Michael Kitchen may soon find himself joining the ranks of famous TV detectives with his portrayal of Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle in Foyle's War. He was drawn to the challenges of the fledgling project -- and fledgling character -- immediately.
"I was attached to quite a few projects when Foyle first came to me, in its early drafts, as 'The War Detective,'" says Kitchen, who went on to work closely with Foyle writer Anthony Horowitz crafting the character. "Even then it was very high quality, always attractive, always going to be a strong contender, and no great surprise when it was greenlit."
A policeman like his father before him, Christopher Foyle is a dedicated officer who has risen through the ranks to become detective chief superintendent. But rather than resting on his laurels, Foyle wants a transfer out of the force so he can fight for his country against Hitler.
Against this wartime backdrop, information about Foyle's own life emerges. A widower since his wife's death from typhoid five years earlier, he is somewhat introspective. The loss, however, has brought him closer to his son, Andrew (Julian Ovenden).
"Hopefully the relationship with his son reveals a warmer side to Foyle," says Kitchen. "Hopefully, too, a lot of unspoken stuff between them gives the whole family story a depth which will be looked at in later episodes."
Foyle is assisted in his work by driver Samantha Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and police sergeant-turned-soldier Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). Describing Foyle's relationships with the other characters, Kitchen says: "It's perhaps not a bad idea at this stage to leave as many open doors as possible. ... I think there's great potential in Foyle's War, and the character is open for development."
Kitchen's career spans film, television, and theater, where he has worked extensively for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the Royal National Theatre. His is a familiar face to Masterpiece Theatre viewers, having had roles in, among other productions, The Railway Children, Oliver Twist, Reckless, and Dandelion Dead. Most recently he has taken on the role of Jack Turner in ITV1's A&E. His feature film roles include Proof of Life, The World Is Not Enough, Goldeneye, Enchanted April, Russia House, and Out of Africa.
Anthony Howell made the rounds in preparing for his role as wounded ex-soldier Paul Milner, heading to libraries, museums, and even hospitals to learn all he could about the experience of a soldier injured in combat.
Howell began with WWII hero Richard Hillary's The Last Enemy. "He was an air force pilot shot down early in the war and burned all over his body," Howell says. "... It was interesting to go through the thoughts of someone who's been through a war, gets shot down, and is lying in hospital terribly injured."
In addition to Hillary's The Last Enemy, Howell also read Len Deighton's Blood, Tears and Folly and visited the archives of London's Imperial War Museum to further his education about the war.
In the film, Milner abandons his career as a police sergeant to be one of the first men to enlist. Unfortunately, he is also one of the first to be injured. Back on the police force after losing a leg, Foyle (Michael Kitchen) asks Milner to help in his investigation.
Howell needed to gain insight into the life of one who loses a limb. The staff at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton allowed him to do just this, showing him the actual prosthetics worn by Douglas Bader, the British WWII flying ace of the RAF who had had both legs amputated after a crash some years before WWII but who continued to fly and fight during the war.
"Losing a leg is treated as a bereavement -- the denial, the anger, and the acceptance -- and it changes Milner's life forever," Howell explains. "Foyle originally approached Milner to work with him when he was a sergeant, but Milner turned him down. Foyle comes back to see him in hospital, not out of pity, but because he senses they could work together."
Howell recently played another soldier -- Special Air Services (SAS) trooper Sam Leonard -- in ITV1's Ultimate Force. "Sam chose to join the SAS of his own freewill and accepts that he will kill as part of his job. Milner is not a killing machine; he is gentle person and a deep thinker. Being required to kill for his country is not part of his real make-up."
There was a personal element for Howell in making this film. "I'm also very close to my grandfather, who would have been Milner's age during the war," he says. "He can't travel to London to see me on stage, but he loves to watch me on TV, and I'm sure he'll identify with Foyle's War."
Howell studied architecture before turning to drama. He spent a season at the RSC, and on television he has appeared in Helen West and Masterpiece Theatre's Wives and Daughters.
