I’m a British character actor – not a comedian

Father Brown: Father Brown (Mark Williams), Father Ignatius (Anton Lesser)
Father Brown: Father Brown (Mark Williams), Father Ignatius (Anton Lesser)

Other people might not be sure whether he belongs in the ‘comedy camp’ or ‘serious drama’ quarters, but Mark Williams certainly knows his own mind. As Father Brown returns for a second series, the actor tells Sophie Herdman why family comes first and airs some gripes.

Mark Williams, looking dapper in a brown tweed jacket and shirt covered in fish illustrations, topped off with square glasses and an impressive handlebar moustache, is in fighting spirit.

It’s the fact that some people still see him as a comedy, not drama, actor which has set him off.

“Well, it’s only a few people in the BBC. In America they see me as a major British character actor, but unfortunately the BBC is pretty parochial and people are institutionalised here,” he says, sat in the BBC offices as he speaks.

“But I’ve never been a stand-up and I did The Fast Show 20 years ago. It’s like, ‘Get over it, get out more!’”

That’s not his only gripe with the Beeb - the recent split which saw some of the institution move to Salford has upset him too.

“I spent 35 weeks of last year working away. I’m away from my family too much. They’ve not thought about it at all,” he continues.

His family includes his wife, and a daughter, now aged 11, from a previous relationship.

“She’s brilliant,” he says. “I didn’t have a sister, so I’ve enjoyed her growing up. I find myself thinking, ‘Oh, that’s why girls are like that.’ She’s solved so many mysteries for me about women.”

His daughter has popped up twice in his new series Father Brown, which is based on the books by GK Chesterton and tells tales of a crime-solving Roman Catholic priest.

The show’s back for a second series and Williams says we can expect more of the same: “Every episode is a solution to a crime and involves quite complex situations.”

He remembers clearly the moment he landed the titular role in the show. He was filming Blandings at the time, which he’s no longer a part of. “And thereby hangs a tale - skulduggery that was. They decided they were going to move filming to a point where I could no longer do it. We’ll see what it’s like when it comes out, because I personally have cursed it.”

Anyway, he got a call from his agent telling him that the makers of Father Brown would like him to do the show.

“I said, ‘Oh brilliant - what’s the part? A murderer? A kindly doctor?’ But she just said, ‘No, Father Brown’.”

He thought for about 10 seconds then said yes.

Christianity has long been a part of the actor’s life - he sang in the choir at his local church during his childhood.

“I also know my Bible,” he says, a result, he points out, of studying English Literature at Oxford University.

He won’t say if he’s still religious though: “I’m not telling anybody - I don’t think it’s valid for me to talk about faith.”

This is not the first time Father Brown’s been brought to life on screen.

In fact, the crime-solving Catholic has had quite a few incarnations, including Kenneth More’s portrayal in the 1974 TV series and Alec Guinness in the 1954 film.

Apparently, straight-speaking journalist AA Gill has said that Williams’ portrayal is the best so far - and he’s not one to dish out the compliments lightly.

“By God, no,” says Williams. “Even that is a bit terse - you’re the ‘best so far’. But I love his style. What’s the point in reading a wishy-washy journalist?”

It is little surprise that Williams is also a fan of often ‘say what you think’ musician Noel Gallagher.

“Noel’s great - he’s a lyricist, the stuff he says about [his brother] Liam is fantastic. ‘He’s like a man with a fork in a world of soup.’ That’s perfection.”

While the 54-year-old, who was born in Worcestershire and often returns to his home town of Bromsgrove, has appeared in films from Shakespeare In Love to The Borrowers, Stardust and 101 Dalmatians, many will recognise him as Arthur Weasley from the Harry Potter films, which came to an end in 2011.

“We were going to have a Weasley reunion, but we haven’t got around to it yet, unless I just haven’t been invited,” he says, though he’s keeping a close eye on the career of Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley).

“Rupes is a very good actor,” he says, as he polishes his glasses.

In-between his acting roles, Williams has also done a string of documentaries, on topics including the history of the railway and industrial advances.

“I do like history - those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” he notes.

The actor is also a huge fan of the TV show Horrible Histories.

“My friend’s son knows every single king and queen of England because of their song. That is teaching genius. The show has done for history what JK Rowling did for reading - it’s also the best sketch show on TV.”

Williams says he would like to do some more documentaries, but doubts it will happen any time soon.

“It’s more difficult to get a documentary commissioned than a major motion picture,” he says.

“It’s a strange world.”