not one of my career highlights,” he says drily then adds: “Journalists aren’t dialect coaches. And I was still in Gene Hunt mode. People were just, like, ‘No, no, he can’t be playing an American – he’s Gene Hunt.’ ”

Ah yes, Gene Hunt. Even though the final series of Ashes to Ashes aired over six years ago now, the politically-incorrect copper is still Glenister’s defining role. Is there any chance that the Quattro could ever be fired up again? “Oh, well, never say never – but that’s something you’d need to speak to Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham about,” says Glenister. “They’re the writers who created the show and the character.”

Well, now. Matthew Graham once did an interview in which he said that maybe, if Hollywood came calling… “Oh, yeah, I’d do it. Yeah, you bet,” says Glenister. “[Co-star] John [Simm] and I were talking about it a while ago, and I think he’d be up for it. Maybe to do a Life on Mars movie in some form, if we could find an angle – I think we’d be up for that, for sure.”

Finding another project after Outcast isn’t top priority for Glenister, though. When this interview takes place, he has another two months of shooting on Outcast to finish in South Carolina – and then he’s looking forward to spending some much-deserved down-time at home in south-west London, with Beth and their daughters Millie, 14, and Charlotte, 11.

“They understand what Dad does, and 80 per cent of my job involves going away. The one who finds it hardest is me, because the older I’ve got, it’s really difficult being away from home for long periods of time. That’s why I say thank you FaceTime – the connection is so clear that I can be in my apartment 4,000 miles away in the US, and Beth’s at home getting dinner ready, and I’m making breakfast. We just have this chat as though I’m there in the room.”

This trip to London for the press junket is Glenister’s first visit back since filming started. He sped from the airport to Charlotte’s school, arriving just in time to see her take part in an assembly dressed as an Egyptian. “She saw me when she came out. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ve screwed her up now, she’ll forget her lines.’ But no, she was fine,” he says. “That was a nice little moment. Very Waltons.”

And what do Millie and Charlotte think of their dad playing a very un-Waltons exorcist? “I don’t think they know too much about exorcists, really,” says Glenister. “It’s just another bloody acting job, basically. Dad’s away for a bit.”

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Outcast begins on Tuesday 7th June at 10pm on Fox