Roger Allam has played a multitude of characters in his time, from Prime Minister Henry Pelham in Pirates of the Caribbean to Peter Mannion in The Thick Of It. Hollywood blockbusters sit alongside contemporary crime dramas on his resume.
The 68-year-old’s latest role is as investigative magistrate Antoine Verlaque in ITV’s three-part drama Murder In Provence. Set on the sunny shores of the French Riviera, it’s something of a thriller.
Allam’s character teams up with romantic interest Marine Bonnet (Nancy Carroll) as they try to solve a murder at the local college. The series also features Bailey star Patricia Hodge’s Miranda and Rumpole, alongside The Greatest Showman’s Keala Settle.
Ahead of the first episode on July 17, we ask Allum to tell us more.
WHAT DID YOU FIRST ATTRACT YOU TO THIS SERIES?
The call for me, always, is to do something different from what I just did. He’s a very different type of character from Endeavor – even though we’re still in a mysterious land and a different place. And it was written by one of my oldest friends, Sheila Stevenson.
SO YOU WERE BROUGHT TO THE PROJECT AT AN EARLY STAGE?
She told me all about her plans for the show early on. She said she wanted to create something witty and fun, as well as deal with serious crimes. I really liked that – and also, of course, the idea of going to Provence. Shelagh and I tend to be a good match because of the dry humor in his scripts, which I appreciate. I also have a very silly side to my sense of humor, but you probably won’t see that in this character.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER, ANTOINE VERLAQUE?
He is a very serious man in his profession and he is very proud to be an examining magistrate in the French system. It is a great passion for him… His profession is that of an examining magistrate, which is very important in French justice.
WE DO NOT HAVE INQUIRY JUDGES IN THE UK, CAN YOU DETAIL?
It’s kind of like a detective, where you kind of put all the information together and kind of present the case. I think he was very proud to become a judge, because he comes from a very wealthy family. But he has, I think, a very difficult relationship with both wealth and his mother, and kind of rejects that. Having become a kind of servant of the state, the public good, I think, is of great value to him.
ANTOINE IS A CONNOISSEUR OF WINE, GASTRONOMY AND ART. DOES THIS MAKE THE SCENES MORE ENJOYABLE?
Well, of course, the last thing you should do as an actor is eat anything while filming, because you get stuffed from a few takes – and wine is kind of watered down prune juice! But I have a lot of cooking to do during the scenes; you will see me chip away the strange
oysters and chopping vegetables, things like that. Alas, I couldn’t really cook as Antoine because the kitchen on the set in his house just wasn’t practical and I might have burned something.
DO ANTOINE’S INTERESTS REFLECT YOURS?
I like art. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on this. I love wine and food – and I love cooking, certainly. So, I bonded with him a lot there.
WERE YOU HAPPY TO REUNITE WITH NANCY CARROLL?
I was very, very excited for Nancy to play this role. We did a play called The Moderate Soprano a few years ago in the West End – and a few years before that, at the Hampstead Theater, we got along terribly well, we were very comfortable around each other. ‘other. We make each other laugh like the characters. So that was all very helpful, I think. And pleasant, extremely pleasant.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DECISION BEHIND YOUR ENGLISH SPEAKING CHARACTER?
We were never going to do French accents for these characters, it wouldn’t have worked at all, it would have become annoying. But we tried to find a French quality to them… The approach to the language was that everyone there is French, and we are in France. I think the rule was that we kind of try to do a kind of French pronunciation of the names, but do it as lightly as possible, really.
CAN YOU SPEAK FRENCH?
I can barely order a meal in a restaurant, but I’m bad at languages, unfortunately.
HAVE YOU HAD TIME TO DISCOVER NEARBY AIX-EN-PROVENCE?
We did most of the interiors [in the UK], then traveled to France for the final three weeks of filming. I would have had a lot more opportunities to sample local life and even the fantastic restaurants of Aix-en-Provence, if I had played one of those roles where I had days off… That’s call the City of Fountains – Everywhere you go there’s a fountain. We went down to Cassis where I have been before which is so beautiful by the sea – we had a wonderful few days there. But generally it was just around the city of Aix.
IS THERE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD YOU WANT TO SHOT?
As I said earlier, a place where I have a little more free time would be nice. A little more free time without the words too. I once made a movie in Thailand many years ago and it was the most glorious experience because I had never been there before. It was incredibly beautiful. And my character was not in [it] all the time, so there was also free time.
Murder In Provence, STV, tomorrow at 8 p.m. and is available to stream now on BritBox.