Philip Glenister speaks!

SFX’s Ashes To Ashes week concludes with a tarmac-scorching, suspect-slapping encounter with the Guv himself – Philip Glenister, alias DCI Gene Hunt. Trust the Gene Genie…

Were you satisfied with the first series of Ashes To Ashes?

I don’t think you’re ever completely satisfied – or you shouldn’t be. I thought it had its good points, like anything. It’s very difficult to maintain eight episodes, eight one hours, and for all of them to be utterly fantastic. Same with Life on Mars. There were some I thought that were better than others. Everybody had their favourite episode, everybody had their least favourite, and it’s the same with any longrunning series. It was always going to be a tough call to follow up Mars, and we knew there’d be a bit of a backlash. That’s inevitable, nothing you can do about it. You just have to strive on and do what you’re going to do, and hopefully you’ll turn people around and they’ll go with you.

Was Gene initially a tricky fit for the ‘80s?

With the first series we were finding our way. We were trying to fit Gene into the context of the ‘80s, which was difficult for me because essentially - and from an audience’s point of view - he’s a ‘70s cop and he was in a ‘70s cop show. Once you remove that you’re going to upset a few people. And I understand that completely. It threw me a little bit as well. And it was that comedy-drama thing we were going down a bit… it was just getting a little bit cheesey in places, I thought. Sometimes I think maybe we should have kept him in the ‘70s, but ‘81 isn’t too transitional from the late ‘70s.

The first series seemed to mythologise Gene. Is it difficult to keep the reality of the character when he’s carrying a machine gun and soundtracked with a Spaghetti Western score?

Yeah… Tell that to the writers! (laughs) Calm down, boys! Yeah, all that sort of stuff didn’t sit too comfortably with me personally. It was all a bit over the top. But then given where the story is going… the whole thing is kind of larger than life anyway. So within the context of what the writers are trying to say… I just have to trust them, basically. They know what they’re doing with the character. But there are points when I look at something and think no, that’s wrong, can you just tone it down or take it out or whatever… or rattle it up, if the case may be.

How does the relationship between Gene and Alex stand this year?

Pretty much where they left off. I don’t want to get too bogged down with the will-they/won’t-they strand, because she’s a female and he’s a male, there’s a spark there and it comes out occasionally and ignites occasionally. I don’t really know what else to say about it – it’s just more of the same, really.

There’s a new boss coming in – what kind of relationship does Gene have with him?

It’s one of respect. This character superintendent Macintosh is just one of these superintendents that everyone looks up to. He’s been in the force a long time, he’s respected as a good old school copper, and I think Gene sees him as an ally in the fight for not politicising the police, which is touched on in the first couple of episodes.

How does Gene view the corruption that he discovers in the force this year?

It’s a tricky one because they’re embroiled in all sorts of wrongdoings in many respects, and although Gene is morally ambiguous in places in terms of breaking the law, I think he bends the rules, as opposed to breaks them. I suppose that’s the difference in that some of these characters are really going to the dark side, and it affects the whole morale of the team. It touches on that period when the police were very low down in the estimation of the public and the press, and so Gene is there to sort of redeem the role of the cop.

So he’s not on the side of the officers being investigated?

No. He’s disgusted by them, and in particular certain characters who are involved. There’s a very good arc that we’ve got which I can’t tell you about because it would ruin the whole thing. Hopefully it'll be a big surprise towards the end of the series.

You’ve all been told how the series is going to end. Does that change things in terms of how you play your roles?

No, not really. I just think about getting through this series, thank you very much. I don’t even think about a third series just yet, because it’s a bit of an endurance test. No, I’ll worry about that when I need to. I think they’re storylining the third series already, so that’s for them to get on with.

How did you feel about the ending? Was it something you expected?

I don’t know… It’s going to be interesting to see if we can carry it off. It’s certainly larger than life. I’m really not thinking about it too much at the moment. I don’t even know what’s going to happen in series 3 yet. Quite a lot goes on in this one to set it all up for the third one. It’s difficult for me to comment because I have no idea how they’re going to arc it out as such.

Will you be comfortable to say goodbye to the character?

Yes (emphatically).

Do you think you’ll have done everything you can with him?

