Tuesday 26 September 2017

Gwilym: A Midsomer's Night Dreamboat

For Gwilym Lee, it was a rather unfortunate case of life imitating art. The hunky British actor, who plays Det Sgt Charlie Nelson in Midsomer Murders, had dealt with his fair share of criminals in the hit ITV series. But when he happened on a real-life burglary at his home in London, he found his knowledge of police procedure wasn't much use.

"I was coming back from work early on a winter's evening and I saw my front door had been tampered with", he recalls. "I got a safe distance away from the house and called the police. Just as I was doing that I saw two fairly big burly fellows leave my house. One of them had my computer underneath his arm and I decided not to intervene. I'm a policeman on television but an absolute wuss in real life. There was no way the police could have got there in time, they were long gone by then. I tried to act all cool when the police did arrive. I knew all the procedural jargon. That really wasn't much good at that point though. The one overriding thing that goes through your brain is: they're two guys and I'm just some scrawny little kid."

Rugby tackling the thieves was another option that briefly ran through his head. Growing up in Sutton, Lee was a talented blindside flanker, playing for his school team and for Greater Birmingham teens. He says he had to give up playing to pursue his love of acting as the risk that he might sustain damage to his face was too great. "I took a fair bit of ribbing for that", he remembers. It was sort of like 'my face, my valuable face!'"

Gwilym comes from a family of medics - his father is a paediatrician, his mother is a haematologist and his sister is a nurse - but as a young man he was not particularly good at biology or chemistry and was drawn instead to acting, he says, "primarily to meet girls." He attended drama school and quickly won his first professional role - as Oedipus at The National Theatre. He also worked as an understudy for Ralph Fiennes. Early in his career, he won a role in the children's TV series Animal Ark and played one of the princes opposite Richard Lindsay in Richard III in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Perhaps his biggest film outing so far was a small role in The Tourist, the widely-panned blockbuster which starred Angelina Jolie. It was the first Hollywood outing for German director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, who had previously won the Oscar for best foreign film for The Lives Of Others. "It was pretty full on, you had a sense you were part of a huge machine", Gwilym recalls. "(Henckel Von Donnersmarck) had really developed The Lives Of Others himself and this was kind of thrust upon him. I'm sure that brought its own sort of pressure. That sort of responsibility feeds its way down through everyone on set. We kind of took over Venice for weeks on end. I didn't get to meet Angelina Jolie but I did meet her body double and she was incredibly good looking, so I can only imagine how good looking Angelina is."

UTV Ireland last year signed a three-year deal to screen Midsomer Murders, which is filmed almost exclusively in the scenic Chilterns in South East England. The new series will air in 2016. Before that, Gwylim will be seen on screens in Song For Jenny, a big-budget BBC drama about the 7/7 bombings. "It's a beautifully crafted book, which follows the story of a family who gets caught up in the Edgware Road bombing. It was written by Judy Nicholson whose daughter died in the bombings. Judy was a Vicar and she has this incredibly poetic way of writing about grief and loss. My aim was to try to do justice to her story and I hope that's what we've done. When you learn about just what the police and emergency services went through that day it really puts what we, as actors, do into perspective." A bit like a winter's night burglary, perhaps?

Song For Jenny will be shown at 9pm, July 5, on BBC1

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