ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS: Abigail Thaw

DAMIAN: Abigail, I’d like to thank you for this interview and congratulate you on the phenomenal success of Endeavour. It’s quite astonishing to consider the extent to which both die-hard fans and more casual viewers have embraced the show isn’t it?

ABIGAIL: Yes. I think that has a lot to do with the team behind Endeavour making sure the standards were kept very high. It wouldn’t have worked otherwise.

DAMIAN: Can you tell us when you first heard that ITV were commissioning a prequel to Inspector Morse and describe your initial reaction?

ABIGAIL: I heard a while before, when they were looking for an actor who could play young Morse. I was surprised, to be honest. Although looking back I don’t know why. He’s such an interesting character and the period is rich pickings for plot. So much happening socially and politically. Even in sunny Oxford!

© ITV/Mammoth ScreenDAMIAN: And how much later was it that you were approached to play a cameo role in the pilot which we now refer to as First Bus to Woodstock?

ABIGAIL: You would have to ask the powers that be. I suppose a few months before. But I wanted to be involved and told my agent to ask for a walk-on part – desk-clerk. You know, “Morning sir” or something. For the fun of it.

DAMIAN: Were you asked if you would like to be involved in the project before the script was complete or had the part of Dorothea Frazil already been written with you in mind?

ABIGAIL: No no. They’re a tough bunch, this Russell Lewis and Mammoth Productions, as I’m sure they’d tell you! I think they watched my show reel etc. I’d done a couple of things for Mammoth before… But Russell wrote the part for me.

DAMIAN: I’ve discussed Endeavour and its characters endlessly with writer Russell Lewis and I’m constantly amazed by his passion, knowledge and understanding of not only his vision of Morse’s world but also its rich cultural heritage. What did you think of the script for First Bus to Woodstock?

ABIGAIL: It was wonderful. One of the joys of Russell’s scripts are his stage directions which I often feel is a shame the audience never get to see. They’re full of references, quotes, puns… so much to help the actor, and makes the reading of them feel like you’ve read a really good novel.

DAMIAN: Russ is rather a cunning devil, it wasn’t until much later that I realised the significance of your character’s name: Frazil is a type of ice and if we put that together with the initial of her first name – D. Frazil – de-ice – is to “thaw”. I must also confess that it takes me at least a couple of viewings to fully understand the plots, do you sometimes have difficulty in keeping up with complicated storylines?

ABIGAIL: Hah! Yes. Very clever. But I have to say I would rather be left behind on a plot than be ahead.

DAMIAN: I think Russ also cleverly uses the supporting cast rather sparsely which always leaves the audience wanting to learn more about the characters such as Strange, Max and Dorothea. I’m wondering if this puts an extra pressure on the actors to convey or find their characters in the relatively little screen time they are given?

ABIGAIL: You really just have to get on with it and hope for the best. He writes with a particular syntax for each character and that helps. A lot of humour. Shaun Evans and I often try to find ways to pull that out more, as we like a laugh (They can be dark times in 1960s Oxford!), but the directors often reign us in!

DAMIAN: Can you describe your original vision for the character and how this might have evolved over the films thus far?

ABIGAIL: Oh, it’s not for me to say. I see Dorothea in the 1960s as having the sleuth-like brains of Ms Marple, the independent feminism of Germaine Greer, the seductive charms of Ava Gardner and the sense of humour of Eric Morcambe. However… Seriously, I think of her as a clever, driven, plain-speaking woman in a man’s world who hasn’t time for niceties and wants the job done. However I think she has a fond and protective spot for Endeavour and is often trying to find ways “in”. She lets him be who he is – private, taciturn and wary of press – because she understands that. She’s a little like that herself. But also likes to tease him; keep him level-headed. And show him that he needs her and her profession as much as she needs him and his to get things right.

© ITV/Mammoth ScreenDAMIAN: It strikes me that like Morse, Dorothea seems to be a rather melancholy and isolated person who is both driven and consumed by their work. Do you have your own personal backstory or interpretation of the character that we don’t actually get to see on screen?

