Craig Parkin­son

From the en­thralling Line of Duty to an award-win­ning pod­cast, Katie Jarvis talks to the mul­ti­tal­ented ac­tor and fails to buy him lunch

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - PHO­TOS: Antony Thomp­son

Ionce ac­ci­den­tally nearly didn’t feed the his­to­rian David Starkey. (Hon­estly not my fault. He re­quested a lunchtime meet­ing ‘next Tues­day’ at the very posh Lon­don Wolse­ley. How on earth was I sup­posed to know you needed to book us­ing a five-year di­ary?)

Craig Parkin­son’s re­quest is much more con­vivial.

“If it’s nice weather we can meet at the Wool­pack (Slad) for lunch and take pho­tos there,” he emails. (“Best pub in Eng­land. Every Christ­mas, we al­ways have this room – there are about 20 of us. When Han­nah was the man­ager – she was in­cred­i­ble – ev­ery­body would start sing­ing and it be­came a great Christ­mas tra­di­tion,” he elab­o­rates, later.)

This time, I’m soooo su­per-or­gan­ised. I check that the Wool­pack is open on a Mon­day. (It is!)

What I don’t check is whether or not food is served on a Mon­day. (It isn’t!) When Craig Parkin­son ar­rives – in­stantly, tall-y recog­nis­able – I break this des­per­ate news to him gen­tly. (Partly out of cour­tesy; mainly be­cause im­ages of black Range Rovers, as­sault ri­fles, and very cross peo­ple shoot­ing each other spring wor­ry­ing to mind.) “Oh, that’s OK!” he says, cheer­fully. “I’ve just come from the gym. Been hav­ing pro­tein shakes and stuff.” Crisps? Nuts? Beer?

“I’ll have a fizzy wa­ter, thanks.” (Se­ri­ously, I can­not be­gin to ex­plain how much cheaper a date he is than David Starkey.)

And we sit in the room where sing­ing breaks out at Christ­mas - the rolling­drunk Slad Val­ley toast­ing us through the win­dow - as a lo­cal drinks by the bar, and a tourist cou­ple wan­ders in for lunch to dis­cover no food is be­ing served. By the time we leave, the tourists are en­sconced with the lo­cal, who’s re­gal­ing them with Cotswold tales. “And he was the most racist man I ever knew,” he fin­ishes with sat­is­fac­tion. Don’t know what it is about North­ern­ers. They could tell you to sod off in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms, and you’d still feel they were putting the ket­tle on to make you a friendly brew.

Salt of the earth. (I should know. I’m from Marple my­self.)

There’s some­thing in­tensely, warmly, ease-mak­ing about Craig Parkin­son. Some­thing ‘I’ll just put the ket­tle on’ about him that al­most makes you sur­prised he’s so at home in the slight­ly­more-stand­off­ish Cotswolds.

Been here eight years now.

“No – it’s to­tally worked!” he re­as­sures me, Black­pool ac­cent (Tet­ley out. Warm­ing the pot. Milk in first.) in­tact. “I go from Kem­ble sta­tion and it’s an hour-and-15 min­utes to Lon­don. Per­fect. And we’ve made great friends here.”

That’s patently true. Ev­ery­one I ref­er­ence he seems to know. He sits, sip­ping his as­cetic fizzy wa­ter, such buoy­ant com­pany it’s easy to for­get it’s an in­ter­view. (I’m pretty sure he never does.) I know him best as a uni­formed, clean-shaven, dou­ble-deal­ing cop­per not this bearded funny man with the dry wit and self-put-downs. “I’m the least con­fi­dent per­son you know,” he says, at one point.

(Height ex­actly as ex­pected, though. Obvs.)

They’ve lived all over, he and his wife, the ac­tor Su­san Lynch. “We’d just got mar­ried and she was straight on Broad­way [play­ing Maire in Brian Friel’s Trans­la­tions]. We were in New York for six months and I loved it. The cat came over and ev­ery­thing.” Then back to Cam­den.

“Which is al­ways bustling… And just

a bit ex­haust­ing. I didn’t want to raise a child in Lon­don. I wanted some more space and I wanted some green­ery.”

So they moved to Stroud (ish; he un­der­stand­ably won’t say where), had a baby, and proved Su­san com­pletely wrong.

“She was a bit wor­ried that I wouldn’t adapt to the coun­try­side. I’m from the sea­side and I’m kind of used to cities; I’ve been in Lon­don since I was 17. But I wouldn’t live any­where but here now.”

