Welcome back to British TV! Is it very different to working in the US?
No, love, there’s no difference at all — well, apart from the budget. In the US, they have the budget, so there’s more time. Here it’s much more of a kick-b******s scramble approach — there’s no hanging about. What I love about that is that it makes the creatives even more creative.
Is that the only difference?
Well, the US definitely has better catering. On True Blood they had amazing caterers — the only bloody trouble was, I wasn’t able to tuck into it. Because we had to get our kit off the whole time it was all protein shakes, healthy smoothies and brown rice for me.
Any hang-ups about the getting-the-kit-off bit? There was a lot of competition in that show…
It was a spectacularly buff show. There was a lot of ripped abs envy going on! I’m kidding — hang-ups or envy? No, not really… there’s a certain point when you know that this is a game you’re not going to win. I just caught up with the DVD box set and there were some serious bodies on there.
You’ve spent so long starring in the US, do people mistake you for being American?
Yes, all the time in the US. Even though I’ve done loads of interviews and all that, there are people who can’t believe it when I speak with an English accent. They think I’m putting it on, they can get quite annoyed.
Do people ask you to do Bill’s sexy voice?
God yes, I get ‘talk like Bill!’ all the time. It happens in New York a lot — it’s like you’re living on TV. They want you to say, ‘I’m going to bite your neck’ — in fact, I’ve been asked to bite all sorts thanks to Bill. The best bit is you can make a joke about anything while you’re doing the voice as long as you don’t let on to people that you’re acting. They think it’s real. Which means you can get away with being completely un-PC, which is fun.
Is it a relief to get back to your English accent for Safe House?
It is, because you get used to speaking a certain way. In Safe House we’ve rooted my character Tom, who’s an ex-cop who finds himself drawn back into an old case, in Essex, which is where I’m from. There’s a hint of Southend at one point.
Ah yes, you’re a Brentwood boy. What do you make of the Essex image these days?
Of course it’s changed a lot since I grew up there. I was quite a political student in Brentwood, it was Thatcher’s Britain and I didn’t like what was happening — Essex kind of came to epitomise that culture. Not that I don’t love Essex, I really do. You go a few miles from Brentwood and you get to the country, to a lovely village like Finchingfield, so Essex is not wall-to-wall Towie. Though I have to admit that Towie is a brilliant conceit — I just wish they’d done it somewhere else.
Any memories of a misspent Essex youth?
Well, I got thrown out of the boys’ under-16 tennis championships at Frinton Lawn Tennis Club! I was very, very badly behaved and I got severely reprimanded. I had John McEnroe as my role model — the racket abuse, the ‘you cannot be serious’ thing, all that. I was pretty good, I made the semi-final of the Essex Open and Mark Petchey [ex-GB Davis Cup player now Sky commentator] was one of my contemporaries. But I was always angry with it — I guess I was frustrated because I knew I wasn’t quite good enough. I’m a bit like that when I play now, Americans think I’m mad.
You’re an example of successful on-set romance. You’ve been married to True Blood co-star Anna Paquin for seven years…
We were both dating a little bit when we first met, on the True Blood pilot, so at first it was something we tried to avoid. You know you’re taking a big risk, because potentially you’re going to be seeing a lot of each other. So we kept it private for a long time before we went public. But I got so lucky when I met her and we fell for each other.
As a lifelong West Ham fan, what’s your view about how it’s going at the Olympic stadium?
If we were playing better, nobody would be talking about the stadium. We haven’t taken well to it but all teams go through these stages. When the fans are feeling low, that plays into it too. When that stadium falls silent, it feels deathly quiet. It’s up to the fans to make some noise.
Safe House starts on ITV tonight at 9pm