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Bits and Bobs (Vol. 6): Nathaniel Parker (aka Inspector Lynley) checks out... and in

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Masterpiece_l

Masterpiece_lI remember the first time I saw Nathaniel Parker as cuckolded gambler Rawdon Crawley in Andrew Davies’ 1998 adaptation of Vanity Fair. The next day I road my bike to the library to borrow Far From the Madding Crowd on VHS just to watch him and Fair costar Natasha Little together again. And how excellent was he as Harold Skimpole in the recent Bleak House (also penned by Davies)? Yet I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb by claiming that Anglophiles know Nathaniel (and maybe even like him) best as the eponymous New Scotland Yard detective of Elizabeth George’s The Inspector Lynley Mysteries. That’s taking into consideration his astonishing performance as Laertes in Zeffirelli’s Hamlet (check out this vintage interview footage) and his sweet cameo in Stardust.

Lynley just plain, to be all American about it, rocks. That’s why I’m pained to write about the show’s final season, which begins airing on Masterpiece Mystery! this Sunday, August 10th and runs for only two episodes. The premiere commences just months after the shooting death of Lynley’s wife Helen, and features the Inspector being arrested for murdering a fling while investigating the disappearance of his godson (said fling was the kid’s older sister). I’ve seen it, and it’s a goodie. The finale isn’t half bad either, with Foyle’s War’s Honeysuckle Weeks and the always-great James D’Arcy guest-starring as a young couple mixed up in the disappearance of two teenage girls. It will freak you out. Promise. 

Thus, to help me avoid facing the end of one of my favorite detective series (as I told you last week, sleuths make me weak in the knees), Bits and Bobs got Nathaniel on the phone to talk about it himself, tell us his plans for the future, and give us his recommendations for the best in British entertainment (Jimmy McGovern fans, prepare to meet your soul mate). Check it out after the jump.

Bits & Bobs: The Lynley finale has already aired in Britain, correct? What was the response there to the end of the series?
Nathaniel Parker: Well, it’s kind of strange because when we shot it wedidn’t know it would be the end. They canceled the series after wefinished shooting, so there is no tie-up to it. There’s been quite asweet response, a wonderful response really, here and in Europe. I meanaround the world, really. Lots of petitions and things like that sentto the BBC. It’s been slightly embarrassing. I was asked by a bunch ofpeople in Amsterdam — 17,500 viewers — to accept their petition to takeback to the BBC. But I think the BBC would look at me and say, “God,you must be really desperate for work!”

B&B: No! But Elizabeth George just published a new Lynley novel and everything!
NP: I know! I know! That is so bizarre. Well, the BBC has a verypowerful mandate that it has to fulfill, and it’s always been, in myopinion, the bastion of good broadcasting. It’s always tried to fulfillall the various different things it has to with public broadcasting.And I think they felt that we’d being going for 7 years, 24 episodes,so it was time to put some money into something new. We weren’t a cheapshow to make, because we had quite high production values. Our shootingschedule for an hour and half was about 22-23 days, whereas in theStates an hour-long show shoots in 8 days at most.

B&B: The Lynley episodes felt like mini movies…
NP: They were mini-movies. And I think they just felt we have to putmoney in other things now and move on. That’s fine. I’m very glad theydid in many ways. It gives me a chance to do other things and remindpeople I’m not just Inspector Lynley. It was important for me to stop,I think, and move on, and I’m kind of grateful that the BBC forced myhand on that one because I would have found it very difficult to saygoodbye. I absolutely loved doing it. We had a great cast, great crew.And I got to work with Sharon Small for half of the year the last sixor seven years, which I really enjoyed. And it’s opened up a lot ofdoors for me. But the response from the viewers was quite interestingwhen the last series came out because initially new episodes were heldback over a year in fact, because of the disappearance of the younggirl Maddy McCann. And so they thought due to the circumstances. Haveyou seen them by the way?

