David Tennant Talks To The Sunday Times - “Evil has a kind of flamboyance. It’s a freedom from worry. Delicious!”
David Tennant is interviewed in today’s Sunday Times Magazine to promote his upcoming Amazon Prime series Good Omens.
The hugely anticipated adaptation of the cult fantasy novel, Good Omens, was written by Neil Gaiman in collaboration with the late Sir Terry Pratchett and hits Amazon Prime worldwide on 31st May, with scripts written by Gaiman himself, who also acts as showrunner for the six part series.
Good Omens is a dark, comedic story set in modern day Britain on the brink of the Apocalypse. When a fussy angel, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and a suave demon, Crowley (David Tennant) get wind of the coming of the Antichrist, they join forces to prevent the loss of their comfortable lifestyle on Earth. Throw in a medley of unforgettable characters, some infernal riders, a host of angels, a legion of demons and a gang of unruly kids, and the end of the world will never be funnier! The show also stars Michael McKean, Jack Whitehall Adria Arjona, Mireille Enos, Nick Offerman and Nina Sosanya.You can read The Times interview below:
The Interview: David Tennant on why he is the biggest worrier in showbiz
“Evil has a kind of flamboyance. It’s a freedom from worry. Delicious!”
Interview by Decca Aitkenhead
It is a truism of the entertainment industry that movie stars are damaged souls, capable of the most diabolical behaviour. If casting were strictly by type, therefore, the list of actors temperamentally suited to play the devil would be a long one. One name it would not feature, however, would be David Tennant’s.
“I suppose evil has a kind of flamboyance,” the 48-year-old reflects. “A sense that you don’t have to worry about the normalities of civilisation. It’s a freedom from worry, isn’t it? And that’s great fun to play. Because you get to feel what it would be like to not care if people think you’re a w***** …” As the sentence tails away, he murmurs, “Delicious,” looking wistful — because, in real life, Tennant worries about literally everything.
“It’s worrying about not being good enough, about being found out, about not being worthy as an actor. When you’re making a living at it and so many friends aren’t, that makes you feel guilty. I mean, Jon Hamm [star of Mad Men] couldn’t get a job until he was 30 — it could easily have not happened for him. He would just be,” and Tennant starts to laugh, “an incredibly good-looking Uber driver.”
The actor has been holed up in a hotel suite all day promoting his new TV series, yet he still finds the enthusiasm to leap from the sofa and bound across the room to say hello as I arrive. He worries about becoming a prima donna, so he has to be extravagantly nice to everyone all the time. “When you’re on set you have to be looked after, because it’s practical — but it’s a short step to thinking, ‘No, I have to be looked after because I’m important.’ You see people sliding into that,” he shudders, “and you never want that to happen.”
He is looking fabulously dandy, but when I say so he quickly corrects me. “Oh, these aren’t my own clothes. Someone who understands how to dress me has done this, not me.” He peers down and studies his feet. “I do love a sock, though. My focus on socks has developed in recent years; maybe it’s a middle-aged thing. I used to have a drawer full of black socks, and would spend more time than was healthy pairing them up, so now I have lots of socks with exciting patterns. It’s also much easier to sort them out.” His eyes are dancing with laughter. “It’s a win-win.”
It’s this sort of teasingly camp irony that illuminates Tennant’s performance as a demon in a TV adaptation of the late Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s classic novel Good Omens, a surreal comic yarn about an angel and a demon joining forces to save the world from Armageddon. Before being offered the part, Tennant hadn’t even heard of the book — but now, of course, he’s panicked by its popularity. “Everyone I meet goes, ‘Oh my God, it’s my favourite book!’ Suddenly you realise there’s a backlash ready to come if you f*** this up.”
Previous attempts to transfer the 1990 book onto screen have failed, and Tennant thinks he can see why. “It’s not really like anything else — it’s so peculiar to its authors’ brains. My theory is that the world had to wait for Neil Gaiman to become a powerful TV executive player, because I don’t think it could have been adapted by anyone else. Anyone else would try to take away the bananas stuff, at which point I think all the air would go out of it, because it’s a sort of soufflé of madness.”
But it’s also the chemistry between Tennant’s demon and his co-star Michael Sheen’s angel that electrifies. The pair have known each other for years, but never acted together. “We’re usually in the same casting bracket, so they’d have one or other of us; we have both played Hamlet. We could have felt more competitive than we did.” Instead, they perform a double act so perfect, it feels more like an exquisite dance than drama.
The joke of Good Omens is that even an angel and a devil can join forces, making a mockery of the misapprehension that there is such a thing as an exclusively good or bad person. “If this has a broader moral message, it’s that people from diametrically opposed fundamental belief systems actually can save the world when they work together. And, my God, don’t we need to hear that message. We seem to see less and less shades of grey, and more and more entrenchment — which leads to the sort of political shitstorm we’re in.”
Good Omens was a strikingly prescient novel, featuring conspiracy theories, a suicide bomber and environmental pollution. When asked why he was adapting it now, Gaiman explained: “It’s the fact that the Doomsday Clock is set at about 15 seconds to midnight … [it’s] very appropriate for right now.” I ask Tennant if he shares this apocalyptic dread and he pauses, frowning.
