Please note that this interview was originally posted April 6, 2014 during the series two run.
An exclusive interview
by Damian Michael Barcroft
~ With thanks to Anthony Sayer ~
DAMIAN: Endeavour boasts an impressive cast of characters and while I adore every single one of them, I’m particularly fascinated by Police Constable (later Chief Superintendent) Jim Strange and pathologist Max de Bryn. Perhaps this is because they are both somewhat intriguing characters who frequently appear in both Colin Dexter’s novels and the original Morse television series. Yours is a very understated and subtle performance made all the more remarkable considering this was your first professional job in television after graduating from LAMDA (The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). Can you tell us how you landed the part?
SEAN: I graduated from LAMDA in July 2012, and like most drama school graduates, was hunting for a regular job at the time. A friend of mine sent me an email telling me that he had been up for a part in something called Endeavour. He didn’t think he was right for it, but thought that I might be. I contacted my agent and requested that they get me an audition, but they had reservations about whether I was old enough to play the part. Luckily, they decided to take a punt, and got me an audition with Susie Parriss, the Casting Director.
My first audition with Susie was, without a doubt, one of the worst I have ever given. I wore the black three piece suit I had worn to my graduation, shaved off my beard, and slicked back my hair in a vague attempt to look like a 1960’s policeman. It was a roasting hot August day and it’s safe to say that I was sweating cobs. I got completely lost on my way to Susie’s house and had to ring a friend of mine to get on google maps and give me directions. If you had been around the area that day you may well have seen a proto-Strange frantically sprinting through the streets of Wimbledon. I arrived with 5 minutes to spare, hair all over the place and severely out of breath. I went in, sat down with Susie, and promptly set about forgetting all my lines, mumbling and sweating even more. It was a complete disaster and I resigned myself to the fact that I had utterly blown it.
For some reason, a week later, I got a call from my agent saying that Susie would like me to come in and read with her, Ed Bazalgette [Director] and Dan McCulloch [Producer]. That went much better, and the week after that I was called in to read with Shaun [Evans]. I had been told by my agent that this would be the last round of auditions. Susie asked me to come and audition for the part of DC Gray in Lewis in the meantime.
The next day, whilst sitting on the tube in Barons Court (right outside LAMDA), I got a call from my agent telling me they had “Good news and bad news. Which would I like to hear first?”. I requested the bad news to which my agent replied “Well, you can’t do Lewis!”. I leaped off the tube and performed an impromptu Irish jig on the Barons court platform.
DAMIAN: Can you remember which section of the script you were given to audition with?
SEAN: If my memory serves correctly it was the section of Girl where Morse discovers the Golf Cheese and Chess Society.
DAMIAN: I understand that you did a great amount of research after you were cast as Strange but you had never actually seen Inspector Morse before the audition. I’m wondering what were your initial thoughts on the character from reading Russell Lewis’ script?
SEAN: There’s a no nonsense style in the way that Strange communicates. I suppose that’s what struck me initially.
DAMIAN: It must have been greatly exciting to read through Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, finding various clues and making notes on all of the characters and their relationships. What were the most revealing pieces of the puzzle?
SEAN: It’s a very difficult thing to quantify, really. The relationship dynamics between Morse and Strange in Endeavour and Inspector Morse are at once vastly different and very similar. The most illuminating part of reading the books was discovering the world in which these characters operate. I had to quickly consume a body of work which Morse fans the world over had taken years to savour; as much as I wanted to find out every detail to inform my performance, I wanted to read the books in a respectful and appreciative way, not just cram as if for an exam.
DAMIAN: There are some wonderful insights into Strange’s family life in As Good as Gold (lovely moments in which he celebrates his birthday over a glass or two of Macallan while he proceeds to bore Morse with nostalgic musings on his grandchildren), did you also manage to take a look at the short stories as well?
SEAN: I must confess that the short stories are still unopened on my bedside table, but I will make a start on them very soon indeed. To echo my previous answer, I am cautious about ‘bingeing’ on Colin Dexter’s writing. It deserves pacing and appreciating, much as Strange would approach that Macallan!
