Stephen Tomkinson: Welcome to retail

Stephen Tompkinson

Stephen Tompkinson is one of the country’s most beloved actors, from starring in Ballykissangel back in 1996 to the string of TV hits he boasts today, including Drop the Dead Donkey, Wild at Heart and DCI Banks. He now joins Sky1’s Trollied, as the egotistical pharmacist, Brian.

Why did you sign on to Trollied?
I’d seen the show and liked it a lot. I’ve been doing DCI Banks for a while now and, this year, was looking to do some comedy. Banks rarely cracks a smile so this is a nice antithesis. Plus, the fact that I’d never done anything for Sky. I had a meeting with my agent about what my wish list for 2014 would be and I said, ideally, I’d like to do a comedy for Sky, and, honestly, the very next day was when Nick Goding [the producer], who I worked with on Wild at Heart, rang up and asked whether I’d consider joining Trollied. It was a twist of fate I couldn’t ignore.

How would you describe your character Brian?
He’s absolutely delusional. They’ve introduced a pharmacy into the set and that’s Brian’s world – he sees the rest of the supermarket as an inconvenience. A GP might save three or four people a day and then go and play a round of golf, but Brian’s at the frontline of medicine. Every pill he dispenses is a potential life-saver, so that’s hundreds of people. He diagnoses everyone and sees himself as the House of the pharmaceutical world. Delusions of grandeur, certainly. It’s lovely and to be partnered with Rita [May, who plays Margaret] has been a joy.

So Brian and Margaret are partners in crime?
They sort of need each other. She calls him Doctor Brian, which he doesn’t object to because he failed medical school. All his family are doctors, his mum, dad, wife, brother, his other brother, their kids – he’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder about that. Margaret, meanwhile, calls herself Nurse Margaret, so, yes, they’re well suited. It’s a great springboard to develop a fully-fledged double act, which I’m thrilled about.

What has the atmosphere on set been like?
They welcomed me with open arms. Having Nick producing and Paul Harrison directing – who I’ve worked with more than any other director – plus I’ve worked with Rita before, and Jason [Watkins, who plays Gavin] on a three-part BBC thing called In Denial of Murder. I’ve known Jason since I was at drama school anyway. We used to meet on the football field 20, no, 30 years ago. Good lord! He’s a wonderful, detailed, classy actor. Then there’s Miriam [Margolyes] of course. She’s a unique force of nature, just terrific.

Have you got any ambitions you’d still like to fulfill?
My career has been better than I could have possibly imagined, so I’d like to keep that going. There is unchartered territory wherever you look in the acting world and I’m more than happy to have a go. I’ve never wanted to be pigeonholed and am always curious about things I’ve never done before.

How about playing an out-and-out villain?
As soon as you get slightly established you want to spread your wings in another direction and I’ve never really done an out-and-out villain on screen. I have on stage, though, which I thoroughly enjoyed. That’s something that would be on the wish list for next year.

What was your first job, out of curiosity?
I used to work in a fruit and veg place.

Ah, so you’ve got some retail experience?
Oh, yeah. We also did poultry and fish. One of my lovely jobs was to deliver all the scraps we didn’t need as pigs’ swill. It was a very glamorous start to my career.

Trollied returns to Sky1 on Monday, November 3rd.