Actors, especially the craggy, rough-hewn ones, often look better in the flesh than they do on the screen – the light of a normal day being less harsh than the scrutiny of a camera. So I am not, in principle, surprised to see Jerome Flynn looking quite unlike Bennet Drake, his hard-edged, slightly resigned detective in Ripper Street; for that matter, totally unlike Bronn, his cynical, charismatic, demon character in Game of Thrones. He has a tan, for goodness’ sake, a blond beard, he is wearing linen and drinking a soy decaf latte.
He’s extremely self-deprecating – “I love coffee, but if I had one now, I’d probably make even less sense than I normally do in an interview.” Of course he wouldn’t look as he does in Ripper Street. Yet it seems that the difference is deeper than cosmetic: Flynn, 52, seems genuinely happy, and relaxed; no fragile ego, no defensiveness, not even the normal, everyday reserve of having to talk to a stranger.
When he tells me that part of his charity work is to teach mindfulness to Welsh schoolchildren, I’m not surprised. Yes. It is a lot more ambitious than not drinking dairy. He is one serious hippy. “Mindfulness is all about that connection to our creativity and freedom. As the Dalai Lama said – and he’s a pretty cool guy – if you brought mindfulness to all the children in the world, we would end up in a world without conflict.”
He’s just about to start filming series four of Ripper Street, while series three begins this week. In 2013 RT readers voted it their favourite show of the year, but it was cancelled anyway by the BBC. However, the story didn’t end there: Amazon Prime picked it up, and carried on making it. “It wouldn’t have happened ten years ago,” he says. “There’s been a revolution in television. The viewer has got more say. In a way…”
He pauses, and gives the puckish grin that would immediately transport anybody who was alive during the Robson and Jerome years straight back to 1991. “I don’t want to go too deep,” he says. Oh, go on! “You know, the power of campaigning is having a very – thank God – deep political effect. And it works in TV as well: there are hundreds of thousands of people who feel the same way. It keeps the establishment on its toes.”
Then there’s Game of Thrones. “I walked into one of the most popular shows on the planet,” he says, ruefully. “I’d put it in a bracket of American twaddle. I had a picture of dying a terrible death, a selling-my-soul kind of feeling. I’d never done anything American.
Flynn as Bronn in Game of Thrones
“I had ideas about how it went that were, of course, very naive. Then when I met the producers, I got an idea of what it meant to them, and the scale of the production. Then the cast turned up, and I realised this was epic. Wonderful to be part of. How did I ever think?” He shakes his head, smiling, genuinely pleased to have been proved wrong. It’s incredible.
It’s been the comeback to end all comebacks – when Jerome Flynn ended his days as the second half of Robson and Jerome, it was at the end of a phase in a very particular place in British culture, the era of the cheeky chappie, guaranteed Christmas number one, just masculine enough for aunties to like you but baby-faced with no rough edges. “It was a product. We weren’t two songwriters who had art to bring, we were a product, so it became a production line. It was like jumping on a Disney ride. Sometimes you enjoy it, and sometimes you want to get off. We just about got out in time.”
Flynn dealt with it much better than many actors would, coming from a proper showbiz family, his mother and father both on the stage, his brother and half-siblings, too; he has an idiosyncratic love of old-school double acts, such as Abbott and Costello, and the classic English humour of Tommy Cooper. You don’t get the sense that he was hankering after romantic leads for his entire early career. He’s a bit more eccentric than that.