“Well, I hope the pendulum swings back. Where’s the hope if it doesn’t? Where’s [the polarisation] going to end? It’s very bleak.” In the past, Tennant has offered his services to the Labour Party, appearing in a 2015 election broadcast for the then leader Ed Miliband, but says he wouldn’t do so for the current leadership, given its reluctance to oppose Brexit. Would he even vote for Labour now? “I don’t know what they offer us. You just hope for someone to have a bit of clarity. You hope for a clever person.” He tails off, looking anxious.
“You have to be careful about presuming that because you’re on telly, your opinion counts. I’m not an expert, so I’m not going to be profligate about my opinions. When Michael Gove said, ‘We’ve all had enough of experts,’ that was one of the political low points of recent years. I mean, I don’t agree with your politics, but I know you’re too clever to say that. In any field, look for the expert. Getting your house plastered? Get a plasterer.” What is Tennant an expert on? He grins. “Very, very little.”
This is, of course, wildly disingenuous. He was just three years old when he fell in love with Doctor Who and informed his parents of a plan to become an actor. The son of a Presbyterian church minister, he grew up in Paisley, won a place at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama at 17, and hasn’t stopped working since. After early roles in Scottish TV dramas, he established himself as a regular fixture with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and soon became a star of the National Theatre in London. By 34, he had a solid reputation as one of the UK’s finest actors — but on Christmas Day 2005 everything changed, when he replaced Christopher Eccleston to become the 10th Doctor. He thought he’d prepared himself for the overnight alchemy of household-name status, but the shock so dismantled him that he had to see a therapist.
“The way you imagine it’s going to be is not the way it is at all. It’s much more exposing, and the imaginative leap you’ve had that it will give you status or make you invulnerable is all wrong. It makes you very vulnerable, and very raw. I remember way back, when I’d be in a room and someone well known would walk in, and there’s that sort of whisper goes around the room and everyone looks. And you imagine being that person is somehow powerful. When you are that person, you walk into a room and everyone turns their head and whispers, and you feel like you’re being squashed. You feel intimidated, and you feel scared, actually.” He “wasn’t coping at all”, so found “a very lovely older lady who was very calm and normal and just helped me cope with it”.
Tennant thinks he’s suffered from anxiety since he was a child. “I don’t think you would describe it as anxiety when I was in Paisley aged 10,” he grins. “It feels like a modern, London way of describing it. But I’ve always had insecurity, a lack of self-confidence, which is classic [for an actor]. It’s why you like dressing up and pretending to be someone else.” He doesn’t do social media, because “I’d worry it wasn’t witty enough, or didn’t take the right moral standpoint. I’d worry about it so much, it would consume so much of my time that it would paralyse me.”
In Tennant’s head, everything could go spectacularly wrong at any moment. “And probably will go wrong, more to the point.” Yeah right, I say — and at once his expression freezes. “Stop pretending that’s a joke. It’s deadly serious.” His fears sound a lot like imposter syndrome, I suggest. He looks puzzled. “What’s imposter syndrome?” A fear of being rumbled for a fraud. His whole face lights up. “Oh yes, I love that. I didn’t know there was a word for it. That’s me, yes, yes!”
This might explain why he has been more or less incapable of turning any work down. Since finishing Doctor Who in 2010 he has starred in countless TV series, most notably Broadchurch, he has voiced innumerable animations, from Tree Fu Tom to Postman Pat, narrated the BBC hit mockumentaries Twenty Twelve and W1A, and starred in movies including Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Queen of Scots and Mad to Be Normal. Lately he has been trying to say no to work, he says, but only because he feels guilty for missing out on time with his four children.
He married his wife, the actress Georgia Moffett, in 2011, and in addition to the son from her first marriage he adopted — Ty, 17, also an actor — they have three more children aged eight, six and three. “When they get old enough to notice you going to work, and know it means you’re absent, the guilt starts. But at the same time you want to give them a work ethic.” Supporting a big family in London isn’t cheap, “so work is important financially”. What are his extravagances? He almost blushes. “The one thing I spend more than we should on — other than socks, obviously — is on not flying economy. It’s terrible, isn’t it? But that’s the one thing I allow us to indulge.”
The puzzle is why he hasn’t landed a role that would elevate him to the Hollywood superstar status of, say, Benedict Cumberbatch. “I don’t think particularly tactically, I don’t think you can as an actor. You’re in the hands of people asking you to do things.” Years ago he was given some advice: “Money, career and art are the three reasons to do a job, and if you can get two out of three you should do the job. It’s quite a good formula.”
I wonder how he felt watching Olivia Colman win an Oscar. In many ways, his career has been the male equivalent of hers — so did he have a pang of why-not-me? “Not when it’s Coley!” Tennant began making his own podcasts earlier this year — a series of beguilingly intimate interviews with A-list actors — and Colman was his very first guest. On the show he observed that nobody in the industry had a bad word to say about her — but the same is true of Tennant. He laughs. “Olivia and I are exactly the same. We were both fortunate to have had good family lives. Not being too young when we became famous helps, too. But mostly, if I get a bit snappy, it ruins the rest of my day. Some actors find having a difficult atmosphere is an engine for them. But it’s just not for me.” His horror at upsetting someone becomes “all I can think about. Then I can’t act.”
It’s got nothing to do with being good? “No! It’s all down to self-preservation. It’s not nice, it’s selfish.”
Good Omens launches exclusively on Prime Video on May 31