What first drew you to Murder in Provence?
The screenwriter, Shelagh is one of my oldest friends and she told me all about her plans for the show early on. We’ve known each other for a very long time and I’ve worked on her radio plays before, it’s always a good fit.
She said she wanted to create something that was witty and amusing, as well as dealing with serious crimes. That really appealed to me, and also of course the idea of going to Provence, but naturally, I knew we wouldn’t be filming there the whole time! Shelagh and I tend to be a good match because of the dry humour in her scripts, which I enjoy. I do have a very silly side to my sense of humour too, but you probably won’t see that in this character!
How would you describe Antoine?
He’s a man who is very serious about his job and he’s very proud of being an investigating judge in the French system, it’s a great passion for him. He’s patriotic, he’s pleased to be in the service of the state, and pursuing justice means a great deal to him. He’s had something of a tragic past, so he has been very guarded about relationships up until now, but he and Marine have found each other – two older people who have had problems in the past.
They’re hesitant about moving in with each other or getting married, but they’ve found a way of being together that’s perfect for them and isn’t suffocating, it just works.
They both have a good sense of humour, they make each other laugh, and they’re happy. Of course, Marine’s mother really wants them to get married, but I think it’s rather lovely that they’ve found a perfect balance in their relationship.
Antoine consciously tries to get away from his family’s wealthy background, but of course, at the same time he’s still got his old habits – he loves good food and good wine. You don’t have to be rich to love all those things, but he’s certainly used to the good things in life, and he loves to cook as well. A lot of his character is about the ordinary, sensual pleasures of life, to do with food and drink and the person you love.
Does that mean you have a lot of scenes eating fancy food and drinking wine?
Well of course the last thing you should do as an actor is to actually eat anything while filming, because you’re stuffed a few takes in, and the wine is some sort of diluted prune juice! But I have quite a lot of food preparation to do during scenes, you’ll see me shucking the odd oyster and chopping vegetables, things like that. Alas I couldn’t actually cook as Antoine, because the kitchen on set in his house just wasn’t practical and I might have burned something down!
What kind of relationship does Antoine have with the deputy commissioner, Hélène?
They’re colleagues first and foremost, but very friendly colleagues, and there’s a wit between them. To my shame, I’d never seen The Greatest Showman so I didn’t know who Keala (Settle) was at first, so I had to look her up. Then I heard her sing and what an amazing voice she has! We got on very well, very quickly, it was easy to strike up a connection.
You’ve worked with some of your castmates before, haven’t you?
Yes, I know Nancy (Carroll), who plays Marine, so that was very easy working together. I very much wanted her to play the role from the beginning. I thought it was very important, because we were going
from a standing start, filming was quick and we hardly had any time to rehearse, so it needed to be someone I get on with. We make each other laugh and there’s an ease between us that I think was great for the characters. I worked with Patricia Hodge at the National Theatre in 1999. We did two plays together – Money, for which we both won an Olivier award, and also Summerfolk. So yes, we go back a long way too.
Did you get the chance to enjoy the delights of Provence, and socialise with the cast?
Yes, we did. Alas, Patricia wasn’t filming with us in Provence, but the rest of us were staying in a nice hotel and Aix is a beautiful town. I’d been there many years before, as part of the music festival in the ‘90s – they put on a hybrid opera by Purcell called The Fairy Queen which has a company of actors, ballet dancers, singers and an orchestra, so it cost a massive amount to produce!
I had an absolutely idyllic time there and I hadn’t been back since, so it was lovely to reacquaint myself with Aix, which is such a beautiful town, and we did get the chance to enjoy it. It was hard work during the week but we had proper weekends off, which was nice.
Were there any locations you particularly enjoyed?
We went down to Cassis where I’ve been before, which is so beautiful being by the sea, we had a beautiful couple of days there. But generally, it was just being around the town of Aix. It’s called the City of Fountains – everywhere you go there’s some fountain and of course they’re good at creating shade, so you can enjoy the hot sun but there’s shade too. And the food markets… it’s glorious.
How is your French?
I can just about order a meal in a restaurant, but I’m useless at languages, unfortunately. We were never going to do French accents for these characters, that wouldn’t have worked at all, it would have become annoying. But we did try to find a French quality to them.
Some filming took place in the UK because of Covid delays – was that frustrating?
Well, it was alright actually – we filmed in an abandoned school called Carmel College outside Didcot near Oxford, so familiar territory for me after filming Endeavour! And it’s a very useful location, because it has a lot of different old buildings with wonderful rooms that can be arranged and redesigned for us, but it’s also got modern architecture, and certain exteriors that we could use too. So, it was a very useful place to film and it matches the Provence style really well.
Do you appreciate the lighter tone of this series?
Yes, it sort of reflects life really, the fact that awful things can happen, appalling things like people murdering each other and Putin invading Ukraine, and yet the sun can still shine and the birds sing. If you’re lucky, you’ll be with someone you love, who makes you laugh and listening to a piece of music that you like, all those ordinary human things that make life good. So hopefully we find a way of celebrating that in this series.
Did you worry about taking on another crime series, after working on Endeavour for 10 years?
Well, I did think about that, but they’re very different characters and that’s what always appealed to me about acting, doing very different things. Of course, both shows are about solving crimes, but they’re utterly different.
It’s an utterly different period of history because Fred Thursday is somebody who fought through the Second World War and we’re just getting into the very early 1970s now. He’s from a working class, London background while Antoine is from a very wealthy flour business – there’s a lot of money behind him, which he tries to escape by being a judge and working for the public good. They’re very different men, so that felt okay.
Does stepping away from a long-running series give you the chance to take on new characters, like Antoine?
Well, I’ve never done any job for as long as Endeavour. I only agreed to do it for two years but I’ve stayed longer because there have always been reasons to do it, year by year, and it has been great developing one character over a long period of time, it’s something I’ve never done before.
Of course, I’ll be very sad to say goodbye to Endeavour and that family – I’ve worked with Shaun so closely and Anton Lesser, who I’ve known for many years. But it’s right that it should end, it can’t go on forever, and it will hopefully free up time to do other things. There have been various things that I haven’t been able to do because of Endeavour, so hopefully those kinds of jobs will still be around.
Murder in Provence – Sunday 17 July at 8pm on ITV and on ITV Hub.
Images: ITV/Rémy Grandroques-2021.