âWho needs James Bond? I play all the sexy characters. As an actor, I donât really care whether people like me – Iâm not in it for that.â?
This is more of a polite introduction than a war-cry when uttered by Stephen Mangan – the unacceptable face of obnoxious womaniser Guy Secretan of Green Wing, and soon to be synonymous with the dysfunctional and deranged detective Dirk Gently.
Ironically, he is one of the most likeable actors on telly, however hard he tries to resist it. Hands clasped in his lap, gazing pensively out of the window, he is the epitome of a mild-mannered gentleman. This placid demeanour a stark contrast with his wild appearance â a mop of hair in dishevelled curls, bright eyes popping, and his signature âDonkey from Shrekâ? toothy mouth â and with the nasty roles he is cast in.
For Dirk Gently, the âholistic detectiveâ? character invented by Hitchhikerâs Guide author Douglas Adams, and whom Mangan plays masterfully in a three-part series to air in March, is as supercilious and unhinged as Secretan.
âIâm very happy to go all the way with these characters, and to be as unpleasant, or obnoxious, or arrogant, or unsavoury as they want. Having said that, I always look for whatâs vulnerable about them as well, otherwise it becomes totally cartoony, there needs to be something at stake. Maybe thatâs why I get cast in those parts.â?
Perhaps the amiable, balanced Mangan â âIâm much steadierâ? â needs an outlet for his dark side? He did once admit that he would like to be his character Dirk.
âHis lifeâs a mess and heâs sort of asexual in some ways, so those two things I could do without. But I suppose that utter commitment to his philosophy is very attractive, probably not practical in any way, but thatâs why itâs so attractive.
Anybody who does that is a) very attractive, and b) unliveable-with. So thatâs why I get a kick out of it. Dirk, if he feels someoneâs talking rubbish, wonât think twice about telling them. You get to behave in outlandish ways that you would never do in your own life.â?
The objectionable-but-brilliant private investigator model sounds markedly similar to the recent series of Sherlock, and there are elements of Dirk Gently, the BBC Four pilot of which racked up triple the expected viewing figures in 2010, which echo the slick, fast-paced, sharply comical script of Steven Moffatâs TV triumph. Dirk even has a Dr Watson equivalent, Macduff, the grounded and perpetually apologetic side-kick, played by a pleasingly uncomplicated Darren Boyd. However, there is more wondrous imagination and incompetent bungling in Dirkâs detective world.
âItâs the detective double act, but no, I think the tone is very different â we deal with a sort of parallel universe, itâs not really there. Dirk is an escape into kind of fantasy land in a way. It would be interesting to see Sherlock and Dirk in a room together, but I donât think Sherlock would have too much time for him, because Dirk is a bit demented.
Heâs quite an enigma. Is he pulling wool over peopleâs eyes? Is he being genuine? Itâs also hard to know whether Dirk is a genius or a bungler. He does have an amazing mind, and then heâs a total tit. So itâs very hard to know. Heâs an enigma.â?
Think Sherlock but replace the violin with a takeaway pizza.
Although he diffidently claims that the only part of Dirkâs character similar to himself is âthe large hairâ?, conversing with Mangan suggests that he may also be somewhat of an enigmatic personality.
He deftly leaps from joshing self-effacingly to pondering the human condition in the same breath, wandering at length why mankind invents conspiracy theories, horoscopes and religion â âbecause thereâs a need in us, as Dirk says in the show, to make order out of the chaos. The chaos of life is very bewildering and disconcerting and frightening, and anything we can do to kind of bring some sort of order to it, even if itâs a completely fake order, makes us feel better.â?
Mangan delightedly embraces this chaos, not least in relation to his colourful catalogue of roles. He is due to play a pregnant man at a Royal Court theatre production, as well as the voice-over for a cartoon Postman Pat film to be released next year: âDirk Gently, Postman Pat, and Adrian Mole. I play all the sexy characters. Who needs James Bond?â?