B&B: Yes, in the first episode, Lynley’s godson disappears.
NP: Well, they thought that was too close to real life. Personally, Ididn’t quite see it, but anyway, that’s what they felt. And then we dida bit of publicity when it was about to come out last July or somethingand then they held it back again. So when it came round to showing itthis time, there was no publicity left for it.  I did one littleinterview, I think. So that was kind of strange — ’cause nobody knew itwas on. And yet on the day, the viewing figures were great and theywere top market share. And then the following week, again with nopublicity, they realized it was the last one coming and our viewingfigures were fantastic. I suppose it’s a slight dilemma forbroadcasters when they think, “Oh, bother! We’ve finished the programand people still want to watch it.”  Because it does make them a lot ofmoney. As you say, Lynley does very well out in the States, it doesvery well in Australia, Germany, Holland, all those places. There’s apart of me, which would love to see another episode, sort of a tying-upepisode where it would all come back together. Particularly, sincewe’ve now got a new story thanks to Elizabeth. But I’m certainly notgoing to push for it because I think it’s up to the BBC, and it’s theirmandate they’ve got to fulfill, and if they feel the money can bebetter spent elsewhere, then that’s up to them, and that’s fine by me.

B&B: I know you filmed an episode of Hotel Babylon that hasn’t aired here yet…
NP: [laughing] Yes, I just did a little moment on that, which was a lotof good fun actually. There was with an old exec producer on Lynleyworking on the show. It was bizarre to be doing an episode of somethingelse, but I felt I was in good hands. I had a lovely time with that. Ihad never seen it before. I was slightly alarmed, but with people likeDexter Fletcher there, who was in Stardust with me, I felt very comfortable.  And it was a bit like visiting an old Lynley set. One of the nicest things about doing Lynley was that we had a happy, happy time doing it.

B&B: You had some great guest-stars…
NP: We did! Oh, lovely! My point was always that if we had only onegood guest-star then you know who’s done it. So, basically, you’ve gotto have at least two. Sometimes we would have a whole host of them,we’d have four or five, and that was great fun. In fact, I remember oneepisode in the first series in which we had a bunch of quite famouspeople doing one pickup, and then who was lurking in one of the smallerparts, but an important part, was James McAvoy.

B&B: Oh, yes, I remember that one. He becomes the murderer doesn’t he?
NP: That’s right, that’s right!

B&B: Colin Firth’s brother, Jonathan, was also in that episode
NP: Oh God, that’s right! My God, you’ve got a good memory! And thenthere were other episodes with people like Sophie Okonedo. I rememberworking with her so well. I learned a lot from Sophie. You do tend topick up a lot of good things when you’re working with good people. Youknow, it raises your game. So I had an absolute ball doing it, and I’mkind of sad it’s over.

B&B: What’s next on the horizon for you?
NP: Good point. We’re hoping to get financing on a film in South Africain the next week or so, so I don’t know for certain if that’s going tohappen yet. Otherwise, I just finished doing a play.

B&B: I saw that on your website.
NP: Yes, Quartermaine’s Terms.There was a part of me that thought, “Ooh, God, I’d love to do this inLA.” The trouble is, it’s completely undramatic. There’s very littlethat happens in it. It’s all talk, but it’s very, very, very goodwriting. I can’t emphasize how much I enjoyed saying those words. It’sa very funny play, lots of laughter, and in the very last moment itbecomes completely tragic. The aim was to get no applause.

B&B: So that the audience is in shock?
NP: And that happened four times! And I can’t tell you how excitingthat was. It was like scoring the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.I’ll be sitting there with the lights going down and when they comeback up, nobody has made a noise and inside I’m just jumping up anddown. So I’ve got the bug again a bit for theater. I’d like to do itsomewhere else. I sometimes wonder about theater if you get comparedtoo often to other people who’ve done those parts. You know, if you trytake on a big Shakespearean role, which I’ve done in the past and loveddoing, you know they’re always saying, “Well, of course, so and so didit so much better in 1943.” And you’re going, “Oh, bloody hell! What’sthe point?” And I think, really, on stage comedy is the thing for me.

