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Shaun Evans: There are no good guys or bad guys

So what did you do [on your first morning in Moscow]?

I went to a cathedral at 6:30 this morning for a Divine Liturgy. It was beautiful. The Virgin of Kazan, I think, the cathedral was called. That was beautiful. And then I watched the parade. Yeah, it was a good day, it was a good day.

 Oh, lovely. Well, let’s start. First, let’s talk about your new film, War Book. It’s actually very thought-provoking.  What made you interested in the screenplay and in your character?

Good question. What I think is particularly interesting about it is, of course, the subject matter; primarily, that you have a number of people locked essentially in a room, the politics, I think is interesting: how these people react under pressure with each other. It’s contained it’s a very contained thing.  Also, Tom, whom I play, is very much an idealist, and probably is the least capable of making these decisions because he’s got so much going on in his personal life. So you see there’s very much a personal aspect within a professional atmosphere.  That made it interesting. Then also the way that we were shooting it. We rehearsed it for one week, and then we shot it for two weeks, so it was a very swift job.

People call your character a pacifist. Do you share his convictions?

I think I probably do, actually. I am a sort of idealist myself.

Would you like to play another part in this film? Maybe the Prime Minister, another Minister-?

Yeah, I’m an actor, so you want to play as many parts as possible. I mean watching it now it’s difficult to say, because it’s done, and I think there’s no other part I would want to play in it. But I think Ben Chaplin’s character, Gary-

The Prime Minister?

Yeah, he is very interesting. But I think Ben’s a terrific actor, and I think it’s always funny to watch other people and think how you would have [done it] if you were doing that part, if you were playing his, how interesting that would be, you know. But no, I was more attached to this character.

It’s hardly a secret that audiences all over the world are looking forward to the third series of-

Oh yeah, yeah.

 Endeavour. Can you tell us something about it?

Yeah. I think it’s the best one we’ve made. We’ve got four terrific directors, the first female director we’ve worked with, four great stories, and I think that the ensemble cast is just getting better and better because we all have been able to interact and we have a familiarity with each other now. We all know what we are making now. Do you mean, in terms of story, what can I tell you? Well, someone dies, in every single episode, [laughs], and then-

No spoilers!

No spoilers. You know what I love about this job, that job specifically, is that, unlike most other pieces  of mystery/detective shows, what I think sets it apart is that each film is very much a film and is self-contained , and has a completely different atmosphere and a completely different type of story than the ones that go before it and the ones that come after it. I think that way you can continue to keep your team engaged and you continue to keep the audiences engaged. So we try to make each one very different, and the third and the fourth one in this particular series, I think, are kind of exceptional. We are very pleased with the way they turned out, because we just tried something new, and they are good, they worked. And also, we are very fortunate because ITV could say: no, stick to what works, but they were very cool about saying: oh, you want a tiger in it? OK, let there be a tiger. There is a tiger. So I think it’s very lucky, and I’m really grateful for it.

Thank you. Have you seen the classic series about Inspector Morse?

No, I have not.  I’ve read the books, and  I thought they were terrific.  Colin Dexter has become quite a good friend, actually. He’s always there, on set.

Did he share with you any of his views on Endeavor?

No, he’s kind of respectful of the facts that he’s written the books, and this is something kind of different, and that we are trying to make it the best it can be, and I think he is pleased with that. How can he not be? [Laughs.]

Why do you think this character appeals to so many people?

 It’s funny, isn’t it? I think detective shows, detective stories, mystery stories are kind of intoxicating in a way.  Pattie Smith said detectives are like poets; the detectives in our detective stories are like poets.  You try to make your mind work in a way that sees the situation in a fresh way, the way you normally don’t see it, in order to solve the crime.  

I think there’s something reassuring about it, watching shows about people who are trying to bring light into the world. Someone dies, and you are trying to put the pieces together to make sure that the person who is responsible [is brought to justice], and therefore bring justice to the world. And how you do it is sort of alchemical thing. So you try and put the pieces together in a way that no one else can. And I think it’s that which is engaging.  When you are watching the show, if the audience can see that the person is flawed, perhaps not making a great success of their lives outside of work, than I think there is something engaging about it: you feel akin to him. I think that must be a little of that.

So, do you like crime stories?

Yeah, I’ve watched so many now that I’ve worked in the field- Yeah, I do, I do.

And what are your favorite TV series?