The Cotswolds weren’t quite so Imd­b­cen­tral when they first ar­rived (Waitrose Stroud: less a deli; more a mass cast­ing ses­sion, we muse); but that’s all to the good. He con­stantly bumps into peo­ple such as Char­lie Cooper (of This Coun­try fame) on Kem­ble sta­tion; Char­lie just hap­pens to be a fan of Craig’s Two Shot Pod­cast – and re­cently ended up as one of the guests. Aha!

Bet you thought I was go­ing to go full-on Line of Duty? Well, hold your horses; we’ll get to that.

But it’s hardly sur­pris­ing Craig Parkin­son wants to talk about his pod­cast. It cel­e­brated its first birth­day this sum­mer, and it’s al­ready been lauded by the Guardian (‘a luvviefree chat about act­ing’), as well as bag­ging best cul­ture show at this year’s pres­ti­gious Bri­tish Pod­cast Awards.

It’s his baby – his and pro­ducer Tom Grif­fin’s (“the best pro­ducer in the world”). It’s a sim­ple idea. Craig sits down with a guest (used to be just ac­tors; now it’s mor­phed into all sorts of creatives) and chews the cud for an hour or so.

What’s so rad about that, you ask.

Well… There are sur­pris­ing el­e­ments, which help it work ex­ceed­ingly well. One is that he does lit­tle re­search on his guests.


“Yeah - on pur­pose. Be­cause I want to find out what’s go­ing on when the au­di­ence finds out. That’s why I don’t have a set of ques­tions – I want the con­ver­sa­tion to flow. One [guest] was an ac­tor called Michael Ba­lo­gun from Lon­don. The only thing I knew was that, be­fore he grad­u­ated RADA, he was in prison. I didn’t know what for; I didn’t know any­thing about his life.”

If you don’t lis­ten to any other, then down­load that pod­cast. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing. Some­how, as­ton­ish­ingly, to Craig Michael opens up for the first time. About his ab­sen­tee fa­ther. His mother jailed for drug-deal­ing. His own time in care, fol­lowed by street-crime and jail. About how act­ing be­came the saviour he never thought he’d em­brace.

“I met him in a the­atre in Manch­ester and we sat in his dress­ing-room. An hour-and-a-half later, I’m as shocked as the au­di­ence, go­ing, ‘Oh no! I can’t be­lieve you’re back in prison. Why are you sell­ing drugs again? What is go­ing on?’

“And he touches on his men­tal health. He touches on sui­cide.”

Craig Parkin­son pauses. “I don’t know why peo­ple feel they can talk to me.”

But they do. And he’s flat­tered by it, in a gen­uine, sin­cere, ap­pre­cia­tive way. Touched by it, too. And by the peo­ple who write to say they’ve faced some of their own de­mons, lis­ten­ing to Two Shot. He does it to en­ter­tain – to un­leash his own cre­ative streak; but it’s pretty pos­i­tive when he hears peo­ple tak­ing more from it than an hour of re­lax­ation.

It’s not all angst. Ev­ery­one from his own wife to au­thor and DJ Dave Haslam has ‘ap­peared’. He started with Vicky Mc­clure, an old friend who starred with him in Line of Duty – partly chose her first to off­set his nerves; “But I also re­alised, as we talked, that I’d never sat down one-on-one with Vicky be­fore. You don’t re­ally have these con­ver­sa­tions. It’s all sur­face level.”

The hard­est bit has been switch­ing off.

“How to get these peo­ple’s sto­ries out of my head when I’m trav­el­ling back home. There was one time when I was on the train and I burst into tears be­cause I was so men­tally done in with ev­ery­thing wash­ing around my brain. I didn’t know how to process it.

“A ther­a­pist got in con­tact, say­ing, ‘Look, if you ever need to talk to some­body, you can con­tact me.’ Which was amaz­ing.”

Of­ten, it’s in­ci­dents from child­hood that spark the emo­tion.

“In­ter­est­ing,” I say. “So let’s go right back in your life.”

“That’s on my pod­casts. I don’t do that in in­ter­views,” he says.

Sod off. No of­fence.

None taken. Builders’ with a dash of milk, please. It’s not quite true that I know noth­ing about Craig Parkin­son’s child­hood. I know bits. That he grew up in Black­pool. That, as a teenager, he worked in a newsagent’s where he served Les Daw­son.

“He was lovely. He used to come in and buy his cigars every Satur­day and Sun­day morn­ing. To this day, Les Daw­son play­ing the pi­ano is one of the fun­ni­est things. So smart.”