ABIGAIL: Yes I do. And yes, I think you’re right. It can’t be easy being the editor of a newspaper. You don’t see any women in her office. So she is alone and consumed by work and probably drinks and smokes more than she should. Who wouldn’t?! And, yes, I have my own back-story in a notebook tucked away.

DAMIAN: Despite being the lead character in thirty-three episodes of the original series, not to mention Colin Dexter’s thirteen novels and various short stories, we actually know very little about Morse. Russ is doing an excellent job of reconciling and piecing together the clues from novels such as The Riddle of the Third Mile (many revelations about his University days and early love life) and episodes like Cherubim and Seraphim (in which we learn about Morse’s childhood – information used to great dramatic effect in the stunning finale Home from the first series of Endeavour) but I was wondering what is your take on the character – why he is such a social misfit, lonely and unlucky in love?

ABIGAIL: We all have our own thoughts on why he is the way he is. That’s the appeal. And my personal take on it is it’s all in his childhood and background, hence the genius idea of Russell’s to go back. For a bright boy to get away from his kind of background and go to university in those days was quite a feat. But it takes a whole lot of confidence to carry you easily through life when bad things happen. You have to have resources. Maybe Morse didn’t learn to develop them. He’d need years in therapy!

DAMIAN: I must ask you about Shaun. I think it’s fair to say that he was an unexpected revelation in the role of Morse; somehow managing to make the character his own while simultaneously showing a subtle respect and also the odd nod to his predecessor (the behind the head and ear scratching for example). He’s seems such a serious actor whose delivery of every word of every line is measured and expresses a genuinely unique understanding for the part. I’m wondering if he is this focussed and intense between takes?

ABIGAIL: He is. He’s one of the most focussed actor’s I’ve worked with. He’s always word perfect and full of questions and ideas. But that’s not to say he’s pompous or worthy. I come in for a day on and off, full of stories and gossip and curiosity as to how everyone’s been etc, wanting to catch up with the crew and actors and he manages to deal with me very well and still keep his concentration for the 35 scenes he has to do after I leave. Same goes for Roger.

© ITV/Mammoth ScreenDAMIAN: There’s a wonderful moment in Home where you are in the office of The Oxford Mail late at night when someone breaks in. For once, we see the usually infallible Dorothea in a frightened and vulnerable position but what I really liked was the fact that when the police arrive, they all seem so concerned and protective over her which I thought had a lovely parallel with the apparent family atmosphere on the show. Not only is Endeavour blessed with a truly stunning ensemble cast but you really seem to have a great chemistry and genuine affection for one another don’t you?

ABIGAIL: Yes we do. And that feels very special. Even the actors I’ve never had scenes with are close. We all wail to each other about when we’re going to get our bit together. Strange and Dorothea had a little scene but it got cut. We were devastated! [Also] Jimmy Bradshaw and I are planning a spin-off series: Dotty and Max. Get writing, Russell.

DAMIAN: Can you give us a few clues as to what we can expect from Dorothea in the future?

ABIGAIL: Hmm. More of the same, really. Just delving a little deeper, perhaps. I don’t know what makes the edit but Russell fills in gaps gently.

DAMIAN: I’ve purposely not asked you about your father as I shouldn’t wish to intrude. However, I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t take this opportunity to express how much I admired Mr Thaw, not only for his iconic portrayal as Morse but also various other roles including those in Monsignor Renard and Goodnight, Mr Tom to name but a few. I understand that he was a beautiful and sensitive man and I imagine he would be very proud that you continue to contribute to his legacy with such talent and poignancy. Thank you so very much for this interview Abigail.

ABIGAIL: Those are kind words indeed and much appreciated. I think he would be proud and quite frankly amazed by the continued popularity of Morse and Endeavour. A wonderful legacy. And I feel honoured.

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Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2014

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