“I feel an idiot, frankly,” says Christopher Eccleston with characteristic candour. The actor is still getting his head around the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal. “I feel an idiot. I didn’t understand the extent.”
Over his 35-year career, the former Doctor Who actor has done his time in Hollywood, but the ugly revelations that started to hit the headlines before Christmas caught him by surprise – despite the story he had heard from one alleged victim.
“I mean, I’ve worked for Harvey. I’ve met him,” he says during a screening for upcoming BBC1 drama Come Home.
“I actually had been told by an ex-girlfriend, about ten years ago – and I have said this – and she’s one of the people who came forward, Sophie Dix. She had told me.
“But in my head, my stupid head, it was a one-off. But of course it wasn’t.”
In October 2017, Dix told the Guardian that Weinstein had sexually assaulted her in 1990, pushing her onto his hotel bed and “tugging at her clothes” until she escaped and locked herself in the bathroom. When she emerged, Dix – then 22 year old – says the movie mogul was standing facing her and masturbating.
A spokesperson for Weinstein told the paper: “With respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual.”
Weinstein served as an executive producer on the 2012 movie Unfinished Song, which featured Eccleston, Vanessa Redgrave, Terrence Stamp and Gemma Arterton. He was also an executive producer of The Others in 2001, in which Eccleston and Nicole Kidman played married couple Charles and Grace Stewart.
Now Eccleston is back on the small screen in TV dramas like The A Word, The Leftovers, and – soon – in BBC1’s Come Home. He stars as bereft father-of-three Greg, who is left reeling after his wife Marie (Paula Malcomson) abruptly moves out of their home in Belfast and leaves her family behind, seemingly inexplicably. Come Home is directed by Andrea Harkin, whose previous work includes BBC3’s Clique.
“It was great to be in a drama that was led by women,” Eccleston says. “And I know that sounds very right-on but I am very right-on. Post-Weinstein and all that.”
He adds: “I’m so glad to be alive now. I tell you, as a man who was raised in chauvinistic, patriarchal society, I know we’re nowhere near, but to be around and alive – especially as I have a daughter who’s four – to see how the world could possibly change now.”
In Come Home, we see Greg’s complicated masculinity, his “fragility and vulnerability” as Eccleston puts it. We see him throwing punches and protecting his family and friends; we also see him defending his teenage son Liam’s right to be honest about his feelings instead of bottling them up. We see his nervous forays into internet dating, we see his explosive fury. It’s a complicated picture.
Nicola Shindler, who worked with Eccleston on Our Friends from the North and Hillsborough, is exec producer. In her dramas, Eccleston says, “You’re not playing some macho guy with a gun in your hand all the time, all those lies about men. You’re playing men like Greg, who struggle with their masculinity.”
He adds: “Men are overrepresented in drama. I’m busily trying to put myself out of work. But – I said this to Nicola 20 years ago – I’m sick of watching blokes’ stories. I know about being a bloke. We all do as a culture. What we don’t understand, what we don’t examine, are the lives of women.”
But that’s not what Eccleston says is prevalent: “It’s Liam Neeson running around with a gun because somebody’s kidnapped his daughter, the pornography of violence. I’ve got a son, I don’t want him watching that shite. I don’t want it.”
Written by Bafta-winning screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst, the first episode of Come Home tells the story from Greg’s perspective, while the second episode focuses on Marie.
Set and filmed in Belfast, Come Home is notable in that it tells a story completely unconnected to Northern Ireland’s history.
“It’s rare, and that was one of the things that actually drew me to it, that it wasn’t about the Troubles,” says Belfast actress Kerri Quinn, who plays sandwich delivery woman Brenna.
“You could set this drama anywhere, because it’s just about a family and the breakdown of a marriage. But the fact is that it is set in Belfast, and I think Belfast has been crying out for a drama like this for a really, really long time.”
Eccleston may not be from Ireland like much of the rest of the cast, but he felt right at home in Belfast, declaring it “the greatest city in the world”.
“Danny’s from Manchester where me and Nicola are from, and I felt a lot of kinship between Salford and Manchester and Belfast,” he explains.
“Geographically we’re not that far apart. Danny’s got a fantastic sense of humour, a very Manc sense of humour, and Belfast deals with everything with humour. Everybody you meet has got a line and it’s funny.
“And we’ve put a lot of humour into drama,” he adds. “If you’re going to put a custody battle and divorce and breakdown [on TV], there’s got to be humour. People are not going to sit there and absorb misery.
“And Danny’s got this sense of humour, and Belfast, as well as being the friendliest, is also one of the funniest places you’ll ever go to. It’s a piss-take culture, isn’t it? You cannot take yourself seriously. You’re not allowed.”
Humour and heartbreak, fragile masculinity and emotional mystery: Eccleston is taking us into intriguing territory. But following the Belfast example, he’s being careful not to take himself too seriously.
“If you’re going to start thinking you’re the cat’s whiskers, you’re bolloxed, basically,” he says. Succinct.
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