In fact, it was com­edy – Harold Lloyd, Lau­rel and Hardy – that helped shape Craig’s am­bi­tion. He was ob­sessed with the cin­ema – his favourite treat is still to binge-watch at the pic­tures; he honed his tal­ent through school plays be­fore, at the ten­der age of 17, mov­ing 250 miles away to drama school in Lon­don. Fees might have been paid thanks to erst­while gov­ern­ment grants, but he had to feed him­self by work­ing in Pizza Hut (tuck­ing into ‘wrong’ orders); and en­ter­tain him­self work­ing in a West End cin­ema at week­ends.

“I met Princess Diana once. She came to see When A Man Loves a Woman

‘Les Daw­son used to come in and buy his cigars every Satur­day and Sun­day morn­ing’

with Meg Ryan – sneaked in with a friend and I told her she could sit in the back. She was wear­ing a track­suit but I recog­nised her straight­away. I’ve never seen any­thing like her in my life. She had a glow.”

Right from grad­u­a­tion, the parts seem to have kept on com­ing - he’s a ter­rific and ver­sa­tile ac­tor – from TV drama to film com­edy and biopic. But it was his long-run­ning role as (*spoiler alert (though you must be one of only three peo­ple who hasn’t watched it)) cor­rupt cop­per DI Matthew ‘Dot’ Cot­tan in the BBC’S Line of Duty se­ries that re­ally caught the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion.

It was a role that led peo­ple – mainly women of a cer­tain age – to chas­tise him in su­per­mar­kets as ‘that very nasty man’.

“They still do but it’s al­ways done with a bit of love,” he says. He loved it, too. “It was a bit of a plate-spin­ner be­cause, as an ac­tor, you’ve usu­ally got just one char­ac­ter whereas with him [as a dou­ble-deal­ing, se­cretly bent of­fi­cer], there were two. So what­ever other char­ac­ter you were talk­ing to re­flected back on who you were in that mo­ment. You couldn’t re­lax at all; you were con­stantly think­ing two steps ahead.”

Was it true he be­gan the role not know­ing him­self that Cot­tan was cor­rupt?

“Cor­rect. In every se­ries, Jed [Mer­cu­rio, se­ries cre­ator] will only give you the first three episodes be­cause he’s con­stantly tin­ker­ing and chang­ing and writ­ing as he goes. In fact, it was a gift not to know; oth­er­wise I’d have played those first episodes com­pletely dif­fer­ently, wouldn’t I. It’s good to have the rug pulled from un­der your feet.”

He can’t yet re­veal his lat­est project; but he has just fin­ished voic­ing a part for the new an­i­mated BBC minis­eries, Water­ship Down, out this Christ­mas. It’s a stel­lar cast, which in­cludes James Mcavoy, Ni­cholas Hoult, John Boyega, Gemma Arter­ton and Miles Jupp.

“It’s a bril­liant story. Trau­ma­tised me, when I was a kid but I think this one is go­ing to be a bit more child-friendly. I play Ben Kings­ley’s side-kick, who, as the story pro­gresses, has a bit of a cri­sis of con­fi­dence. He’s quite a tubby, silly rab­bit.”

A dream role, play­ing an over­weight, in­se­cure bunny?

“Yeah, that’s it. I can throw the towel in now.”

So we leave the (glo­ri­ously idio­syn­cratic, where the lo­cal still holds sway) Wool­pack for Craig to pose for pho­tos by Slad church. In­cred­i­bly amenably. De­spite hat­ing hav­ing his photo taken. “I’m just a 6ft4, lanky streak.”

And then he’s off to do more pod­cast­ing. Doesn’t make much money from it; but that doesn’t stop it be­ing an all-con­sum­ing pas­sion.

Does he fancy step­ping into the other Parkin­son’s shoes?

He shrugs. He and Tom Grif­fin have been ap­proached, but the one thing they don’t want to do is shoot the golden goose. To lose con­trol.

“We couldn’t get away with di­vulging half the stuff we do if it was po­liced in any way.”

Has he ever had his Meg Ryan mo­ment?

“Now, it’s funny you should say that be­cause I haven’t. But I re­watched that clip and I thought he was out of or­der. I thought he was a bit shirty and a bit rude and a bit misog­y­nis­tic, if I’m hon­est.”

And that’s not just speak­ing as an in­ter­viewer. He fixes me in the eye.

“If that was a jour­nal­ist do­ing that to me,” he says, “I’d walk out.”

Quite right. And, yeah – an­other cuppa would be great.

‘Water­ship Down is a bril­liant story. Trau­ma­tised me when I was a kid, but I think this one is go­ing to be a bit more child-friendly’

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