As Da Vinci you often sported a leather jerkin. As Claude Sabine in The Collection, you’re in leather again. Something we should know?
You’ve got me — if there’s leather involved in the part, I’m in. I put it in my contract!
Seriously, though, The Collection is a departure from your previous roles. What attracted you to it?
Well, it’s a period drama set in post-war Paris in a world of secrets and collaborators, and you get the sense of a city that’s ashamed of itself, trying to rebuild itself. I play a designer who has to keep his colourful private life private because it would cause a scandal. So he’s a really interesting character.
On top of that, there’s a striking sense of style to the show. There’s almost a Mad Men feel to it, I’m very proud of it.
What did you make of your character? There’s a touch of the Jean Genet about his debauched activities…
He certainly loves his life but it gets very dangerous. And then he’s faced with a situation where he has to think about giving up the life he loves in order to get credit for the work he does. So it’s knotty and complex, a drama about a family with secrets… a family drama, with lashings of fur. And leather.
Congratulations on getting engaged to Lizzy Caplan, who starred in Masters Of Sex. Any worries about being in a two-actor household?
Thanks! People talk about egos clashing with actors but it’s such a strange job that I think it really helps to be with someone who understands that. We can be supportive of each other when we moan about things that would sound like a walk in the park to someone outside the job.
Were you sad when Da Vinci’s Demons ended after three series?
We’d seen the end coming, to be honest. It was an amazing thing to be part of, and we had the strange and exciting experience of going round the world with it and getting mobbed because there were countries where the show was huge — and then coming back to the UK where it struggled to make an impact because it wasn’t on a main channel [it was on Fox.]
Did you feel pressure, heading up a global show?
I slept and I ate that show, so if I could have done things differently, I would not let things become so all-consuming. There’s a balance you have to strike. I became an executive producer and got involved in edits — for three years it was nine months of full-on work. I let it wreck my social and romantic life. I had to go through that pressure of leading a show but now I’ve come out the other side, I wouldn’t let it happen again.
In upcoming film Starfish you play Tom Ray, a man severely disabled by sepsis.
The real Tom Ray came on set with me and Joanne [Downton Abbey’s Froggatt], who plays his wife, so there was pressure to do his story justice. We went for dinner with him and his wife before we started — and they were the most inspiring couple. This healthy guy woke up one day, got ill and lost his arms and legs and the lower half of his face. We tell his version of events and try to represent that as truthfully as possible.
You’ve also got a new two-part detective drama, Dark Heart, coming up on ITV. Aren’t there enough cop shows on TV?
That was my first reaction but Dark Heart is much more about the character. I’m playing DI Will Wagstaffe, a detective with a difficult past who put me in mind of Batman — only he’s a lot more vulnerable and led by his emotions. We shot it in a guerilla fashion deep at night in locations around central London with some pretty elaborate set pieces. I think it’s got a different, dark mood about it.
The Collection is rather more colourful with some fancy threads. Were you tempted to take any for your own wardrobe?
No! I’d look pretty weird swanking about in my fancy 1940s outfits! But I did take a shine to the Zippo lighter my character uses, so I trousered that. I shouldn’t have said that — they’ll send me an invoice for it now. KEITH WATSON
A new episode of The Collection is on Amazon Prime each Friday. Episode one is available now.