A SMILE is never far from the lips of Daniel Mays. But ask him how he’d react if his family was threatened by a house intruder and a cloud falls across the father-of-two’s face.
‘You have to ask yourself how you would react in that moment,’ he says. ‘How rational can you be if something like that happens? Of course you’ve got the right to defend your home but where do you draw the line?’
We’ll all be asking ourselves the same when watching The Interrogation Of Tony Martin, a dramatised account of the case of the Norfolk farmer who in 1999 was found guilty of murder — later reduced to manslaughter — after shooting a burglar who’d broken into his isolated farmhouse. Mays plays one of the two police officers who interviewed Martin on his arrest.
‘It’s a verbatim drama,’ says Mays, who insists on being called Danny, being about as down-to-earth as it gets in the rarified world of actors. ‘Everything that is said is exactly what was said in the interview room. We went from exactly what was on the page, so it’s not your typical good cop, bad cop kind of drama. These were cops going about their job just as they would do it. I’d never worked from a verbatim script before — it was fascinating, it felt incredibly real.’
It’s indicative of the impact the Martin case made that, almost two decades on, his name lingers in the public psyche. The case became about an Englishman’s celebrated right to defend his castle but what this dramatised version does brilliantly is colour the shades of grey between the black and white. Martin, superbly played by Steve Pemberton, emerges as an eccentric antithesis of the folk hero he was painted.
‘I don’t think I went into it feeling I was on one side or the other and I think I felt the same at the end,’ says Mays, whose DC Peters is an understated by-the-book copper. ‘That’s what the drama does so well, it makes you ask the questions of yourself.’
‘I lied about Line Of Duty — sorry about that. I was sworn to secrecy’
The intensity of the extended interview scenes bears comparison with Line Of Duty, on the subject of which I have a bone to pick with Mr Mays, who made a memorable impact in season three of Jed Mercurio’s gripping police drama. When I spoke to him ahead of his role, which looked to be series-long, he gave no hint he bit the bullet at the end of episode one. He gives it his best sheepish look.
‘Ah yes, I had to get my best acting cap on when I got interviewed for that,’ he says. ‘I was sworn to secrecy, so sorry about that. I was getting asked, “Aren’t you in a play at The National, will you be able to fit that in?” and I had to come out with all sorts of nonsense about schedules fitting around me!’
It was worth it. Line Of Duty, which earned Mays a Bafta nod — not bad for one episode (and a bloody bit in the next one) — proved game-changing. He was busy before but then ‘the floodgates opened’. And then some. Is he just a boy who can’t say no?
‘Pretty much,’ he says. ‘I’m always trying to stretch myself and there’s no doubt this is a brilliant time for actors, there are so many opportunities.’
Upcoming opportunities which, for the versatile Mays, stretch from Cornish choir comedy Fisherman’s Friends — ‘It’s alright, I only have to sing in front of the mirror, I’m not one of the choir’— post-apocalyptic survivalist saga Temple, and Neil Gaiman’s fantasy Good Omens. ‘I play the father of the Antichrist, and me and the missus just pop in now and again to do a bit of meddling.’
The big budget spent on TV series Good Omens has given him the urge to spread his wings. He did have a small role in Star Wars movie Rogue One and says: ‘What I’d really like is to have a proper crack at America. It’s not like I’ve reached the top of what I can do here, I just fancy it.’
That might have to wait for a bit, though, because the indefatigable Mays has another potential ace up his sleeve in a comedy pilot he’s filmed for Sky called Code 404.
‘It’s about a policeman who is part cop, part robot,’ he chuckles. ‘It sounds really rubbish when I describe it like that. But Anna Maxwell Martin, who’s in it with me, said to me, “Danny, this is really funny, this is your Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em!”’
So we’ve covered crime, comedy, choirs and the apocalypse. Any talents we haven’t touched on? Turns out he’s a secret glitterballer.
‘They offered me the Strictly Christmas special, the one-off thing,’ he says, ‘but I thought, “Now, come on, love, I’m not having that” — it’s the proper series or nothing!’
■ The Interrogation Of Tony Martin is on C4 on Sunday at 9pm