HE was in South Africa filming the new series of Wild At Heart. And I wasn’t.
So a call to Stephen Tompkinson’s mobile phone thousands of miles away had to suffice for an interview ahead of his new ITV1 drama DCI Banks: Aftermath.
Quite a screen contrast to life at Leopard’s Den.
I asked Stephen how the project had come about.
“Bizarrely enough, as you find me now. I was filming the last series of Wild At Heart and Andy Harries (DCI Banks executive producer) came to visit the set.
“I’ve worked with Andy a number of times. He dropped these couple of scripts off and asked if I’d be interested in playing DCI Banks.
“I thought Robert Murphy’s adaptation of Peter’s Robinson’s book was fantastic.
“It was a real page turner and a fantastic opportunity for me to show people something different.”
My feature interview with Stephen was published in the MEN on Saturday but has yet to go online.
So here it is:
WILD At Heart star Stephen Tompkinson answers without hesitation when you ask him to name his favourite TV detective.
“I’ve always loved Peter Falk’s portrayal of Columbo. It was unique and physically perfect. Every scratch of the head and every pause, along with the clothes that he almost looked like he lived in.
“Part of the joy was watching this shambolic looking man brilliantly work out how the murderer did it and always end up catching them,” explains the Lancashire-raised actor.
“And it ran for so long. I’m a huge admirer of longevity and of people who create a new generation of audience who still appreciate you. It’s a sign of a timeless performance.”
Currently filming series six of Wild At Heart in South Africa, playing vet Danny Trevanion, Stephen could be set for another long-running TV role as new television detective Alan Banks.
DCI Banks: Aftermath (ITV1, Monday, 9pm) is a two-part drama based on the novel by award-winning crime writer Peter Robinson, with plenty more books to adapt if viewers like what they see.
The chilling opening story has shades of both Wire In The Blood and Prime Suspect, involving a horrific discovery after the disappearance of five young girls.
“It’s not the intention to shock for shock’s sake,” insists Stephen. “It’s highlighting, like in the case of Fred and Rose West, the atrocities that go on behind perfectly innocent and everyday looking doors. Sometimes the horror that lies within is shocking. But it does go on.”
He adds: “We filmed some scenes on Saddleworth Moor. It’s a very evocative and a very moody place, steeped in its own nightmarish history. It made it feel very palpable.”
This pilot for a full series co-stars Andrea Lowe as Det Sgt Annie Cabbot, brought in to investigate the conduct of the two police officers who answered a call to what they thought was a domestic row.
Stephen played undercover detective Garth O’Hanlon in three series of BBC1’s In Deep, co-starring with Nick Berry and was Inspector Slack of Scotland Yard in one of ITV1’s Marple stories.
“But this is my first fully grown-up detective work. I love the character because he takes it so personally. He’s very dogged. You’d want him on your side.”
Yorkshire-born Peter has so far written 19 Inspector Banks books, described by Stephen King as “the best series now on the market”. So the potential for more films is obvious.
“He now lives in Canada,” explains Tompkinson. “But like a lot of people who live in Canada, they go and thaw out in California for some of the winter months. So I flew over and met up with Peter and his wife in Tampa for three days.
“I picked his brain about his creation and tried to assure him that I was going to get as close to the Banks that he created. And he was very pleased that I’d been chosen. He knew my work from Drop The Dead Donkey, Ballykissangel and Brassed Off.”
Born in Stockton-on-Tees and raised in Lytham St Annes, Stephen identified with the northern locations. “Very much so. Banks in the books is originally a London copper who is on the verge of a breakdown, so got this transfer up to east Yorkshire to allow himself a bit of breathing time.
“There will be a lot of people watching with their own version of Banks in mind. I’m five inches too tall and my eyes are green, rather than blue. But the essence of the character that Peter had created in the books was one I was very keen to get close to.”
The prospect of another major TV series prompts speculation that Wild At Heart’s days may be numbered. Not so, says Stephen.
“Fortunately for me, they’re both for ITV. So they’re all very aware of the other show and will try and make them work if they want more series of either. I can do both. Which is a very fortunate position to be in.”
Former MEN copy boy Warren Clarke is currently also out in South Africa, playing Danny’s estranged screen father.
“I first worked with Warren back on The Manageress. It was only my second job and he was brilliant to all of us, paying for us all to go to a football match with him. We’ve remained in contact every since and I did a Dalziel and Pascoe a few years ago.”
Viewers also saw Stephen recently in his Australian Balloon Adventure, including a spectacular crash landing, following on from his original African high-flying exploits.
“There are no plans yet for another series but I’d love to do one. It’s been a fantastic couple of years and a real life changing experience.”
Stephen is to return to the stage in 2011.
“I’m doing a play up at the Live Theatre in Newcastle called Faith and Cold Reading.
“It’s by my friend Shaun Prendergast, who wrote the Lightning Kid that I directed on BBC1.”
Due to open in February and run to the end of March, Stephen said the play would be “another lovely departure” for him.
He will play a gangster who wants a spiritualist medium – who owes him money – to put him in touch with his recently dead mother.
“The clairvoyant is a bit like Derek Acorah.
“If the guy can’t do it or the gangster thinks he’s a fake, he’ll kill him.”