Honeysuckle Weeks found it easy to slip into the role of police driver Samantha Stewart in Foyle's War: She and her character share an uncannily similar background.
"Sam was described to me at the outset as someone who was born in Cardiff [in Wales] and brought up in the South Downs," Weeks explains. "In real life, I know the South Downs like the back of my hand because I grew up there, and I was also born in Cardiff."
The script needed only slight tweaking to make Weeks a truly perfect fit. "...The story was changed slightly to make Sam a vicar's daughter, to make up for my slightly Oxford accent," she says. "Sometimes you just know a role is right for you. You think no one else could do it as well, which might not be true, but it's a great feeling."
It's not only Weeks's and her character's backgrounds that are similar; so, too, is their enthusiasm for their respective roles. Foyle's War reunites Weeks with her Lorna Doone costar Michael Kitchen. When she learned that Kitchen was slated to star, she was no less than "desperate to get the part."
About Sam, Weeks says: "[She] has so much energy, she doesn't know what to do with it. She is very enthusiastic and excited by taking on a role in society so young. ... She is almost overwhelmed to have freedom, both literally and metaphorically."
Foyle's War took Weeks back to a location where she had worked previously -- Squeerys Court in Kent, which doubles as the home of Henry Beaumont (Robert Hardy) and his wife, Greta (Joanna Kanska).
"I filmed a Victoria Wood Christmas Special there, a spoof of Sense and Sensibility called Plots and Proposals. It was quite different this time. In Plots and Proposals," Weeks recalls, "I played Kate Winslet's character and was dressed in a Regency outfit, frolicking in the garden with ringlets. For Foyle's War, there were lots of horses with blood all over them, and we were investigating a murder."
Weeks began acting when she was 9, getting her first big TV break starring in Goggle Eyes. She has since combined acting with studying, earning a degree in English literature from Oxford University. In addition to acting in such films as Close Relations, Midsomer Murders, The Orchard Walls, The Rag Nymphs, The Wild House and My Brother Tom, she also writes books and screenplays.
Julian Ovendon's role in Foyle's War is the latest step on his speedy climb to success since leaving the Webber Douglas Academy just three years ago.
The acclaimed young actor jumped at the chance to make his TV debut as Michael Kitchen's son Andrew in Foyle's War -- especially when he learned that the role involved "flying" a real Spitfire.
"It is a wonderful part for an actor to recreate. When I sat in the Spitfire, I almost felt I was flying," Ovendon says. Plus, he explains, doing behind-the-scenes research for the part was a snap. "My great-uncle flew Spitfires in the war.... Both he and my grandfather remember the period well and have well-stocked libraries, so I was able to do quite a bit of research."
The role allowed Ovendon to explore some of his own family's past, and it is the part that familial relationships play in Foyle's War that he finds so appealing. "One of the most attractive elements of the role is the relationship between Andrew and his father. His mother has died, so it gives a tender side to their relationship, particularly as he feels responsible for his father," Ovendon says. "... [When Andrew leaves school to go off to war], he feels excited and a patriotic obligation, but he is also slightly guilty about leaving his father behind. He knows he is putting himself at risk and could be leaving his father behind for good."
The Foyles's story is not overly sentimental, though, nor is it a rehashing of stories told before; Ovendon credits writer Anthony Horowitz with its originality. "I wanted to avoid the cliché of an RAF pilot. England was on full alert, and Andrew is itching to get out there and use his skills," he says. "[But] Anthony Horowitz is very good at looking at the war in another way. He tries to make it individual and colorful. I knew planes would feature somewhere, but for Andrew to be involved in the idea of test flights for radar is extraordinary."
Ovendon's short career has already been distinguished. After eight months with the RSC, he won critical acclaim for his starring role as Franklin Shepard in a revival of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar Warehouse. He also plays the lead in the film Thick, Twisted and Harry and stars with James D'Arcy and Lucy Punch in the contemporary romantic comedy Come Together.
As Superintendent Hugh Reid in Foyle's War, Michael Simkins says his character provides a foil to Foyle.