Yes, definitely. It’s been great, and it’s been fun, but you know you can’t keep going on. The thing about Gene is you are restricted in terms of what you do with him – people want to see him for what he is, and although that’s fun to play I need new challenges now, I want to move on.

You know in the future everyone’s going to say ‘So when’s Gene coming back?’ Will that bug you?

I suppose you get used to it and you sort of live with it. I could say “Fuck off! Move on! It’s television!” I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in such an innovative series - and such a different series - as Life on Mars. It’s not often something like that comes along, so if you’ve had it in your career you’re not going to knock it. I just feel that the time has come to say goodbye and go out on hopefully a good note – that’s up to the writers, though.

There’ll always be an appetite for Gene, people will always want to see him.

When Ian Blair resigned they had some poll going on and Gene Hunt was quite high up to replace him as head of the Met. It’s not real! It’s pretend!

What sort of work do you want to go on to do?

I want to retire! I don’t know yet. I’ve got some plans – nothing I can say specifically. I’m not that keen on doing a long running series again. It does take it out of you. Especially for Keeley and me because we’re in it all the time. You’re working from 8 til 7, five days a week, pretty much every scene, and they’re pretty wordy buggers, as you can see (indicates script). It’s all dialogue scenes, full pages, and you have to learn all that. After five months it does start to fry your brain a bit. I’d look for something that has a shorter shoot period, a two-parter or something like that… Just a good script, a strong script, that’s what we need. Something that isn’t dumbed down, that’s grown up and well written, that’s what I crave.

You’ve just brought a book out about the ‘70s. Are you wary of being seen as an icon of ‘70s nostalgia?

No, not really… never really thought about it. I think in a funny sort of way people rather crave it at the moment, there’s so much crap around. I was just watching the news last night about all this snow, and this reporter was just getting off on it. They showed this shot of this little girl and her mum skipping to school, and his voiceover was ‘And people are STRUGGLING to get to school!’ There’s no struggle about it… It’s this overdramatisation of everything. You just sit there exhausted, thinking ‘What the fuck?’ So I think all this nostalgia… people do see it as an easier, gentler and possibly more truthful time, in many respects. You looked at this reporter and thought he doesn’t want to be staying working for BBC Devon long, he’s looking for a job on fucking Sky News, you can tell..

Do you have good memories of the ‘80s?

I didn’t like the ‘80s particularly. I was 18 in ‘82… It was a strange time. It was alright, I suppose. I wasn’t particularly going anywhere workwise – I’d just left college. I was looking for a purpose, really. I was just drifting through life at that stage.

What sort of music were you into?

I don’t know what I was listening to… I wasn’t really into the punk thing, I don’t think. Some of it was alright. I got into the punk thing a bit later, actually. I was still in a prog rock stage, probably listening to Pink Floyd and stuff like that back then.

People seem warmer towards the ‘70s…

That’s because it’s further away. It was always another bone of contention with setting the show in the ‘80s, whether it was too soon. Maybe for some people that’s ok, maybe it’s nostalgic. I don’t feel as nostalgic about the 80s, just because I think I was older.

There was a more obvious rationale for setting a cop show in the ‘70s. The ‘80s was more The Professionals, Juliet Bravo, Dempsey and Makepeace...

You see old episodes of The Professionals and stuff like that, and the interesting thing is the amount of roads they managed to close off for their car chases! If only… Not as much health & safety around, obviously, all that fucking red tape… They’re quite slow, some of those shows, loads of exposition… But then I think we do quite a lot of exposition - not necessarily on this show but on telly these days as well. And that’s never my favourite word… Exposition! Let the audience do some work.

How’s the suspension on the Quattro?

Well, not great when you’ve got four of you in it and two cameras and a load of gear strapped to it… It usually scrapes against the ground quite badly, because it’s quite low down as well, but we’ve got two of them this time. The worst thing is that I can’t see anything out the window… when I do the driving I do the interior stuff. Stunt guys get to do the flash stuff outside where the camera’s on a street corner and they just zip past and do a handbrake turn on it, but I’m the bugger that’s got a bloody camera right in front of his eyes, so I can’t see anything out the front, which is a bit disconcerting, which is why you see me doing that occasionally (mimes peering over steering wheel) because I can’t fucking see…

Nick Setchfield

Ashes To Ashes is on Mondays at 9pm on BBC One