You and Derek Jacobi have known each other as long as Freddie and Stuart have, though not romantically —
Did you even need to work on your chemistry?
Over the years, Derek and I have seen each other and kept in touch. But we hadn’t actually worked together as actors since we were at [Cambridge] as undergraduates. But we came together very easily. Derek has done lots of television — a lot more than I have — and had big successes with I, Claudius and so on, so he’s a lot more familiar with television than I am.
The premiere jumps right into Freddie’s and Stuart’s lives in London, but how would you describe their dynamic to a stranger?
Their mode of communication is to sound perfectly horrible to each other, hence the title Vicious. As with many couples who’ve fallen into the habit of being rude to each other, I think they love each other. I don’t think the audience will have any problem relating. Probably the most remarkable thing about them is not that they’re gay, but that they’ve been together for 50 years.
Your character is an actor, but not one with your level of success.
Initially I was a bit doubtful as to whether I wanted to play an actor — and a gay actor at that — who is my age with my background. I know people rather like him, I must admit, so it’s more drawing on [their] experience rather than anything of my own. He’s as pompous as any actor can be. [Laughs] I hope I don’t sound or behave like him.
He’s certainly a more over-the-top personality than you typically play.
Vicious is farcical. It’s not a documentary. It’s not reality TV. It’s more along the lines of The Golden Girls. Gary Janetti, who wrote the show and has been one of the organizers from Family Guy and Will & Grace, is a devotee of I Love Lucy and all those old sitcoms. It’s that sort of style that he’s brought to bear on Freddie and Stuart.
Vicious has already been renewed for a second season. Are you surprised by its success?
It was so popular [in the U.K.], with such large numbers, that a second series seemed to be inevitable. There are some people who don’t take to it at all. Some of my friends think it’s a bit beneath my dignity, but I don’t have any dignity as an actor.
Stuart isn’t the only Stewart in your life: There’s also your X-Men costar Patrick Stewart.
I hope that Stuart doesn’t get jealous of the bromance Stateside. [Laughs]
People loved the Twitter photo series of you two during your Broadway runs of Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land. Would you ever consider doing a travel show or another non-dramatic project with him?
I’ve been asked recently to do a number of things, which are not to do with acting — presenting and so on. That’s not what I really do best or what I want to do. I enjoy acting. I wouldn’t want to become a TV bore who turns up everywhere on chat shows and quiz shows and documentaries. No, I think I’ll stick to being an actor.