The first episode of Intruders, is chilling, eerie and unsettling. Most of all, I didn’t much notice your American accent.
That’s the litmus test. I didn’t want people watching me and thinking, “Is John Simm doing a good job as an ex-LAPD cop or is it just embarrassing?” Funnily enough, us Brits are generally far more negative than the Americans.
I love the way the American press are describing you as “veteran UK TV actor John Simm”…
I am a veteran. It’s 20 years since I did Men of the World, my first proper TV show.
Intruders is about a secret society chasing immortality. Tempted?
By immortality? God, no! I’ll be fine to check out in my mid-eighties.
Did you enjoy being relatively anonymous in Vancouver, where Intruders was shot?
As soon as I arrived I was being asked for my autograph by Doctor Who fans who will never, it seems, forget my appearance as The Master. Doctor Who is huge in the States. I mean really huge. I couldn’t quite believe it. Beyond that, I didn’t have much baggage as my work is less well-known. And, yes, it was liberating.
You recently Tweeted a quote from a Bruce Dickinson interview in which he said, “Fame is the excrement of creativity”
I thought it was funny. And in a way he’s right. I never understand actors wanting to be famous unless it’s a big star like Tom Cruise who plays a similar role all the time. How hard do you want to make your job? People end up knowing too much about you. I personally prefer to keep a low-ish profile and not go on game shows.
There’s no doubt that television is enjoying a golden age, but what programmes did you watch as a kid?
We had so much less to choose from, but there were some great shows. I loved The Six Million Dollar Man. Starsky & Hutch. And those Saturday morning black and white shows, like Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon, and Zorro. I adored Laurel & Hardy. As I got older I watched Not the Nine O’Clock News and The Young Ones. Oh man, it was horrible when Rik Mayall died. I met him briefly once, in the Nineties, when I went to see David Threlfall in a play, and Rik was in the bar. As you might have hoped, he was funny but also really lovely.
The Guardian, when writing about Life on Mars, decided that your presence on a callsheet is “as close to a TV Kitemark as you’ll get”. Yet in an interview we did in 2005 you said that you wouldn’t have done Life on Mars a decade earlier because it would have been too mainstream. Were you being precious?
I was being a twat! I think everyone’s an arsehole till they get well past their thrities. I don’t know what I meant by that. Other than I was young and foolish and thinking of things like artistic integrity.
Perhaps you were still coming down from all the benders you went on in the Nineties. Are you glad you got that out of your system before settling down and having kids?
The Nineties were like our Sixties and I had a wild, brilliant, fantastic time. I have no regrets. I was 30 by the time I met Kate and happy, as you say, to settle down. It’s not so much that I stopped having fun, it’s just that now I do it with Kate.
You were once in a band, Magic Alex, and you’re a devoted Man United fan. Daft question: if you could score a goal as a United player or record a hit as a Beatle, which would you choose?
That’s an impossible question! I can’t answer that. God. I’m going to say that if I had a time machine, I’d go back to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium in New York in 1964 or on the rooftop of Apple HQ in 1969. Or go to Old Trafford to watch Georgie Best. Bloody hell, I still can’t choose. OK, music has been a part of my life for a little bit longer than football, so I’ll choose The Beatles.
Despite their feeble start, do you feel optimistic about Man United this season?
I saw them play LA Galaxy in their pre-season tour of the US this summer and they were fantastic. I think Van Gaal is a great manager and we need to give him time. It took Ferguson time, after all. This is the dawn of a new United and I can’t wait to see how new players like Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao fit into the team.
After playing an ex-LAPD cop, will you be working in the UK again?
Yes; my next project is Code of a Killer, a two-parter for ITV, directed by James Strong, who did Broadchurch. David Threlfall has also signed up, which is brilliant, because we haven’t worked together since Men of the World. I play Sir Alec Jeffreys, a professor of genetics at who developed techniques for DNA fingerprinting. It’s set in the early Eighties and it’s certainly not a vanity project. I won’t be wearing stonewashed tight jeans, thank Christ, but I do have a big beard.
I can’t believe you’re growing a beard just as we’ve hit “peak beard”
I can’t believe it either. And now that I’m a veteran UK actor, my beard has to be dyed because otherwise I look like Santa Claus.