David Morrissey has played the good, the bad and now - as a taxi driver drawn into the underworld - the morally ambiguous. Susan Griffin gets up to speed with the Liverpool actor.
It is more than 30 years since David Morrissey and Ian Hart first teamed up on the small screen.
The acclaimed One Summer would become one of the stand-out series of the 1980s and brought the school pals into the national spotlight.
The pair return this week in The Driver, a three-part drama for the BBC in which Morrissey stars as taxi driver Vince McKee, a man who, frustrated with the monotony of life, accepts an offer to drive for a criminal gang.
“Vince has walked a straight and narrow line, paid his taxes and supported his family, but he slightly feels like he hasn’t been rewarded for it. He’s wondering where his prize is,” says the Liverpool-born actor.
Vince is introduced to the gang by Colin, a friend who’s resurfaced after a six-year stretch in prison, played by Hart. Morrissey fondly recalls a time when his fellow Scouser travelled down to London to support him in his hour of need.
“I was 16 and working in a theatre company in Wolverhampton. I had no money, I was living in a bedsit, and it was my first time away from home. It wasn’t that long after my dad had died either, and I hadn’t really dealt with that, so I was quite miserable,” recalls Morrissey, who wrote Hart a letter telling him as much.
“Soon after, I was in a rehearsal in this big warehouse and the door opened at the back. I remember thinking, ‘God, that guy looks like Ian’. He’d come to see me, and I’ll always remember that.”
It was during his visit that Hart revealed dramatist, Willy Russell, was working on a new project, and “seeing everybody”. That project was One Summer, and Morrissey returned to Liverpool and gatecrashed an audition.
“We later got the phone call saying we’d both got parts. It was a really great time, but slightly surreal, in the sense we were old enough to know this was special, but too young to enjoy it as much as we should have done.”
Their shared history meant they could enjoy a shorthand on the set of The Driver, a project he describes as a “domestic drama”.
“It’s about a man who’s struggling emotionally because his son is missing,” reveals the father-of-three. “His wife [Claudie Blakley] doesn’t want to talk about their son but Vince needs to, so he’s not only in a financially troubling place, he’s in an emotionally troubling place. He’s slightly lost and wondering what life’s all about, really.”
The offer of becoming a driver for gang leader The Horse (Colm Meaney) seems like an exciting proposition. “He’s been given this opportunity, which he knows is the wrong side of the law, but his motivation to get involved with these people is to do with an adrenaline rush,” explains Morrissey. “The excitement of driving is what he needs as a man; what gives him his machismo back. It’s not another woman or gambling, it’s flirting with danger that makes him feel manly and part of life again. That is a very relatable thing for many people.”
The team were keen for the driving sequences to be as enthralling as their budget would allow - “so we’re on that journey with Vince, and you feel the same rush, fear and relief he does,” says Morrissey.
Although there are some impressive driving skills on show - which required professionals to step in - he says he thinks it’s wrong to think of them as simply stunts. “ Our stunts give Vince his mojo, which blinds him to his moral compass, because he’s so excited by it. The audience have to be with him to understand what he’s getting from it.”