A Father Figure?
ITV’s The Widow starts this week and here’s one of its stars, legend Charles Dance, talking about the show…
Q: What appealed to you about The Widow?
“I had read two episodes when I agreed to do it. I fancied being out in South Africa a bit. I’ve worked with Kate Beckinsale (Georgia) twice before and she is a terrific, wonderful actress. And I liked the character of Martin Benson.”
Q: Who is Martin Benson?
“Martin has known Georgia for a long time. Probably since she was a little girl. Her father and Martin were in the same Army regiment and Martin is a kind of surrogate father to her since her own father has died. Martin feels very guilty about a decision he made that affected her life.
“Before he retired Martin was in military intelligence so Georgia believes he can help her. But he thinks her theory about her missing husband is completely wrong. It’s just wishful thinking on her part. Then Martin becomes drawn into it and agrees to help her.”
Q: What sort of world does The Widow investigate?
“The Widow exposes the risks of trying to operate according to our codes of behaviour in what might be called the First World when you are dealing with situations and governments in Third World countries.
“Places like the Congo are lawless. Unless you are somebody like Martin, an ordinary civilian going to those countries in these circumstances just wouldn’t survive. But because of his military training and history he knows what they are going into. Yet even with that expertise and knowledge, it’s like guerrilla warfare compared to properly run wars – if there is such a thing.
“There were a lot of questions to be asked in The Widow about these characters, their history and what their intention was.”
Q: What was it like working with Kate Beckinsale (Georgia) again?
“I’ve actually known Kate since she was about 10. I did my first television with her mum Judy. She has phenomenal energy and very bright.
“It doesn’t matter what is going on in her life. She comes to the set and produces the goods. In terms of age she seems to have stopped at about 30.
“I also worked on The Widow with an American-Icelandic actor called Ólafur Darri Ólafsson. He is a great big teddy bear of a man. A lovely man. A joy to work with.”
Q: You discovered new members of your family in South Africa after taking part in an edition of Who Do You Think You Are? Were you able to meet up during filming for The Widow?
“I invited my great niece and her husband to come to the set one day. So they came down to Cape Town from Pretoria. I’ve done two or three jobs in South Africa now and I like working over there.
“It was moving into the South African winter when I was there filming. I used to be able to take the cold. But the last two or three jobs I’ve done I seem to have been cold all of the time. I think I’m going to write a film about a guy who buys a small hotel just behind a beach in Jamaica.
Q: Where else did you film?
“I filmed in Rotterdam. I had never filmed there before. I hadn’t been to Holland since a Royal Shakespeare Company tour in Europe around 1977. It’s an extraordinary place. It was bombed and mostly flattened during the war. There is not much of old Rotterdam left. Unlike Amsterdam.
“When we were shooting there we were in the middle of the 2018 winter Beast From The East. I only just got there. Flights were cancelled so I took the train. I went on the Eurostar from London to Brussels and then from Brussels to Rotterdam. But coming back it was an hour and 15 minutes into London City Airport. Which is fantastic. I’m determined to go there again.
“I was in Amsterdam recently for something else and I’m getting very fond of the Dutch and Holland plus the fact it is so near. I think I might take myself there for a weekend at some point.
“We also filmed scenes in Wales. There was a lot of snow there and it was bloody cold.”
Q: Is there a great difference today between the scale and ambition of a production like The Widow and a big screen movie?
“Not really. The dividing line between television and film is becoming increasingly blurred now. The job for actors is essentially the same. The people on the crew are doing the same job in a television series as they would on a movie. Really the only difference is there are more people involved in the decision making for a television series.”
Q: Martin has an old school dictaphone. Do you still use veteran classic technology?
“I’ve still got what was in its day a state-of-the-art music centre. It weighs a ton and I can’t bear to part with it. It’s a belt-driven turntable with a valve amplifier and it’s terrific.
“I was talking to someone recently about a film I did in the Arctic in about 1996 living on an ice-breaker in the Bering Sea. At night I would go and stand on the top deck of this ship looking at the Northern Lights, listening to Wagner on my Sony Walkman. And they said, ‘What’s a Sony Walkman?’
“Having said that, I’ve also been involved now in performing in two video games. They are extraordinary.”
Q: Out in Africa you can be cut off from both phone contact and the internet. How would you cope?
“On those occasions where you can’t find your mobile phone a kind of panic sets in. I have a habit of putting my phone in my pocket and when I get in my car it drops out without me realising it. It’s not until later that I think, ‘Where’s my phone?’ And I’m looking all over the place. Usually I’m able to park my car pretty close to my house. So I get the landline phone and go out, sit in the car, dial my mobile number and then I can hear where it is.
“Every now and again I write letters. Because I quite like getting letters. So I write to people I haven’t seen for a long time.”
Q: A child soldier in The Widow climbs a tree in the jungle because she wants to see the whole world. Have you ever been anywhere where you felt that was possible?
“When I went to Machu Picchu. That’s quite something. I was working in Buenos Aries and I had a choice when I finished the job. I could stay there and have tango lessons. Or go to Peru and Machu Picchu. So I decided to do that instead.”
Q: One character says: “We can never hide who we are?” Do you agree?
“I would hope it does eventually come out. We all have public and private faces. Especially in this business. I think it’s useful for people in our business to retain some kind of mystery. Because if everybody knows everything about you then they will move on to something else.”
Q: One main focus of The Widow is a plane crash. Are you a nervous flyer?
“I don’t mind flying. Since we’ve had to be so security conscious, gone are the days when you could turn up at the airport half an hour before the flight, show your passport and get on the plane. It’s a whole business now of getting there two hours beforehand to go through security and so on. Although I cut it fine a lot of the time. It’s all that business that’s boring. But actually flying, being on a plane, it’s just like getting on a train for me. I do it all the time.”
Q: Are you good at working out screen drama puzzles before the end?
“Most of the time I’m good at working things out when I’m watching a TV puzzle on screen. But I don’t watch a lot of television. I don’t get the time.”
Q: You seem to be busier than ever. Does that come as a surprise?
“I am busier than ever. It is a surprise. This business is swings and roundabouts. But I haven’t stopped really for the last three or four years. Or even before that.
“I guess Game of Thrones has something to do with that. Because if you’re part of one of the most successful television series that’s ever been made, hopefully there is going to be a bit of a spin-off from that. So I’ve gone from job to job to job now. I’m in the middle of The Crown at the moment and I start another film before I even finish that. “I have been very lucky in my career. I’ve travelled the world and I do a job that I love. I rarely take holidays because I travel so much. A holiday for me is staying at home. It’s given me a way of life and the opportunity to do a job I love doing.”