He thinks Victorian period dramas are “boring” and doesn’t really want to do a detective series – but Arthur & George is different, Martin Clunes tells Keeley Bolger
Martin Clunes has a clear idea what the death of his career would look like.
There’s so much Victoriana on telly...it’s so boring
“Telly loves detectives,” explains the 53-year-old with a belly laugh. “I get asked at least once a year to play a detective. I just could not take myself seriously if I played any kind of copper.
“It’s good to know your limits. I just couldn’t go around arresting people!
“It would be the end, wouldn’t it?”
Only, in his latest series, Arthur & George, he does “sort of” play a detective.
An adaptation of Julian Barnes’ novel of the same name, the three-part series follows the real-life story of Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In later life, he pursued a notorious miscarriage of justice, whereby George, a young Anglo-Indian solicitor, was imprisoned for allegedly mutilating animals.
Admittedly, the actor – who is dapper when we meet on set, in a natty three-piece suit – would have “legged it” if anyone else had approached him to play Doyle, but Arthur & George, like his well-loved Doc Martin series, is produced by Philippa Braithwaite, who just happens to be his wife.
A “voracious reader”, Braithwaite was convinced the book would lend itself well to TV, and with Doc Martin proving such an international success, there was “a few bob in the company coffers” to fund a script.
But with TV schedules groaning under the weight of Victorian dramas, father-of-one Clunes, who made his name as beer-swilling lout Gary in Nineties comedy Men Behaving Badly, was initially reluctant to add to the mix.
“There’s so much Victoriana on telly at the moment, isn’t there?” says the actor.
“It’s so boring. People do the same thing, over and over again.”
But he believes they’ve taken a “fresh eye” on Victoriana with Arthur & George, and if nothing else, at least hired some new faces, instead of using the same old stars.
“Another bugbear of mine is that you see the same horse pulling every carriage with the same harness [in these dramas],” adds Clunes who, as president of the British Horse Society – and who lives on a farm in Dorset, with his wife, teenage daughter Emily, four dogs and several sheep and Clydesdale horses – would, naturally, notice such things.
“We’ve had some fantastic horses in this [series], really lovely ones, and all sorts as well,” he continues.
The series also boasts a cameo from one of his dogs – little Jack Russell, James Henry.
“He did really well! He was very good at fielding a cricket ball. We were just sniggering about what his credits should be.”
Although he concedes that a second series isn’t “up to him”, Clunes would be happy to star in more episodes of Arthur & George, if the chance arose.
“This is really good, because it’s quite hard,” he says.
“It reminds me what I like about my job.”
He’s happy with his continuing work on family comedy series Doc Martin, however, in which he plays the titular gruff surgeon.
Shooting on the seventh series begins in March.
“We’ll do it as long as they want it,” he says.
“Doc and Louisa have to have marriage guidance... we’ve got to get them fixed.”
He recently reunited with his Men Behaving Badly co-star Neil Morrissey for Channel 4 fund-raiser Stand Up To Cancer, but says it’s unlikely they’ll be re-introducing the sitcom again.
“Charity feels like something you should do if you can,” says Clunes. “I grew up in an environment where, if you could do something, you did.
“It’s a good use of being famous, which is a pretty useless thing to be.”
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Arthur & George starts on ITV on Monday, March 2