John Simm: ‘I ditched the music and the clubbing and got into some real serious drama’

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I did a podcast with David Morrissey during the first lockdown and we talked about State of Play so I had to watch it again. Aside from smoking inside, it held up very well. It was always compelling stuff, really well done, great casting. I mean, wow, that was amazing. State of play had the old american remake [with Russell Crowe in Simm’s role] but me and David Morrissey agreed never to watch it.

Leading Light – Life on Mars / Doctor Who

Life on Mars was another game changer. I loved the work, I loved the role, I loved playing Sam Tyler. I don’t regret doing only two – maybe there would have been some backlash – but I would have done another series if they had shot it in London. I had a small child and the workload was so intense.

John Simm and Philip Glenister in Life On Mars
John Simm with Philip Glenister in Life On Mars

There was a time when [Life on Mars co-star] Phil Glenister and I did everything together. It was like it was in the contract. But we haven’t worked together in a while so we’ll see what happens with [mooted new Life On Mars sequel] Lazarus.

I’m not allowed to say a lot but they are the same characters. They’re writing the pilot and apparently it got picked up so me and Phil, plus [writers] Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham are going to meet and chat. The idea is really good, there’s a lot of time travel and car chases. So I think it’s happening, fingers crossed. But in this business, you never know.

Doctor Who was also a lot of fun. I don’t know if it was considered a success or not [it was!], a lot of the arguments are happening in the fandom. But it’s so good to be involved in things that are so universally loved. Doing just one of these things in his life would be enough.

John Simm with The Big Issue magazine
John Simm with his favorite magazine

New Career Milestones – Hamlet/Macbeth

I was 40 and thought, I’ll never get the chance to play Hamlet never. So when it appears, you take it. Wherever he is, I’ll take him. It was the same manager Elling, which I loved doing in 2007. What a Hamlet experience it was – terrifying, exhilarating, amazing. I really miss being on stage right now. I tried to do as much as possible and know from bitter experience that the longer you leave it on, the more terrifying the experience when you get back on stage.

Stock Three days in the countryside [in 2015] was such an amazing experience. If I could work at the National Theater forever, I would. It was the most amazing summer with wonderful people, in this iconic south shore location. A real treat.

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And I was 50 when I played macbeth. This is the reason why you become an actor. Macbeth was by far the best role I’ve played. This character’s arc, from an honest, decent man to a bloodthirsty tyrant, is amazing. Shakespeare is the best. It’s a magical thing. King Lear at 60? Perhaps. But could I do Richard III or Iago at 60 and Lear at 70? I think Henry V went the Dodger way, unfortunately. I will never play these roles. It’s finish. Let it go!

Collaborations – Exile / Mad Dogs / The Village

I went straight from Hamlet to Exile, with Olivia Colman and Jim Broadbent. Not a bad cast! I really loved this job. And then I did The village with Maxine [Peake]. rabid dogs was at that time too. It felt like the luckiest gig – filming in the sun with my mates, again Phil Glenister, Marc Warren, Max Beasley and Ben Chaplin. It was ridiculously funny to us that we got that gig. We pinched ourselves every day.

American Adventures and the one who got away – The Intruders / The Catch / Game of Thrones prequel

I tried America twice. I did it Intruders for BBC America in 2014 and thought it was a dead certificate – written by the guy who did it X filesled by the The Blair Witch Project dude, starring Mira Sorvino and Millie Bobby Brown, who was about to be huge in stranger things. It was a bestselling novel but I guess it didn’t work out. Maybe it was too complicated at first? But it was a shame, because I had a lot of fun doing it. You’re disappointed in the moment, you expect to do more, but that’s the life of an actor.

Then five years ago we were looking for places in LA just in case The catch went again. It was the Shonda Rhimes Hit Factory, the next big thing for ABC, filming just off Sunset Boulevard – again, you think it’s bound to be a hit. Everyone was great in it. It was a fun, fun, fun job to do and we expected to have to move the family there when they pulled it out. You are therefore in the hands of higher powers.

And then, of course, there was the The iron Throne thing. I did the pilot for the prequel, the one that cost what, $130 million? It had SJ Clarkson directing, a great cast and once you’ve had the fourth costume fitting and the 20th person tells you it’s definitely going to be 99.99% huge, you’re already to celebrate. I thought, I’ll see you in Belfast and in the meantime, I’m going to move my family, see schools. Then suddenly, the rug is pulled. Everyone was shocked. You can never become dependent on a certain job.

A New Decade – Grace/Crime

… that’s why I’m very lucky to do Grace in Brighton. With Grace, I was able to dive into the source material, the Peter James books, so it’s easy to get inside her head. And it’s a tried and true, hugely successful method of storytelling, so all we had to do was not mess it up.

The character was intriguing. There’s stuff with his personal life – his wife is missing – but he’s not so tortured that he can’t do his job. I love that he is so dedicated. And this series, he’s approaching a mortuary assistant, like you do. They start flirting with corpses!

When I was younger, I was quite impatient. Now I’m happy to work, so I want to do more. Especially because we moved here during lockdown. We had already planned it, by the way. We didn’t do it just for show. So it was a happy coincidence.

But I’m always looking for variety – and Crime was so heavy. The writing was fabulous. Working with Irvine Welsh was really special, as was filming with Dougray Scott. And it was an opportunity to work with director David Blair for the first time since The lakes. But it was so dark. One of those where you have to scrub down with a wire brush at the end of every day of shooting just to get the guy out of your head. I wasn’t sure if I could play it or if I really wanted to go, it was so dark. But what a contrast to Grace – a good guy, clean-shaven. Very, very nasty, fantastic stubble…

Grace airs Sunday nights on ITV

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