INJUSTICE actor James Purefoy is still set to star in the return of classic TV show The Saint.
Or so it would appear.
I spoke to him about the role of British international playboy Simon Templar when we met in London last month.
James told me that filming of an American TV pilot – The Saint In New Orleans – was due to start in July.
Of which more further down this blog.
But he was not asked about the project when he appeared on BBC1’s Breakfast sofa this morning.
Or during his ITV1 interview with Lorraine yesterday.
James is currently in the final week of a now sold out run of Flare Path at London’s Theatre Royal, Haymarket, co-starring with Sienna Miller and Sheridan Smith.
He continues to intrigue as tormented barrister William Travers in Injustice, on ITV1 at 9pm each night this week until Friday.
And appears in Camelot, which begins on Channel 4 at 9pm on Saturday.
The Rome actor has been linked to The Saint in the past and earlier this year revealed the project was finally heading for the green light in an introduction to a new book called The Saint On TV:
“If all goes to plan, this summer I will be in New Orleans filming a production called The Saint In New Orleans. I can’t wait to make mischief,” he wrote.
Roger Moore, now 83, starred as The Saint in the original ITV series which aired from 1962 to 1969 and later went on to play James Bond.
Somerset-born James, 46, was reportedly screen tested to play 007 in 1995 but was said to have lost out to Pierce Brosnan.
Dashing and smooth-talking Simon Templar was created by author Leslie Charteris, with the title created from the character’s two initials.
The original six series of 118 episodes included an animated halo appearing over the head of the jet-setter, a modern day Robin Hood driving a white Volvo P1800.
Screened by NBC in America, it was sold to over 80 countries. British TV broadcasters are expected to bid to screen the new version here.
Ian Ogilvy starred in The Return of the Saint in 1978 with Val Kilmer taking the role in a 1997 movie version.
I spoke to James at the Injustice press launch last month.
After watching the first two episodes of the ITV1 thriller, he took part in a panel Q&A followed by a small round table interview.
At the latter we began by asking about those reports that had once linked him to the role of 007.
“I’m far too old to play Bond now,” he smiled.
So what was next, after Injustice, Camelot and Flare Path?
At first James played his cards close to his chest:
“It will become apparent what is happening,” he began.
“It’s quite big and it’s quite special and it’s a great marque of a character that has been seen before and is coming back. And it’s going to require a great deal of mischief-making on my behalf. Just because that’s what the character is. He is full of mischief. It is a television series…”
But when asked if he was talking about the return of The Saint, he added:
“It has been on the back-burner for some time and I was involved with it four years ago. We are in the process of trying to bring it back again.
“I think it’s a lovely character. I really do think it’s a wonderful character. A twinkle in the eye and a piece of mischief as you’re telling great cracking stories. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a lovely, lovely character to play. It’s for American television. There are big plans afoot for it to happen.”
So that means you spending a lot more time in America?
“Well, it wouldn’t actually, because I think one of the things we’d probably end up doing with it is filming it all over the world and give it a really big international flair. That would be an exciting thing.”
I asked James to confirm that the character of The Saint will remain British.
“Oh yes. Of course.”
And screened here in the UK?
“Yeah, by whoever wanted to buy it. We start shooting at the beginning of July…in theory. That’s what we want to do. We want to shoot at the beginning of July. But it could go…”
Will he get a say with the choice of car for The Saint?
“The car? My choice. I’m a producer on it as well.”
Will he move his family to the USA?
“With my boy, for example, as anybody who knows about children knows, consistency is everything and I like the idea that he’s at school here and he remains here and I do the leg work. When I was filming in South Africa I would come back for a night to see him, every three weeks. I’d get on a plane on a Friday night, 12-hour flight. I’d arrive here Saturday morning and then I’d get back on the plane on Sunday morning and then I’d be in Cape Town filming on Monday. That was for The Philanthropist, a show I did for NBC. And I’d do that every three weeks. Or have him come over during half terms or holidays or whatever. But during term times I have it in the contract, I have to see my son every three weeks. End of story. And if you can’t deal with that, hire somebody else.”
Have you lost big parts because of that?
“Oh yeah. I can’t go into a series in LA. I can’t go and do Grey’s Anatomy. I can’t go and do those kind of things because that requires an East-West access, LA – London access. It really doesn’t work because you spend a week recovering from the flight. But a North-South access, London – Cape Town, one hour time difference, that works.”
“Oh no, no, no. I’m not saying I was offered that or anything like that. What I’m saying is those long series which shoot 22 episodes a year, they take 10 months to shoot and then you have two months off. I can’t do that. For my son, I can’t do that and I won’t do that. But there are plenty of other kinds of television projects. Clearly I’m not a snob about television. I think that television cannot be written off as a genre, that you hear so many actors doing I find difficult because it is the most democratic of art forms in many ways. Everybody’s got a TV in this country, pretty much. And there are lots of really great things on television to watch. So to wipe it out just because you won’t go down to that level seems just catastrophically snobbish to me.”
