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John Simm - Exile interview

Jim Broadbent and John Simm in Exile

We spoke to John Simm about his role in the new BBC drama Exile. He plays Tom a washed-up journalist who returns home to confront his father about an incident in his past only for him to become embroiled in a mystery involving his father.

Q. What did you think when you first read the script and what attracted you to the role?
John Simm:
“The quality of the script shone out at me straight away. It’s not often that you get a script of such quality and it’s quite few and far between in TV or film. It was the kind of quality that you’d get from Paul Abbott, Tony Marchant, Abi Morgan, or Jimmy McGovern, it was that good. Also the story was fabulous and the whole thing just screamed: ‘You have to do this!’”

Q. You’re pretty much in every single scene; was this role a completely new challenge?
John Simm:
“No, I think I’m used to it because I was in every single scene of Life On Mars for two years, every single scene and that was very, very hard work. The schedules are always very, very hard, but I’m used to being on set most of the time from when I was in State Of Play and The Lakes, which is fine by me. If there is a day that I have to wait around I get really bored and I find it harder.

Q. Can you tell us about your character Tom?
John Simm:
“He’s a ‘journalist’, in inverted commas, which means he works for one of those magazines – a bit of a celebrity journalist. He gets fired from his job because he’s not a very nice person, that’s established from quite early on, and then he drives up North, because he’s from there.

“We see him driving up North and he goes back to his family home to see his sister and his father who he hasn’t seen for many years. The last time he did, his Dad beat him up badly for some reason, so he left home and hasn’t been back since, for about 18 years.

“He goes back to confront his father and to find out what happened, but his father has got quite severe Alzheimer’s and he’s shocked by how far gone he is.

“His sister is quite resentful of the fact that he left, and that he left her to look after their father. Her life has literally been spent looking after their father while he’s been in London; living it up, getting loads of money, taking drugs, and generally being an idiot. He’s forced to stay there and confront his dad and find out exactly why he beat him all those years ago.

Q. Exile was filmed in the North. Did you grow up in Manchester?
John Simm:
“I wasn’t born in Manchester, I lived there, then we moved all around it; in it and in the outskirts and then I left. But I spent my whole youth there – clubbing, football, and gigs! I love Manchester, I always have, ever since I was a kid and I go back as much as I can.

Q. Tom’s father is played by award-winning actor Jim Broadbent – how was that?
John Simm:
“That was just the cherry on top of the cake. He was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. I’ve been a huge fan of his forever and it was an honour and a privilege to work with him. In no way was I disappointed, if anything it was even more wonderful to work with him than I imagined, he’s just brilliant.

Q. Had you worked with any of the supporting cast before?
John Simm:
“No I’ve never worked with any of them before. I was a huge fan of Olivia Colman, from Peep Show. I remember Claire from Casualty as well – it was really nice to work with them.

“Shaun Dooley and I have worked with so many of the same people, we’ve got so many of the same friends, and it was just a miracle that we’d never worked together. We’ve worked for the same directors, we’re the same kind of actor I guess, we get cast in the same kind of gritty dramas, but this was a first. I finally got to work with Shaun Dooley and we were both very, very pleased.

Q. And had you worked with Danny Brocklehurst or Paul Abbott before? Were you a fan of their work?
John Simm:
I didn’t really know Danny but I’m a big fan now. I knew Paul of course – he wrote the Cracker episode that I think broke me and made me.

Q. Are there any highlights or memorable stories from filming?
John Simm:
“The cold was a massive part of it, but if we moaned, I always thought back to Jim Broadbent running down the street in his underpants and a string vest, in the snow, and not moaning at all – he didn’t even flinch! So as soon as you felt a moan about the cold coming to your lips, you just stopped and thought of Jim.

“There were many memorable bits – just the work itself, the acting, the scenes with Jim, the scenes with all of them, Claire and Shaun, Olivia and Timothy, were just a joy to do.

“It was a really lovely set, there was a really lovely atmosphere and that counts for a lot with something as deep and heavy as this. It helps to have a nice, jokey, light set, and that’s what we had. I think we’d have gone nuts if we hadn’t!

The final episode of Exile is on Tuesday at 9pm on BBC1

Next interview: Brenda Blethyn on Vera