Martin Clunes was ‘terrified’ about playing Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in new drama Arthur and George. He talks about taking the title role, and having to do a Scottish accent
Just before 9pm tonight, millions of households across the UK will put the kettle on and settle down on their sofas to a good hour of drama, as they have done for the past eight weeks.
But the spot they’ll be watching won’t be Broadchurch, ITV’s award-winning hit starring Olivia Colman and David Tennant, it will be Martin Clunes’ face they’ll see, taking the lead role in three-part drama Arthur and George.
Arthur and George is an adaptation of part of the Booker Prize-nominated Julian Barnes book by the same name, and tells the true story of Sir Arthur and his secretary, Alfred Wood, as they investigate the case of Anglo-Indian solicitor George Edalji who has been wrongly imprisoned.
Inheriting a TV slot that’s already been warmed up for the viewing masses is nothing new to Clunes, who made his name in lads’ show Men Behaving Badly back in the 1990s when it ‘took over’ a spot from Absolutely Fabulous, and he jokes that people were too lazy to switch channels so it became a success.
In all seriousness, landing the role of Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a shock says Clunes, even though his wife Philippa Braithwaite is the show’s producer, so had a hand in the casting.
“I honestly did not know it was intended for me, because she’s a producer and that’s what she does. Once [Philippa] got everything [a writer, the green light for production and so on] it sort of became apparent that it was me.
“I was genuinely surprised. I thought ‘god, thanks,’ I don’t know why. Maybe I’m surprising casting for it, I was a bloke from Men Behaving Badly, but I’m thrilled now.”
When I ask him how he feels differently towards his career now, at 53, to how he did when he was in Men Behaving Badly (for which he won a BAFTA), he says he feels less confident. “I think everything gets harder, doesn’t it? I think so. When I was younger, I knew everything and could do anything and was an expert on everything.
“Maybe you know more, and you know how much you don’t know. Or maybe you just do it too often. I definitely think it’s harder, but I couldn’t say why.”
He worked with a dialect coach to get Conan Doyle’s east coast/Edinburgh accent right. “My comfort zone has been Doc Martin or documentaries about animals. That has been my life for so long, with little bits of acting along the way but never in the title role.
“This is quite big. Conan Doyle is a very famous Scotsman, so I had to speak with an authentic Scottish accent as well.”
Clunes, who is also appearing on tomorrow night’s Jonathan Ross Show admits that – like many fifty-something fathers – he loves embarrassing his children. He says his teenage daughter Emily is not impressed with his acting.
“We got her to go to the premiere of Nativity 3 where she just curled up with embarrassment because I sang in it. That was a real [fist pump moment] for me because we are just there to embarrass them which I do splendidly… She has a healthy contempt for me.”
He hints that there may be further series of Arthur and George. “There may be future stories, we didn’t touch on his spiritualism [for example] because when you are introducing a character, for the purposes of this story it wasn’t useful… I think [he was] impetuous but thorough. Impetuous people are usually quite shallow, but he was a doctor, an ophthalmologist, a really interesting man.”
Arthur and George starts on Monday 2 March at 9pm on ITV.