DAMIAN: This is the clincher: like Morse, both Russ and I have copies of Moriarty’s Police Law (1965, Eighteenth Edition) which was required reading for any police officer taking their Sergeant’s exam – but do you have a copy?
SEAN: I shall have to come clean and say that I do not. Strange would not be impressed!
DAMIAN: We simply couldn’t discuss Strange without acknowledging the great and much missed James Grout who played the role from 1987 to 2000. Strange’s Christian name was never mentioned in either Dexter’s novels or the original TV series so it was a lovely tribute that the character was finally named Jim in his honour. To what extent has James Grout’s interpretation of the role influenced your own?
SEAN: James Grout was an incredible actor. It’s as simple as that. He gave Strange effortless authority laced with a genuine kindness. I’d like to think that Strange in the 1960’s is very much trying to find himself. He is very sure of where he wants to go in the world but is still unsure of his footing within it.
DAMIAN: Strange is a Southerner and you are Northern lad, was is difficult to incorporate James Grout’s voice in addition to the accent into your own vocalisation?
SEAN: Well, James Grout was from London and you can certainly hear that in his accent. However he was a classically trained actor and that accent seemed to have been softened over the years. I decided that Strange might have a more pronounced London accent in the early days as it would be softened eventually from years in the Oxford police force.
The accent can be tricky at times. There a few occasions where I get quite tongue tied with some of the vowels and slip back into my native Lancashire.
DAMIAN: James Grout gave a beautifully judged performance that managed to encompass a great amount of comedy but this never detracted from his absolute gravitas and authority. It was a stroke of dramatic genius that Russ chose to reverse this by having Morse start out as Strange’s superior in the first film of series one (Girl) but by its end (Home), Strange, unlike Morse, has taken his Sergeant’s exam – will series two see the beginnings of the inevitable development of their shift in power?
SEAN: Perhaps a more pronounced shift in their already differing priorities.
DAMIAN: Of course, it is rather ironic that Morse is perhaps directly responsible for the eventual promotion since it was he who recommended Strange to serve as Acting Detective Constable in his absence when he takes some time off to his visit his ailing father (Home), might Morse regret planting those “little acorns”?
SEAN: He may regret his decision from time to time, yes!
DAMIAN: Surprisingly, it’s not Robbie Lewis with the honour of being Morse’s longest-serving friend – it’s actually Strange – a thirty-five year sentence! Morse and Max meet for the first time in First Bus to Woodstock before your character is introduced but Max is described as suffering a stroke early on in Inspector Morse and is replaced by Dr Grayling Russell in Ghost in the Machine (Max dies in Dexter’s novel, The Way Through the Woods) whereas both in print and on screen, Strange is with Morse right up until the tragic end of The Remorseful Day. Can you describe your own interpretation of the often antagonistic relationship between Morse and Strange?
SEAN: I think there is a mutual admiration between the two. Strange is equally impressed and frustrated by Morse’s intellect. Likewise, Morse perhaps finds Strange’s dependability endearing whilst being irritated by his reluctance to bend the rules. I think they have a quiet patience for each others’ shortcomings.
DAMIAN: There were some lovely moments in Rocket which I thought were quite revealing about Strange: Morse mentions that there is a new Bergman playing at the Roxy cinema and Strange automatically assumes it is a new Ingrid rather than Ingmar Bergman film and also the proud moment when he appears (looking very dependable!) in the Pathe newsreel footage of Princess Margaret’s visit. Strange is not very cultured but he can be quite pompous can’t he?
SEAN: There is something of the Auguste clown about Strange at times. He has a confidence in his own abilities and an acumen which can lead him to make some fairly humorous gaffes.
DAMIAN: The books and original series give the impression that Strange is somewhat under the thumb of his wife. Hopefully he is a little more fortunate than Morse when it comes to matters of the heart, will there be any forthcoming romantic liaisons for Strange that we can look forward to?
SEAN: Strange does dip his toes into the dating world. The results? We shall have to wait and see…
DAMIAN: You’re a great actor playing one of my favourite characters and you’ve been as good as gold – I think you deserve a chocolate biscuit or two! Thank you Sean.
SEAN: Cheers matey! I shall certainly enjoy a few! Perhaps a couple of Garibaldi’s (my personal favourite).
~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~