Roger Allam appears on Zoom in front of a well-stocked bookcase (as is customary following the coronavirus pandemic). He's a pleasure to talk to, effortlessly charming and ever-so insightful about his work.
We're mainly talking about his role as Antoine Verlaque in BritBox export Murder in Provence, starting on ITV on 17th July. Allam's investigating judge likes the finer things in life, and doesn't suffer fools easily.
"He's very droll, and he's also into his food, which I am, and he has a very nice suit," Allam recalls. "All of those sort of things make a difference when you play a character because you're attempting to walk in someone else's shoes. He comes from a very different background to my own; he comes from money, a wealthy background from which he tries to escape. He's very proud of being a judge, he's patriotic in that sense, and he takes that important position in the state very seriously."
To put it plainly, he's quite different to the other crime solving character he plays that we're familiar with, Endeavour's Fred Thursday.
"Fred comes from a very ordinary working class background, and has lived through the Second World War - he's seen the most terrible things, and done the most terrible things as well," Allan adds. "He's come from poverty, really, in the East End of London. Antoine has come from a very rich background, and also, different parts of history."
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It's exactly this difference which drew Allam to the role, saying he doesn't like to do similar projects in a row. That, plus the fact the novels were adapted by his long-term friend, Shelagh Stephenson. Oh, and filming in gorgeous Aix-en-Provence ("perks of the job").
"It means not everything's bleak because there's always that contrast [between location and subject matter]." Allam reasons. "You have a variety in the time you're watching the story unfold. Also, just because you're in this beautiful place, it doesn't mean that people don't get murdered!"
While there are a few murder mysteries set in beautiful locations, with Death in Paradise perhaps the most famous of them all, few explore older relationships in the same way. Antoine's love life with Marine (Nancy Carroll) isn't stereotypical, conservative, as would maybe be expected of their age. They live apart owing to their very different lifestyles, they work together seemingly peacefully, and enjoy romantic date nights. It's refreshing to see an alternative view of love.
"This is actually quite ordinary in a lot of our lives and to be enjoyed and celebrated. It means a lot to me that we can contribute to some degree to dramatising that and making it believable and usual and a part of our lives, that we don't have to do one thing in every way," the actor continues.
"I think I like that about the series, that it's got a different tone – it isn't all dark and it isn't spread over with the same feeling because people are doing dreadful things to each other.
"So, I like being a part of that. And of course it means that I can play the part because I don't play younger people!"
In the background to Murder in Provence's release, Allam has been working on the final season of Endeavour, the Inspector Morse spin-off.
It was announced back in May that the popular ITV show would be ending after nine seasons following the adventures of Fred Thursday and Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans). If he's being honest, Allam didn't think he'd get that far anyway. He was initially asked for three years, but only signed up for two.
"But then you get into it," he admits. "In a sense, because they cunningly didn't try and make me sign up initially for a long period of time, because it was more year by year, it was much easier to say yes. And I love the character as well!"
Allam has an idea on what will happen in the final season, too. "We're going to try and provide a satisfying and satisfactory emotional reason why John Thaw's Morse never mentions a man called Fred Thursday. I hope that's satisfying for fans.
"There have been times in the past over a series where they seem to have gone apart and then they've come back together again. But this, I guess, will have to be a satisfying explanation of why that finally happens."
Another of Allam's most popular roles was Peter Mannion MP in Armando Iannucci's The Thick Of It. Though the parties were never explicitly stated on screen, it was implied that Mannion was a Tory who spent a fair chunk of time in opposition before his party won the election, and he took his place in fictional DoSAC (Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship).
Where does Allam think Mannion is now? "Clinging on," laughs the actor. "I'd love it if they did more, but I don't think they will. I think, probably correctly, Armando thinks that life has moved on and that was a particular period, things go in and out of fashion. It now seems as though political satire takes place in real life."
But for now, Allam's keeping himself busy, with hopes of a play on the horizon, more Conversations from a Long Marriage, and with any luck, a return to Provence.
When asked how pleased he was to see the series on ITV, Allam says: "Very much so! It gives a wider exposure and encourages everyone to commission another series!"
As for the future of Antoine: "You just want things to develop and not stay the same. That's all, but I don't know in what way I'ld like it to develop actually."
Regardless, Allam would "definitely" be up for more filming in Provence – wouldn't we all?
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