There’s an old show from the 60s called  Public Eye. Do you know it? I watch that. House of Cards, English and American version. I like dipping in and out of things. I’m not someone who’d, like, be desperate for a boxset of something to come out. But there’s so much good TV at the moment.

Your recent TV characters are very unlike the honest and decent Endeavour Morse. In The Last Weekend and The Scandalous Lady W you played some very unlikeable people. What characters are the most interesting to play – the good guys or the bad guys?

I don’t think the world is like that. I don’t think there are only good guys or bad guys. I think each of us is various shades of both. And I think the best parts to play are the ones that are well-written, when you are surrounded by a good team that makes you think and engage and get you to see both sides of that. I mean, there’s something quite dark about Endeavour as well. He drinks too much, he can’t have a relationship for whatever reason, he’s moody, so- But they are all interesting. I hope that I get the opportunity to continue playing parts that I find engaging for many years to come. I hope to tell the stories that I find engaging for many years to come.

These projects also contained sex scenes that required you to be naked. Do you find this part of your work difficult?

If it serves the story, one can’t be squeamish about it. You have to be willing to go there, physically and emotionally. And we shot the sex or the rape scene in The Last Weekend over two days, so for two days we had to repeatedly go there. With Scandalous Lady W, again, sex, or their sex life, was integral to the way, to the story that we were telling, and again, you can’t be squeamish, you just have to get on with it, you know. But I’m not some crazy exhibitionist who enjoys getting his kit off but I think if it would work, if it’s a well-written story-

Thank you. OK, easy question: how did you decide to become an actor?

I think it was a slow burn, but I thought, yeah, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll be an actor. And I can’t remember specifically what it was but I feel so lucky about that because, I think, part of the trick in life is discovering what it is exactly that you want, and then once the decision is made, moving forward. So many people vacillate between things, and I was lucky because I knew exactly what I wanted.  It’s a gift, it’s a gift.

Do you have any role models in acting? If yes, who are they?

Role models? There are certain works that I really enjoy a lot, enjoy going back to, again and again with people. But that’s not just in acting, that’s in all things, you know: photographers, writers, artists, someone who’s honest and works hard, and tries to express themselves.

In theatre you mostly do modern drama. Is it a coincidence or a choice?

That’s actually not true. Last year I did Miss Julie, which is an old play. No, that’s not a choice, at least not a conscious choice. If the writing’s good, then regardless of the time period, I’m happy to do it. 

Do you want to do some of the classics? Chekhov, Shakespeare-?

Yeah, I’d love to, I’d love to. I think some people are brilliantly suited to those types of plays. And I think others have to work a little harder. I put myself in the latter category. That said, I think Chekhov is an extraordinary writer. I’d love to play Ivanov, actually. And in a way, I’d sooner play that than Hamlet, who I also love. I find Shakespeare quite problematic. Shakespeare, I think, is better for the actors than it is for the audience. I think a lot of modern plays can be engaging in a far more visceral way. Shakespeare sounds beautiful and I’m open to everything.

As an actor, what do you find more interesting, working in theatre, in TV or film?

I like being in the same time zone as everyone else, so I like working for the camera because you get up at five. It suits me, you have a good working day. Theatre’s great but it’s kind of ephemeral; it’s done, I mean, it’s gone. Oftentimes, the relationships you forge in the rehearsal room and on stage are the ones that last much longer than the ones you form on set. But again, if the story’s good I’ll go anywhere and do anything for it.

And the last question: what are your plans for the nearest future in film, theatre and TV?

At the moment, we’ve only just finished a couple of weeks ago the final mix. I like to be involved in the post-production on Endeavour, so we’ve just finished the final mix of the fourth film. And I was present for the mix, for the grades. That was like film school. I wanted to make sure that I absorbed every aspect of it which doesn’t involve me, you know, all of those things that I knew nothing about prior to starting the job. For me personally, this time around, it was very much a goal to be as involved as possible, from a purely sponge point of view, to just soak it up. [I just want to have] some time to myself at the moment. If something brilliant comes in, excellent. I’ll do some publicity for this, do a bit of travelling, put my own house in order. I just bought a flat and haven’t spent any time there. I thought, this is ridiculous .

Authors: Elina Bogdanova, Anna Kiseleva, Ekaterina Pruss
Photo: Maria Romanova

Special thanks to art-group CoolConnections and British Council in Russia.

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