■ The actor, 48, talks Doctor Who, apologising for his face and his new role as an academic in Strangers
Who is Jonah Mulray, your character in Strangers?
A sociology lecturer, a normal, quiet guy. He’s not Indiana Jones and he’d never have expected to be thrown into this insane situation where he learns that his wife has died mysteriously, his marriage has been a lie, and then he runs into police and political corruption in Hong Kong.
How was the experience of filming in Hong Kong?
I’d never been before so it was good for me to be there just like the character, completely discombobulated. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was an amazing place: crowded, noisy, hot, a lot of pollution. The skyline is extraordinary.
What’s the most memorable location you’ve filmed in?
Playing Raskolnikov [for 2002’s Crime and Punishment] in St Petersburg. They treat him like a national hero there, a cross between Hamlet and Sherlock Holmes. People were watching filming with the book in their hands, so there was plenty of pressure. We filmed during white nights so I constantly felt jet-lagged and tired.
If you were a university professor, what would you lecture on?
The Beatles. I could hold my own on that. What’s my fresh, original angle? Well, I’d have to think about that…
Would you have been a musician if acting hadn’t worked out?
Yeah, that was what I was going to do initially, but I’ve kind of done it anyway playing with New Order in Finsbury Park, which was a dream come true. And to support Echo And The Bunnymen with my band, play with Ian McCulloch’s band and support Coldplay… I feel blessed to at least have touched upon musical stardom, and I know my dad was very proud I got to play venues like the Manchester Apollo and Brixton Academy.
Your dad got you started in all this, didn’t he?
He put me on stage playing guitar with him. I grew up watching him in clubs, so joining the family business felt like a natural progression. It wasn’t a democracy, though! That’s why I became an actor: instead of leaving to join a band of people my age, which would have been awful for him, I changed profession. It was easier for him to take.
Your wife, Kate Magowan, is an actress. What do your kids make of your careers?
My daughter’s 11, so she’s just seen an episode of Life On Mars and Doctor Who, which scared her. She said, ‘You’re really horrible in that, dad’. Well, the Master’s a horrible kind of guy. My son’s 17 and isn’t really bothered. I don’t think he’s watched anything I’m in and that’s fine with me.
Any chance you might get to play opposite Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who?
I’ve no idea but if they asked me I’d absolutely consider it because she’s fantastic. It’s always a pleasure and a joy to go back and do that show and be that guy.
A big deal was made this year when Trauma and Collateral were scheduled against each other. Did you sit down at 9pm on Monday to watch one or the other?
No, I was sick of the sight of myself so I don’t know what the British public thought of me. I’d been away for a while and then did two jobs, which I thought would be spread over a year so I could ease myself back in, but no. I wasn’t completely happy with the scheduling but what can you do? People kept sending me pictures of billboards with my face on them and I kept having to apologise. David Threlfall sent me a picture of one saying: ‘This is at the end of my road…’ Nobody deserves that.
Would you like to do more comedy?
I’d love to. It’s easier to do on stage, though — I’m doing a couple of Harold Pinters with Jamie Lloyd in December. On TV you tend to get put in a box and people say: this is what you play.
Any interest in writing or directing?
Writing, yeah — I’ve got an idea that, if I ever have time to get it down, I could turn into something. Directing, I don’t know how much control you get until you reach a certain echelon and I would find that difficult. I’d love to have complete control [laughs]! Of everything! Then you could blame me for all of it, including the billboards.
Jose Mourinho. Discuss.
I’m philosophical about Manchester United because we had so many good years — two decades when we ruled the world. So I can’t moan. Mourinho’s done the best job so far of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson but it’s looking shaky.
Strangers starts tonight at 9pm on ITV