Star interview: Philip Glenister

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Philip Glenister heads up a new TV thriller called Hidden on BBC1. The actor talks to Susan Griffin about filming the drama guerrilla style, shaking off Gene Hunt and causing a stir by dining out with Poirot.

Philip Glenister discovered this morning that it’s tricky to film a TV drama guerrilla style when you have one of the most recognised faces on telly.

“The secret to filming in public places is not to make eye contact with anybody or anything,” says the actor who became a household name for playing tough-talking DCI Gene Hunt in the time travel police dramas Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes.

He and a small crew are fresh off London’s underground where they’ve been shooting a scene for the new conspiracy thriller Hidden.

“I hate filming in public, I get very self-conscious. It’s not so bad when the camera’s a long way away so the public can’t see it, but getting the escalator down to the tube and there’s a camera right there, people are like, ‘It’s feckin’ Gene Hunt!’” he says, pointing.

We’re currently sitting in a corner of King’s Cross St Pancras station where Glenister’s due to take the Eurostar to Paris.

They’ll film more scenes en route and then again when they reach the city of love.

“Last time I went to Paris was to Euro Disney, on the weekend from hell,” he says in a low growl that’s not so different from Hunt’s.

Written and created by Ronan Bennett (who wrote Michael Mann’s Public Enemies), Hidden revolves around small-time solicitor Harry Venn, played by Glenister.

“He has a bit of a shady past and then this mysterious lady Gina (played by The American’s Thekla Reuten) turns up and imparts some information. It embroils him in his past and lots of things surface,” he explains.

It’s not long before Harry finds himself caught up in a complex conspiracy that reaches deep into the heart of the British political system.

“It’s a complex piece,” adds Glenister, 48. “There are back stabbings and all sorts of machinations going on.”

He’s sitting forward in his seat, in an almost conspiratorial manner and dressed in character, in a nondescript grey suit. His brown hair is a tad messy, his skin a little mottled but the light blue, playful eyes hint at why he’s something of a heart-throb to women up and down the country.

He also enjoys an anecdote or two, it transpires, as he recalls an evening out with his Hidden co-star David Suchet.

“We went out for dinner in this very nice little pub hotel between Belfast and Bangor. David walked in first and people were looking and going, ‘It’s Poirot!’ and then two seconds later I walk in and they’re going, ‘It’s Gene Hunt! What’s going on?’ I think they were probably waiting for Bergerac to bring up the rear,” he chuckles.

Ask what drew him to Hidden and without hesitation, he says it was the writing - not, as you might imagine, a chance to distance himself from Hunt.

“I never look at the [character’s] profession. I don’t care as long as it’s well written,” says Glenister.

“It was a question of waiting for the right thing, especially having played Mr Hunt for the last five years.”

He hasn’t had much time to miss his iconic incarnation, he says, and besides, it was the right time to say goodbye.

“The bottom line is we did as much as we could with Life On Mars. When we did Ashes To Ashes, it was a risk,” he reveals. “I was very uncertain originally and I wasn’t happy with the first series, but then we got it back on track.”

The plan was always to do three series, he adds.

“It wasn’t like I called time on it. We’d all agreed from day one that if the BBC was happy with it, we’d do three series and then call it a day.”

After Ashes To Ashes ended, he reunited with his Life On Mars co-star John Simm, along with Marc Warren and Max Beesley, to film Mad Dogs for Sky.

“It was the perfect thing to go into because it was an ensemble piece with a bunch of high profile actors,” he says.

“And it’s nice when you start getting fan mail for something like Mad Dogs because the public are very fickle. They do forget quickly and it’s nice that they see you doing new things and move with you.”

Hidden is his first foray back on terrestrial TV and as is tradition in this country, Glenister’s aware the critics will be waiting with pen poised.

“It’s very rare that a drama like Life On Mars comes along with a character like Hunt,” he says. “But I’ve been doing this long enough [not to worry].”

The son of director John Glenister, it’s his former sister-in-law, the actress Amanda Redman, who’s credited for persuading him to try acting.

He graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1990 and roles in Minder, Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Bergerac and Love Hurts soon followed. A quick look at his resume and it’s clear he hasn’t stopped working ever since.

“I’ve always been a jobbing actor,” he says. “That’s what I do, not the celebrity thing.

“It’s important to be picky and choosy, not rush into things and appear on television as much as possible.”

This Christmas he’ll appear alongside Eddie Izzard and Elijah Wood in a star-studded adaptation of Treasure Island (“Another nice little number,” he says) and then next year he’s on the big screen in period romp Bel Ami with Twilight’s Robert Pattinson.

Given life’s going so well for Glenister, it isn’t a surprise to hear he has no aspirations to venture to Tinsel Town.

“If I was 10 years younger, or didn’t have children, I might like to go to Hollywood but it’s never been a burning desire,” he says.

Then he adds in typically frank style: “I can’t be arsed to start at the bottom of the pile. I’m too old and cynical to go cap in hand.”