Earlier he spoke about his role as William Travers in Injustice:
“I think it’s a big change. It was something that was a conscious decision. I suddenly became aware that I hadn’t actually done any British television drama for a long time because I’d been spending a lot of time doing stuff in the United States or for American television. Or films. I just think it’s sensible for an actor’s career to try and keep a foot in as many camps as you possibly can.
“And, do you know what? It’s lovely sleeping in your own bed. There were two jobs, this job and another job, that I did last year, a movie called John Carter of Mars, which is a Disney Pixar film. And that was the first time for 11 years I’d got to sleep in my own bed while I was working.
“I was really interested in playing somebody really normal. Just to investigate what that might be like because I hadn’t done it for so long. The characters I play do tend to be or have been pretty extreme, extraordinary men whose reputations have lasted, if not hundreds of years, thousands of years. And I just wanted to play somebody who was quite opaque and quite internal and wasn’t giving much away. Then this gift of a script arrived.
“I loved the idea that he’d had this terrible nervous breakdown, he’d become very depressed and what happens to people when they become depressed and how they stop looking after themselves. I wanted to make sure that the hair wasn’t right, that it was a bit shaggy and unshaven. He’s a man whose a bit out of focus and disempowered when we first meet him. When I’ve met people who’ve had nervous breakdowns, they’re very febrile and their emotions are right on the top of their skin, if you like. It’s the things that happen to him over the five hours which focus him. He becomes more focused, more of his own man again and more empowered – he’s much more certain of himself by the end of the series.”
“I literally spent a couple of weeks at the Old Bailey, following a barrister there, sitting in on court cases. The big one that we did was an attempted murder case. It was just fascinating. One of the joys about being an actor, of which there are many, is that you sometimes get to go on the other side. You sometimes get to go in the places that other people don’t get to go. So I wasn’t sitting in a public gallery, I was sitting next to the barrister. I was leaving the court with the barrister and going and having lunch with the barrister. Not just him, but also the prosecution. Again, this is fascinating.
“One of these barristers said that he had a client once who was really hacked off with him when they came out of the court at the end of the day, having been incredibly acrimonious towards the prosecution, slap him on the back and say, ‘Do you want to go and have a beer?’ Because it was all theatre. It’s all for display. It’s all for the jury and the judge. That’s what it’s all about. But, of course, barristers often flip between prosecution and defence anyway and they are paid by the job. That’s why I think they are quite similar to actors in many ways. You become very impassionated about a particular thing for a short period of time and then you move on to something else.”
Did you guess the end of Injustice?
“No, I so didn’t guess the ending. I had no idea. It literally does happen in the last 10 minutes – it will all be revealed by 10 ‘o clock on Friday night.”
Acting and performance are part of both the legal and acting professions?
“I’m sure it is. I know a lot of actors who trained as lawyers and that always signifies something. I think there is an element of performance in a court and it’s something that often defendants find quite difficult to understand. That you can have a defence barrister who appears to be at the prosecution’s throat in court and then they’re sitting down having lunch together. Because that’s what they do. They take on a case like actors take on a role. They are absolutely in it for that period of time. Then when it’s over, it’s over and they move on to the next one. So I think there is an element of similarity in terms of performance.
“It’s always being helpful being in the place that the scene is taking place in, the sense of history, the grandeur of the Old Bailey, the idea of the extraordinary cases that have gone through those courts, all bleeds into the scenes that you’re playing.”
How did he get into the mind of troubled man who has had a breakdown?
“I think acting is so much just to do with the imagination and imagining yourself, just like kids in a playground playing Star Wars or whatever it is, it’s simply putting yourself into that situation. And what it was that triggered the nervous breakdown that William Travers had before the series started and trying to work out how that would affect you if you did have a breakdown of that level.
“I read a lot about people who’d had those kind of breakdowns, where something had snapped. And you become very depressed. It’s a very depressive situation that you find yourself in. And you end up not caring too much about the way you look, not looking after yourself. You become very internal. He’s a very internal character and that, for me, was one of the great attractions of working on Anthony’s script – a lot of the characters that I’ve played recently are quite big men, quite expansive men. Whether it be Mark Antony in Rome or Blackbeard the pirate. These are people who are very extra-ordinary. Whereas William is quite an ordinary man in many ways and he has left the cauldron in London to go and try and recover some sense of self and sanity in Ipswich. Quite a project. So I was really fascinated by playing somebody who was really internal and quite opaque and doesn’t really give the secrets away until the audience see the secrets revealed, which will happen in the last 15 minutes on Friday night.”
Did he take the role home with him?
“I’m not a big believer in taking things home with you. Very depressing for my girlfriend and my son round the supper table if I was William Travers.”
He knew all the twists and turns in the script before filming began:
“For me, you have to know all the bits of the puzzle before you can then start making decisions about the way you’re going to play a scene.”
“We all have badness and goodness in us. He’s like an onion that gets unpeeled. And eventually you find out what he is.”
Audiences appreciate dramas that don’t spoon-feed the plot?
“I think there’s a great hunger for great stories. There always has been and there always will be. And if you can tell a really good story and tell it really well, then you’re serving that audience really well. You have to have intelligent people behind it. You need to have somebody right at the centre of it who is just really smart about telling stories well.”