Ripper star: My children would rather watch Gru

As Victorian police drama Ripper Street returns, Matthew Macfadyen talks to Keeley Bolger.

Saturday, 26th October 2013, 7:30 am
Ripper Street: Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Blush Pang (Kunjue Li)
Ripper Street: Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Blush Pang (Kunjue Li)

It’s the Victorian crime drama known for its grit but 
Matthew Macfadyen, star of BBC One’s Ripper Street, is more likely to laugh his way through gruesome scenes than turn green.

The 39-year-old actor, who plays leading man Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, has had his iron stomach tested while filming the returning second series.

Scenes featuring a man falling from a window and impaling himself are just some of the delights in store, though Macfadyen admits that it’s in these situations that he’s most inclined to inappropriately burst into a fit of giggles.

“The guy who was impaled on the railings in episode one didn’t make me feel too squeamish because it’s very cleverly done,” says Macfadyen. “We were actually trying not to laugh. It’s the dark, high-stakes scenes that, for me, are the funniest.”

And there was one in particular that sticks in this Norfolk-born actor’s mind.

“There was this Contagion-esque episode in the first series where we had a really long scene and spent the whole day on it,” he says.

“At one point I had to say to Adam [Rothenberg, who plays Captain Homer Jackson], ‘What’s in the stomach? What have you found?’”

The reply that it was semen set the two actors off, and after a few bodged takes Macfadyen had to leave the room.

“It’s painful. You think, ‘Is this going to be one of these scenes I can’t get through?’ It really becomes a worry,” laughs Macfadyen, who’s made a name playing brooding types such as Mr Darcy in Pride And Prejudice and Enid Blyton’s first husband Hugh Pollock in 2009’s Enid.

In Ripper Street, Reid and loyal deputies Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake, played by Jerome Flynn, and Captain Jackson are back to battle new crimes in the East End of London.

“Reid’s living in his office in Leman Street. He’s not at home any more, so it’s pretty lonely,” explains Macfadyen.

“His wife isn’t there and we don’t know why. He’s in a pretty dark place and just throwing himself into his work.”

While his marriage is in tatters, his career is busier than ever with a new detective, Sergeant Albert Flight, played by Being Human actor Damien Molony, to take under his wing.

The series, and Macfadyen, has its loyal followers, including his 13-year-old stepson Myles.

“He saw the first episode of the second series recently and really enjoyed it,” says the actor.

“But my younger kids [Maggie, eight, and Ralph, six] aren’t really interested yet. They’d much rather watch Despicable Me 2.”

Their mum is Keeley Hawes, known for her scene-stealing roles in BBC dramas Tipping The Velvet and Ashes To Ashes, who Macfadyen met on the set of Spooks.

At the time, Hawes was married with a young son and her decision to divorce and start a new relationship with Macfadyen caused unwanted attention for the two actors.

But with their 10th wedding anniversary coming up next year, life seems pretty peachy at the Macfadyen-Hawes residence, and for Macfadyen’s career too.

He’s currently treading the boards in the West End as the butler Jeeves to Stephen Mangan’s Wooster in the play Perfect Nonsense.

“I was eager to get back to the theatre because it’s a good few years since I’ve been in a play, not since Private Lives [in which he co-starred with Sex And The City’s Kim Cattrall], and it’s nice to stretch different muscles,” he says.

At the moment, Macfadyen is pleased to have the chance to play such interesting characters. Not least because it means he can learn about many diverse career paths.

“Every acting job you do, you imaginatively jump into it and think, ‘Yeah, I could be a soldier’,” explains the actor.

“For one job, I went and hung out with these bomb disposal experts and you have these amazing insights into other professions, which is lovely.”

But when it comes to his own career choices, Macfadyen is pretty sure that he has the better deal than that of the characters he plays.

“I wouldn’t be able to do Reid’s job in real life, I’d be hopeless,” he laughs. “I’m not clever enough to do it.”

Luckily for fans, the police force’s loss is TV’s gain.

:: Ripper Street returns to BBC One on Monday