B&B: Have you ever thought of doing comedy on TV?
NP: Yeah, I have. I’ve done a bit. But the difference is quiteinteresting in that on stage it’s just you, the cast, and the audiencefiguring out what the timing is, what the temperature is — whereas on afilm, it’s you, the director, the writer, and the editor. All of youhave a say in how the timing goes. Now that’s great, and you can getsome very funny films from that, it’s fantastic, but it’s lessenthralling. But I’d love to do more comedy whether it’s onscreen oronstage, frankly. But it’s something I’m not often asked to do.

B&B: Rawdon Crawley had a comic edge in Vanity Fair
NP: Oh, Rawdon, yes.  I thought he was very good fun! And I got a greatnote from a director on that in the first day of rehearsal, which was“Don’t be embarrassed to play dim.” So, every now and then I wasplaying him as if he was just a little bit slow.

B&B: What is your favorite bit of British TV (this column recommends British entertainment to Americans)?
NP: Right. Oh, definitely Inspector Lynley! I can’t think of anything else to watch! Reruns of Inspector Lynleyare even better! No [laughs] let’s think seriously. There’s somefantastic stuff out there to watch. Some of the period stuff you justhad out there like Cranford.

B&B: Oh, that was fantastic!
NP: Wasn’t that brilliant? That sort of thing is just wonderful. Therewas a very good production here with an American in it, actually.  Thelovely Elizabeth McGovern.  A sitcom called Freezing,which was very clever amusing stuff.  I think England, or Britainrather, gets it right when we do it quite small. And we stumble on thebigger pictures sometimes. But then you have a film like Stardust,which is fantastic! What have I watched lately that’s English? Oh thisis a circuitous route. To be perfectly honest, the only program Iregularly watch now is Brothers and Sisters.

B&B: The American show?
NP: Yes, I love it. Absolutely adore it.

B&B: There’s a Brit on it, Matthew Rhys, so maybe…
NP: And Australian Rachel Griffiths, and then you see the two of thembeing fantastically American. They’re fantastic. These are the kind ofactors I want to work with, and I don’t often get the chance over here.I’d love to go over there and work, I have to say.

B&B: Really?
NP: I really would. I’ve gotten to the point that, in this country,I’ve had such a lovely time, that I think it’s time to let somebodyelse have a great time, and I’ll go off and work over there. I’d adoreit.

B&B: I’d love to see you in a theater in New York!
NP: Well, that’s a proposition! Theater in New York would be good fun. I did Merchant of Venicethere many years before, with Dustin Hoffman. But I’d love to do somemore. Actually I’d quite like to do telly there! I love the pace thatgood television can engender, when you really get to work fast! Filmsare fabulous. When I worked with Rob Minkoff on Haunted Mansion or even when I did The Bodyguardyou’d find that there would be a lot of good work going on fromhundreds of people around you. And it was a very slow pace. I’d domaybe two shots a day. Three shots a day would be fantastic. Butactually, only doing those shots, my God the pressure in there! Youthink, “My God, I can’t get my bit wrong. Look, the scene painters gotthat bit right, the props guy got that bit right, the lighting guy hasgot that bit right, the sound man’s right… I’ve got to get my bit righttoo!” The pressure felt enormous. Whereas, when you’re working for TV,you’re working at such a pace, you haven’t got time for those thoughts.When they tell you to stand over here, you’re like “Okay, I’ll do it!”And I take my hat off to a dear friend of mine, Natascha McElhone,who’s out there doing Californication.

B&B: Oh, she’s fantastic!
NP: Isn’t she? She’s wonderful. But getting back to British stuff. Oh,gosh, you’ve put me on the spot here!  I’m a current affairs manmostly. What do I watch that’s English? I wish I had my kids with me,they could tell me. Um, well, I do think we’ve got a good line incinema now that my brother [director Oliver Parker] is tending to doit. Uh, but you weren’t talking about telly weren’t you?

B&B: Well, movies are fine!
NP: Movies are fine. Well, I guess you can’t expect me to not talk about my brother’s movies! [laughs]

B&B: Are you going to be working with your brother anymore?
NP: I hope so! It took me quite a long time to work with him in thefirst place. I wish he’d turned into a director years before that. Inever worked with him as an actor. But once he became a director I’vebeen able to work with him.

