Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2019
DAMIAN: You’ve appeared in some big-budget Hollywood films such as Everest, London Has Fallen and Transformers in addition to roles in high-profile TV series including Humans, Grantchester and Fearless. However, once an actor appears in Endeavour, they are forever part of the Morse Universe -indeed Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour have collectively become a treasured national institute- and there’s a certain immortality about becoming part of this isn’t there?
SIMON: Absolutely. All three shows, deservedly, have been hugely popular, and have been part of my world as a viewer since I was a teenager. What makes them so special for me is the combination of terrific writing, great performances and the twisting, turning plots that keep you guessing until the final frame. Russell [Lewis] has an encyclopedic knowledge of Morse’s world, and the fact he writes every episode of Endeavour astonishes me.
DAMIAN: Do you remember the audition scene or any of the dialogue you were given last year for the role of (then) Detective Inspector Ronnie Box?
SIMON: I do. The scene I played in the audition was the one where Box turns nasty (or nastier!) on Trewlove. There were so many juicy lines for an actor in that scene, but my favourite was telling Strange to stay ‘As you were, Tubby’. If that didn’t tell you all you need to know about Box’s character, I don’t know what would!
DAMIAN: What were your initial thoughts about how to play him and did this evolve significantly after landing the role and reading the script in full?
SIMON: He was written so well, that it was easy to tap into him. He felt to me, that he was from a different generation to Morse and Thursday – that he was from the world of John Thaw’s other great show, The Sweeney. So as part of my preparation I started watching episodes of The Sweeney (any excuse), so that I could understand where Box was coming from and ground him. Even though he’s young, he feels that he has seen a great deal more of the “Real World” than the Cowley lot.
DAMIAN: At what point did you know that Box would be a recurring character?
SIMON: As it happens, Shaun and I live quite close to each other. I bumped into him one day, and he told me that they were talking about bringing my character back, potentially, for one episode in the new series. He was very clear that they were still just floating the idea and not to get my hopes up – which I obviously did. A month went by and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I presumed they had thought better of it. A week later, my agent called to say they wanted me for the whole series, and my jaw hit the floor.
DAMIAN: So, PASSENGER (third episode from last series), you find yourself standing on the set of Cowley CID ready to film with one of television’s finest ensemble casts including Shaun Evans, Roger Allam and Anton Lesser – what’s going through your mind as you prepare for a take?
SIMON: There were obviously nerves as I had watched these actors be brilliant for so long, but I couldn’t wait to play Box, and to see how they would react to this character. The Endeavour set is also an extremely happy and encouraging place to work. The cast, the crew, the make up and costume departments all make you feel welcome, so by the time you actually start acting, all you’re thinking about is the scene.
DAMIAN: In the dynamic and explosive scene, Box calls Strange Tubby as you mentioned, makes spitefully sexist comments to Trewlove -all of which was bad enough- but suggesting Bright had anything more than a soft spot for Trewlove was unforgivable wasn’t it?
SIMON: What a rotter!
DAMIAN: However, particularly considering you’re both Shakespearean actors, it must have been enormous fun to play such a meat and potatoes scene with an actor of such calibre and gravitas as Anton?
SIMON: It was an absolute joy. Especially as I first worked with Anton in a production of The Winter’s Tale at the Royal Shakespeare Company eleven years previously. He is such a brilliant actor that you don’t feel like you are acting when you are in a scene with him. He’s also a lovely, lovely man.
DAMIAN: Unlike frequent antagonist DS Peter Jakes (Series 1-3) who audiences eventually began to warm to, and also to a lesser extent Bright who was somewhat cantankerous when first introduced, there surely can’t be any such redemption for a character as despicable as Box was in his debut episode can there?
SIMON: I’m not sure if redemption is what viewers will necessarily see with Box this series. However, what I hope they see is a real human being. One of the joys of being in the entire series, is that I got to explore Box’s character in so much detail. He doesn’t always react to situations the way you would assume, and sometimes he reacts EXACTLY the way you would expect.
DAMIAN: Always planning ahead, planting seeds for future narrative arcs and expanding the Morse mythology, the introduction of Box significantly played into the evolution of this sixth series didn’t it?
SIMON: It did. The end of series five gave us the trauma of Fancy’s death, and series six begins with the fall out from that. Everything feels different for the main cast now, as they struggle with moving on. They are apart from one another, both physically and emotionally, and Box and Jago steam into the vacuum that has been left. They have strong personalities and a very clear sense of how they see the job. It’s fascinating to see Morse and Thursday powerless to what is going on around them.
DAMIAN: It must have been somewhat daunting to play Roger Allam’s boss?
SIMON: I didn’t really think in those terms to be honest. It was more excitement about working with someone I’ve respected for such a long time. It was the same with Shaun too. I’ve always believed, no matter how experienced you are, you can always learn from working with great actors. They are also very generous and lovely people, so working with them and, of course, Richard Riddell , who plays DS Jago, was huge fun.
DAMIAN: I’ve dissected and analyzed every script, discussed every episode in great depth during interviews with the writer and I’m still yet to figure out every one of Russ’ hidden nods and cultural references. How do you find the scripts and how do they differ from other projects you’ve worked on?
SIMON: What I love about Russ’ scripts is that the world he has created is so rich in detail. Not just the period detail, which feels completely authentic, but also the world of Morse. There seem to be so many subtle nods to characters and ideas that feed into the established Morsian (is that a word?) universe, that I’m sure most of them passed me by! It is also the relationships, that have been moulded over the five previous series that feel completely honest and human.
DAMIAN: Simon, thank you very much indeed and help yourself to a glass of Pinot Noir.
SIMON: Thanks. It’s been a pleasure. But if I’m drinking as Ronnie Box, I’ll take a dram of your finest blended whiskey!