“I wouldn’t mind trying Farage”: Jason Watkins on his next role | TV and radio


Jason Watkins is arguably the main “That Guy” working in Britain today. His everyday character acting appeal – round face, bald, and tiny – has led to a surprisingly diverse array of work. He played Harold Wilson in The Crown. He played Mr. Humphries in the 2016 BBC Are You Being Served? remake. He has been in W1A and Line of Duty. He has been in The Hollow Crown and the Nativity films.Earlier this year, he starred in ITV’s surprise crime drama McDonald and Dodds, which was recently renewed for a second series. He’s a reassuring familiar presence. You almost certainly saw him – and liked him – in something, and yet a lot of people would have a hard time remembering his name.

Or would they do it? He takes care of himself amiably. “Well I think things have probably changed a bit since the Bafta,” Watkins says, reminding me of the fact that he fought competition from some little-known actors named Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones and James Nesbitt to win. the best actor. Bafta for her role in Christopher Jefferies’ Lost Honor in 2015. “But yeah, I mean I would be okay with that. I’ve always been good at accents and different kinds of theater, and I don’t have a snobbery of popular stuff. When making a living, you tend to cover as many bases as possible. “

Watkins as Brian Masters in Des. “Society thinks that if you understand, then you forgive. Photography: Robert Viglasky

Her next role is one of her trickier ones. As Brian Masters in ITV’s Des, he will play the actual biographer of serial killer Dennis Nilsen. It’s an essential item in a weirdly tidy case. Nilsen’s almost instantaneous confession – he admitted to having committed “15 or 16” murders before he even got to the police station – means that there is no Columbo cat-and-mouse aspect in his story, not satisfactorily climatic outcome. In terms of traditional dramatic tension, the tale is over as soon as it begins.

“It’s just the growing horror, isn’t it?” Watkins said of Nilsen’s arrest. “He just pushes all those victims away, relieving in that narcissistic way.” It was not a sincere, desperate confession. It was just, “Look at me.” ”

But the inclusion of Masters – the author of the old-school Garrick Club establishment figure, who corresponded with Nilsen after his arrest and has gone on to write what comes closest to a definitive explanation of the Nilsen murders – is where all the intrigue lies. We might know that Nilsen did it, and we might know how he did it. The question of Why he did, however, is an entirely different story.

In the series, Masters goes to great lengths to emphasize that his interest in Nilsen does not stem from a need to understand his motives, but to understand. “Society thinks that if you understand, then you forgive,” Watkins says. “But the word ‘understanding’ opens up a world of how can we do these things? Why are you doing them? [Masters’ book] Killing for Company is comprehensive in terms of looking back in Nilsen’s life to try and figure out how he got to do what he did. Watkins knows the book inside out. Not only did this form the basis of his research for the role, but he also recorded a new audiobook version, in the character of Masters.

It wasn’t necessarily how he planned to pass the lockdown. As Covid drew closer, Watkins was in South Africa filming a big-price pan-European adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days, reuniting him with his co-star Des David Tennant. Now that things are starting to return to a sort of “new normal” for certain arts, he is eager to get back to work, and more specifically the theater. “I have spoken to some producers of projects, but everything is a bit on hold,” he says.

How is it going in the theater community? “We’re really struggling,” he replies. “I’m lucky, money in the bank from TV and stuff. The freelancers got nothing, weren’t even able to defer the tax. They applied for a small loan, but that 80% disruption just didn’t happen, and people are very worried and worried about their current situation.

Jason Watkins as Mr. Humphries in the 2016 Are You Served?  remake.

Jason Watkins as Mr. Humphries in the 2016 Are You Served? remake. Photograph: Scott Kershaw / BBC

“I know that other governments have placed more emphasis on culture in their spending and in their spending prioritization,” he continues. “And yet, we’ve kind of lumped our own together with the arts and heritage, which is kind of weird. I think it has to do with the National Trust, doesn’t it? Stately homes, knights and castles and other things. Which is good, but the arts are such a vital part of our cultural life and our life in general. It gives such vision, comfort and entertainment, and nourishes us all. ”

In an effort to lighten the mood for disease, serial killers, and economic ruin, I mention to Watkins that he seems to be doing a lot of handstands on the internet lately. “I was able to sprint,” he responds unexpectedly. “Before, I could run on my hands. I got closer to the world record when I was 14. Running along a basketball court. Obtained in seconds ”.

In the nicest way possible – maybe because he’s already put on weight for roles – Jason Watkins doesn’t seem like the type of person who would come close to the world record for sprinting in balance. “I’m a bit of a sports fan,” he retorts. “I am heavily into cycling. I can sprint about 1,100 watts, which is a lot. I just hiked 35 miles around Regents Park at 6 a.m. ”

In terms of the scope and breadth of her television work, Watkins is reminiscent of a pre-Oscar Olivia Colman. Like her, her name in the credits guarantees a certain level of quality. What’s the trick to deciding what will be a good project, I wonder.

“Something like A Very English Scandal, for example,” he replies, audibly growling in excitement for a series now two years back. “It was a small game, but the script was really fantastic. It was a brilliant story, and I wanted to work with Stephen Frears – it was obvious. And obviously Hugh [Grant] be involved and Ben Whishaw, you know, okay, it’s gonna be good.

“Tony will be delighted”… Watkins as Simon Harwood in W1A with Max Olesker (left) and Ivan Gonzalez. Photograph: Jack Barnes / BBC

“And with Brian Masters – what a fascinating character. It’s always an exciting prospect when you read a script and you almost start speaking, you almost read aloud very early on in a script, because you think, ‘Well, I want to do that.’

I mention that I saw him retweet a post from someone who had declared him perfect to play the role of Chris Whitty in the inevitable dramatization of the coronavirus. Was it an active speech on his part?

“Well, I think I should grow up a bit, because he’s so tall, isn’t he?” he says. “But what’s interesting about playing Whitty, besides being kind of a zeitgeist prospect, is what is he thinking about?” What has been going on in his head the past few months?

“Obviously he is someone who is very capable, honest and compassionate. Everyone wants to alleviate the tragedy of it all, and he was at the heart of it. But obviously, at the same time, there were hissing pressures. What a great character to play, weighing in all kinds of things at once. ”

He stops again. “Or, you know, Farage. I wouldn’t mind trying at Farage.

Maybe it’s time to free up some space for a second Bafta.

Broadcasts on ITV later this month


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