B&B: His work is fantastic. I’m really looking forward to seeing St. Trinian’s.
NP:  I don’t know if it is coming out in the States, is it?

B&B: I don’t know. I was hoping maybe they would put it out just straight to DVD somehow.
NP: Hopefully, it will be on DVD.  We’ve got great directors now. Thereare just fabulous British directors out there, like Paul Greengrass.They’re really just great.

B&B: I love that you watch Brothers and Sisters, that’s just awesome. The only thing is that it plays against Masterpiece, which airs Lynley
NP: Ah! That’s terrible [laughs]. I can’t say that then! I tell you,I’m quite a sports fan. I do love watching sports and I have the oddgamble light. And the American rugby team is getting better. That’s oneof my favorite sports. And horse racing! I was very involved watchingyour Triple Crown this year. Poor Big Brown didn’t do it!

B&B: You had a rugby episode of Lynley if I recall?
NP: A rugby episode?

B&B: It was about a woman who killed her lover…
NP: No that was cricket! But we did have a bit of rugby in one of them.We also had a horse racing one, because I’m such a big fan of horseracing. And I was allowed to ride in that. I actually was so keen to doit, but unfortunately because of insurance, they only let me sit on thehorse, say the words, and get off again. I was really disappointed.

B&B: Did you know how to ride before this?
NP: Oh yeah, I’m a keen rider.

B&B: Did you grow up like Lynley?
NP: No, not at all. Although it’s quite funny, my mum has her gardenopen every year, once a year, and some people came this year forpublicity I was doing for my play, and they come to the garden andsaid, “Are you Inspector Lynley’s mother?” And to my daughter theysaid, Are you one of the Lynleys? People were rather confusing reality.I do get forced to watch quite a bit of Hannah Montana.

B&B: Oh, no. Do you have a teenager?
NP: I have a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old. Both girls. And so verykeen into that. And I did actually slightly get up for the movie. I’malso a big fan of mysteries. I think that’s what I like to watch mostlyout of British television. I think do we tend to do them quite well.But the thoughtful ones are the ones I like, the really quite clevermysteries. I was very keen on Lynleythat we never cheated, which is difficult to do. You can only have somany coincidences before people start going, “Oh for God’s sake. Howcould that possibly work?” So I was keen never to get the audience intothat position.

B&B: Who are your favorite television writers?
NP: Jimmy McGovern. Anything he does is fantastic! Anything. I’m such a fan of his. Have you seen The Street?

B&B: Yes, I have.
NP: That blew my away. Blew me away. I was on the board of BAFTAchoosing Best Actress and we had to watch a few of those.  I was justastounding at how brilliant they were. They hadn’t come within my radarbefore I had to judge them and I was bowled over, I thought they wereamazing. Anything Jim McGovern does is really the bee’s knees for me.

And now, your Anglophile entertainment schedule for the week:

Monday (August 4): Check out comedian Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong’s new Times Online podcast.
Tuesday: It’s an Anglophile’s DVD dream day:  Hotel Babylon: Season 2, Robin Hood: Season 2, Sensitive Skin, Wire in the Blood: Prayer of the Bone, Foyle’s War: Set 5, David Attenborough’s Life in Cold Blood, and The PD James Essential Collection all hit stands. (Oh, and Steve Coogan guests on Letterman). 
Wednesday:  At 8pm, watch the doc What’s Eating Victoria Beckham? On BBC America. I’m sure it’s as freaky as it sounds. DVR Danny Boyle’s Sunshine on Cinemax at 12:50am. 
Thursday: Listen to BBC Radio 2 online
Friday: You might hate yourself afterwards, but support Mile High’s Tom Wisdom by seeing Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. At 9:20pm, watch my favorite episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look, in which a man goes native at a house and garden shop.
Saturday: Primeval premieres on BBC America at 9pm (expect a post on this awesome science fiction series in the future). 
Sunday:  Lynley Premieres at 9pm on PBS!  And are you recording Shameless on Sundance at 9pm, yet?

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