He is the American actor famous for playing Miami forensic analyst-turned-serial killer Dexter Morgan. She is the Londoner most recently seen on screen as Mary Watson, wife of John Watson, who was shot in the last run of Sherlock. Together, the unlikely pairing of Michael C Hall and Amanda Abbington star in Safe, a new Netflix series created by US crime novelist Harlan Coben and scripted by UK screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst (Come Home, Accused, Clocking Off).
Were they familiar with each other’s work when they were cast? “Am I a Sherlock fan? Never seen it…” admits Hall. “And I’ve watched all of Dexter and 35 seasons of Six Feet Under!” reproaches Abbington with a smile.
Hall and Abbington are a great double act on screen and, it transpires, they’re great together off it, too. Hall plays Tom Delaney, a British paediatric surgeon. Abbington is Sophie Mason, a copper. Tom and Sophie live on a private, upper-middle-class estate in a seemingly secure gated community in Anytown UK. Both have troubled home lives: his wife died from cancer; her ex-husband lives in a caravan on the drive. And while their private lives are already entangled – they’re having a secret relationship – their professional lives also collide when Tom’s teenage daughter vanishes after a party and Sophie leads the police investigation.
Asked why this carpet-bagging American came over here to take food out of the mouths of hard-working British actors, Hall gives as good as he gets: “To get back at all the British actors who have taken work from hard-working American actors.” Take that, Damian Lewis… “Yeah. It’s pretty much one-way traffic. I’m bucking the trend.” From the earliest script drafts, Hall’s character was British, “and I never lobbied for him to be anything but. That seemed integral to the show.” In fact when, pre-script, there was talk of Safe being set in the US – Abbington: “I didn’t know that!” – Hall admits that, “I became a lot less interested.”
Indeed, Safe makes great dramatic hay from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the manicured, very green and pleasant estate, which Abbington describes as the “Nimby [not in my back yard], curtain-twitching element in the community that’s quintessentially English”.
How did Hall build his English accent? “I went for someone who’s maybe from the southern part of the country, educated, had a sort of RP delivery but not too… posh. The British version of my American accent. I have an American accent, but in America I’m someone who doesn’t have an accent. There were kinds of accents I listened to, but for the most part I tried to come up with my own thing and not mimic any specific person.”
“I thought you were doing me,” pouts Abbington. “Yeah, my very, very RP voice,” she jokes in her down-to-earth north London tones.
Hall, 47, who lives with his third wife Morgan Macgregor, a book reviewer and novelist, in New York, grew up in Virginia and North Carolina. His father died of cancer when Michael was 11, and as an only child he had an understandably close relationship with his mother, albeit one with some old-fashioned suburban childhood adventures.
“Our favourite thing to do was playing in the sewer system that ran throughout the town,” he says, smiling at the memory. “We’d just wander through and pop up and be like, ‘OK, where are we, is this a different town?’ That doesn’t really happen now. You’ve got to go home and watch television to reinforce your fear.”
They agree that everything they did as kids is now a health and safety nightmare. “I spent a day trapped in an open chimney on a construction site,” Hall recalls cheerfully. “Some kid finally got his dad to pull me out.”
“I fell down an old chalk quarry! And I’m all right!” hoots Abbington. “Although I do now have a morbid fear of chalk…”
The 44-year-old’s childhood was in the Victorian terraced streets of suburban north London, and she now lives in rural Hertfordshire with the two children she had with ex-partner Martin Freeman. Their son, Joe, hits his teenage years in December and she’s “incrementally” letting him off the leash. “He’s got a phone but I know where he is – I’ve put an app [a tracker] on it.” In a world in which some worry about threats lurking around every corner, would she live in a gated community?
“It becomes very Stepford Wives-y. I don’t want to be cut off. I don’t want to have gates and a fence around me. It’s not a very healthy way to live. You ostracise yourself from the rest of the world.” Hall nods his agreement. “If you’re shutting something out, you’re shutting yourself in.”
The actor has been a regular working visitor to these shores of late. He played John F Kennedy in the last series of The Crown, in electrifying scenes with Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth. And he was here for the London run of Lazarus, the musical play co-created by David Bowie and inspired by The Man Who Fell to Earth. In a way it became Bowie’s last will and testament – he died during the original New York run in January 2016.
“I think for all of us who were in that show, his death just reframed the experience of performing it,” relates the play’s leading man. “We found out on the Monday morning – and we had Mondays off – that he had died. And it so happened that that coincided with the day we were going in to record the cast album. And we were really thankful in a way that we were able to do that instead of all sitting home alone.
“It was only when we started to do the show that Tuesday night that it got difficult,” Hall continues, “because we heard everything differently. There were so many lines that were resonant in different ways.” Did Bowie’s death make Hall’s performance even more supercharged? “I think from the beginning I felt charged with a sense of responsibility. I will say, though, that never did he feel more present than he did the first performance we gave after he died.”
Abbington, meanwhile, for all her busyness on British stage and screen, has never felt the siren call of American television. “No, I’ve never gone over and done pilot season,” she says.
“Don’t!” Hall exclaims.
“I haven’t really felt the impulse,” she shrugs. “I’ve never had that ambition, and I don’t know why because all my friends and peers have done, and still do. But I just haven’t had the inclination. I’d like to work in New York. But I’ve never been a big LA fan, and I don’t think LA would be a big fan of me.”
Is she a big fan of Hall? Would she work with him again? “In a heartbeat. It was joyful working with Michael, he made it very easy,” she says with palpable sincerity. “That’s why you do the job, to work with people like him – fantastic work ethic, get the job done, with minimum fuss and no entourage.”
Finally, Mr Hall: which of the two actors was better to work with, Amanda Abbington or Claire Foy? “That’s a terrible question!” splutters his latest co-star Brit. “Um…” begins Hall, squirming just a little. “I didn’t get to kiss the Queen.”