■ The actor, 37, on the melancholy of playing the young Morse in Endeavour, why he’d be good at general knowledge and dealing with gore directing Casualty
How would you sum up Endeavour’s personality? I heard the phrase ‘an ineffable melancholy’ the other day and that seemed a perfect fit…
That’s really strange because I read that phrase just the other day too — in a Paul Auster book, I think. Where did you hear it?
Bizarrely, in a documentary about early Bee Gees lyrics.
Oh… that’s curious. I’d say I think the melancholy is really Endeavour’s way of responding to life — all the s***ty things that happen in the job that he does and all the minutiae he has to deal with on a daily basis. So is it a good way to describe him? I could give you a really long answer but… ‘an ineffable melancholy’? Yes, let’s go with that.
Endeavour haunts the dreaming spires of Oxford. Were you ever tempted by the academic life?
Not really. I don’t think an academic life would have suited me. It can feel quite restrictive, in a way — you have to have the right type of personality. I like a bit of mental chaos.
You must pick up a lot of Endeavour’s knowledge of the classics. How would you get on in Celebrity Mastermind?
I’d really struggle because I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none, so I’d have absolutely no chance with a specialist subject. One of the things I most enjoy about my job is that you get to learn a little about a lot of different things, so I reckon I’d have a good crack when it came to the general knowledge round.
There are some pretty graphic murder images in Endeavour. Anything turn your stomach?
No, I don’t mind all that. I used to read all the Stephen King novels when I was younger, so I’ve got a pretty strong stomach for all that. I’m working on Casualty as a director at the moment and on the set there you’re having to do things like push bits of intestine, muscle and guts back into stomachs — all kinds of gruesome stuff like that. It’s actually a pretty funny thing to do, you can’t let it bother you.
How did you wind up going behind the camera?
Well, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I’d wanted to try my hand at it for quite a while and a friend knew they [the team at Casualty] were looking and he put me in touch with them.
It’s an unusual route to get into directing. Hadn’t you thought of doing your own indie film?
That’s a plan for the future. I’ve always been interested in doing as many different things. I want to learn as much as I can about storytelling and whether that’s on stage or television, it’s about being part of a team. With Casualty there’s no better place to learn than with a team that knows the job inside out. And in contrast to an indie film, with Casualty you know a big audience is going to see it on Saturday night TV.
Which directors inspire you?
All the usual suspects, I guess. I do really admire Hungarian director István Szabó. But actually I’ve been influenced most by working with the directors on Endeavour. It’s the people I work with that I find the most inspiring.
There’s a strong sense of time passing in Endeavour. Does that make you pause and reflect?
It’s a really essential part of what we’re doing and what’s going on — we keep coming back to that when we talk about each series. The way the politics of the time is reflected on one level, then on a personal level for the characters, there’s inevitably the feeling of life passing by, of missed opportunities. How we reflect that is always an ongoing conversation when we come to make a new series.
Do you think about the end of Endeavour? At some point we’ll get to the Doctor Who moment when Endeavour morphs into Inspector Morse…
Yes, there’s no sense of jeopardy with Endeavour to that extent — we know where things are heading.
Do you look forward to that moment with anticipation or sadness?
It doesn’t make me feel sad because I know I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been allowed to be a part of this. So there’s no sense of regret or anything like that. I feel grateful for the opportunity for as long as it lasts.
■ Endeavour series five is available on catch-up on ITV Hub