"Hugh Reid is Foyle's equivalent in uniform, and he is a good sounding board for him," Simkins says of his character. "Foyle doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, but Reid becomes his confidante."
The two officers share what Simkins calls a "gallows humor." "Reid takes his work seriously, but, like Foyle, ... he thinks that if Hitler suddenly arrived, the criminals they are investigating wouldn't amount to a row of beans. There are more pressing issues around them, and the roles that they play in the force could be redundant at any time."
While it's the first time Michael has played a policeman in wartime, he's no stranger to putting on a police uniform for work.
"I have played two or three policemen a year for television -- either bent or straight. It must be the way I look," Simkins says, reminiscing about a time when art and life merged for him. "I was sitting in Soho once, and a rather thuggish bloke came up and said, 'You're a copper, aren't you?' I have done crime reconstructions, so obviously I've picked up some things on the way!"
But Simkins has played other, non-police roles as well: Billy Flynn in Chicago and Sam in the ABBA-inspired musical Mamma Mia! His other credits include My Family, I Saw You, A Touch of Frost, Trial & Retribution III, Chalkface, and Castles, where he met Foyle's War director Jeremy Silberston.
Besides TV and film, Simkins works in another medium as well: print. He pens The Guardian's weekly column "An Actor's Life."
New Bond girl Rosamund Pike's feet have hardly touched the ground. Her starring role (as Sarah Beaumont, Episode 1) in Foyle's War comes hot on the heels of her acclaimed performances in Masterpiece Theatre productions Love in a Cold Climate and Wives and Daughters. Soon after filming Foyle's War, she was snapped up to star alongside Pierce Brosnan in the 007 movie Die Another Day.
"It does seem strange to think how lucky I have been," says Pike, who played the part of actress and student simultaneously. "Foyle's War was perfect timing, as it came at the end of my degree course at Oxford."
Pike's Sarah is the only daughter of landowner Henry Beaumont (Robert Hardy). She clashes with her stepmother, Greta (Joanna Kanska), over the family trust, which will make her rich upon her marriage to Michael Turner (Dominic Mafham).
Pike believes that the historic setting of wartime Britain adds an extra dimension to the story in Foyle's War. "A small village in wartime with a German woman in its midst made for an edgy climate and enhanced the murder story."
She researched her role by reading Anne Valery's book about wartime Britain. "[It's] about life on the homefront and what it was like to live at that time, how people would share rationing, gardening, and clothes. Women," she elaborates, "felt it was their responsibility to wear bright colors because of the war."
Bright colors on clothing, yes, but bright skies weren't as welcome. "The book also explains the British obsession with the weather," Pike explains. "When it was cloudy, you would be protected from bombers, so clear skies were a bad thing."
Donning authentic clothing for the piece, as well as wearing period-style makeup -- lipstick, like women's clothing, was generally bright and bold -- Pike enjoys doing period pieces, but hopes not to be typecast as an actress in costume dramas.
"People do say I have a good period face, ... but I would like to think I am not stuck in a time warp," she says. "People stick labels on you, but stories are stories, whatever era they are in."
Pike's latest incarnation is as the thoroughly modern Miranda Frost, M16 agent, ice maiden, champion fencer and a true match for James Bond in Die Another Day.
Charles Dance rose to the challenge of playing Hitler supporter Guy Spencer (Episode 2), a man whom he claims has no redeeming features.
"He's a fascist, racist, and deeply unpleasant man," he says bluntly. "I've played more romantic leading men than I'd care to mention, and there is nothing of that in Guy Spencer. I couldn't empathize with him at all."
The only way to play such a character, Dance says, is "to pretend very well. ... You have to believe what you're saying and get inside the skin of the character to make the words sound as if they are coming from your own heart.... But once you've finished the scene, you walk away."
As the leader of the Friday Club, Guy Spencer persuades injured sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) to attend one of its meetings. Milner, though intrigued at first, rejects Spencer's rhetoric after realizing the extent of his bigotry. Dance believes the issues raised by the film still have relevance today.
