“I couldn’t have a better time than I’m having now.”
Jim Broadbent was nominated for another BAFTA TV Award this week, for his role in Any Human Heart.
I met up with him again back in January to talk about his latest TV project – BBC1’s Exile.
Our round table chat included a look back at his career and his next part, alongside Meryl Streep.
My feature appeared in today’s Manchester Evening News – and below.
JIM Broadbent is regarded as one of the best actors of his generation. “It’s very nice but it doesn’t feel like that,” he smiles.
“You don’t walk around in a warm glow of acclaim. It’s not quite as easy as that, unfortunately,” explains the Oscar-winning star. “You’ve just got every day to cope with, with the problem of each job.”
He’s set to receive more accolades as retired journalist Sam Ronstadt in a three-part drama created by Hale-based Paul Abbott and written by Manchester’s Danny Brocklehurst.
Screened over consecutive nights, Exile (BBC1, Sunday, 9pm) includes themes of family, friendship, fathers and sons, morality and forgiveness. Plus a big secret.
Sam was deputy editor on the Lancashire Evening News, a newspaper Jim says is based on the Manchester Evening News, in a production filmed in locations including Ramsbotton, Bury and Bacup.
An investigative reporter and campaigner for the voiceless, decent and honourable Sam suddenly snapped 18 years ago and gave teenage son Tom (John Simm) a brutal beating after he caught him snooping in his home office.
Tom then left for London to become the opposite sort of journalist to his father, snooping on celebrities and being consumed by bright lights, drink and drugs.
Finally sacked from his lads’ mag job, he returns north for a reunion with his father, now in the grip of Alzheimer’s and looked after by Tom’s long-suffering sister Nancy (Olivia Colman).
Jim won an International Emmy for his role in Jimmy McGovern’s Salford-filmed The Street and a British Academy TV award for his portrayal of Lord Longford in Moors Murders TV drama Longford.
But he wasn’t the first choice to play Sam, a role originally due to be filled by Pete Postlethwaite, who lost his long fight with cancer in January at the age of 64.
Jim, 61, was an old friend of the Brassed Off star, who once worked as a drama teacher at Loreto College, Moss Side, when it was a Catholic girls’ convent school and regularly appeared at the Royal Exchange.
“He was already ill so he couldn’t do it. That’s how it came to me,” recalls Jim. “I could see why he wanted to do it. It’s a really lovely piece of writing.
“We were all very much part of the same generation. I did work with him very briefly. We just overlapped on an Alan Bennett many years ago. But on the whole we didn’t work together because if Pete would be doing it there would be no part for me. And vice-versa. We had a very similar background working.
“So I very easily recognise his journey and what he achieved. He was always dynamic and interesting and an exciting actor to watch. I’d go and see him in theatre and see him after. He was a lovely man.”
Exile contains many superb performances, not least from Jim, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the husband of Irish novelist and Alzheimer’s sufferer Iris Murdoch in 2001 film Iris.
This time his character has the progressive dementia, with secrets of the past locked in his mind. “My mother had Alzheimer’s, so I knew as much as you want to know. It all rang very true from my experience,” he says.
“But that is just part of the story. It’s a thriller involving a father who can’t remember what happened and his son who is trying to get this story out of him.
“A lot of the scenes are quite edgy. But some are also very funny, as well. There are aspects of Alzheimer’s that are unintentionally amusing. And for that reason, very moving as well. You get the whole gamut.”
At various stages Jim had to strip naked and later walk through the snow dressed in just his vest, underpants and socks. While the concluding hour sees Tom joining his father in the bath, as he used to do when he was a child.
Tom tries to engage his father with the past to unlock his memory. He takes him to a football match at Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park ground and to a black tie Lancashire Evening News charity dinner.
Jim once planned to become a journalist himself. “I applied for a secretarial course to learn shorthand and typing. And I was lined up to start that and become a cub reporter on the Lincolnshire Echo. But then I got offered a student job in a theatre.”
After Exile he moved on to film The Iron Lady, playing husband Denis Thatcher to Meryl Streep’s take on Margaret Thatcher. The film is due in UK cinemas early next year. “Meryl is very impressive, as you can imagine,” reveals Jim.
Was it a shock when he first saw her in make-up and costume as the former prime minister? “Yes, seeing Maggie,” he grins. “But Meryl’s not scary.”