"Nationalism unfortunately raises its ugly head in every generation somewhere in the world, and there are a lot of people who still find views of people like Spencer attractive," he says. "When the divide between rich and poor gets greater, then people look around for scapegoats, and they tend to be Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, blacks, or other minorities."
Dance was attracted by the chance to work with Michael Kitchen, who plays Foyle, and by the strength of Anthony Horowitz's writing.
"I was born in 1946, the year after the war ended, but my parents and relatives and their contemporaries were always talking about it -- war stories and the Blitz spirit. It provides a great backdrop for Foyle's War. A lot of crime dramas are boring and formulaic, but every now and again, a couple rise to the top like cream. Hopefully this will be one of them."
A Masterpiece Theatre alumnus like several of his costars -- he was in The Jewel in the Crown and Rebecca -- Dance has worked extensively both on television and in film, on TV in First Born, and Nicholas Nickleby, and in film in Hilary and Jackie, Michael Collins, The Last Action Hero, Alien III, White Mischief, For Your Eyes Only and Plenty.
Dance recently shared the stage with Jessica Lange in Eugene O'Neill's A Long Day's Journey Into Night. Two new feature films in which he has a part -- Black and White with Robert Carlyle, about a harrowing trial in Australia, and Swimming Pool with Charlotte Rampling -- are due out shortly, and he has also written a screenplay that he hopes to direct in 2003.
Having previously played Head of Chambers Peter Foxcott in Kavanagh QC, Oliver Ford Davies returns to the legal profession for his role as Judge Lawrence Gascoigne in Foyle's War (Episode 3). Davies says Judge Gascoigne seeks the position not because he is a great barrister, but because it carries great prestige.
Davies's description of his character is not especially flattering. "He married Emily, who has inherited an enormous house but has no money, so he has to keep up the house on a county court judge's wage. He is snobbish and enjoys being a big fish in a little pond," Davies says. "He's also a stiff, unbending man who likes getting into his country tweed clothes and sees himself as a great landowner."
Gascoigne lords it over his wife, played by Cheryl Campbell, and his daughter, Susan (Sophia Myles).
"I think he belongs to that generation that grew up before the first world war, then found the '20s and '30s hard to take," Davies says. "He can't deal with things like the emancipation of women or jazz. At heart he is a true Victorian."
Davies turned to acting after first working as a history lecturer at Edinburgh University during the '60s. He has worked extensively for the RSC and Royal National Theatre and won an Olivier Award for Best Actor in 1990.
Davies is another Masterpiece Theatre veteran, having had roles in A Very British Coup, David Copperfield, My Uncle Silas and Bertie and Elizabeth. He has also appeared in the feature films Defence of the Realm, Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Brown, Titanic Town, and Star Wars: Episodes I and II.
Davies played the lead in King Lear at the Almeida in London this year, and a diary of his experiences will be published this fall. He has two new films, Johnny English, a James Bond spoof, starring Rowan Atkinson and directed by Peter Howitt, and Hanif Kureishi's The Mother.
Emily Gascoigne is a prisoner within her family, according to the actress who plays her, Cheryl Campbell (Episode 3).
"She is locked into something she can't get out of with any dignity. She is a prisoner to her own desired self-image and need to keeping up appearances. Emily is not a terribly happy woman. I wanted to create an air of loneliness around her, stuck in such a large house."
Like her husband, Judge Lawrence Gascoigne, to Emily social standing is all important, but the money to maintain it is in short supply. "Their marriage was serviceable for a few years, and it allowed her to have a social life. He was respectful, upright, and worthy -- not top-notch, but his credentials were there," Campbell says of their life together. "The disappointment came when their money problems started, followed by his secret behavior of cutting her out. ... What little solace she gets is from her daughter, but that's not perfect."
Campbell's fans will see her with a new look in the film.
"I had my hair cut quite short, and then this job came along. Ideally it would have been a bit longer, but it was quite liberating. It was waved and put in a period-style look. But I am always known for having such long hair that when I go to the hairdresser's they usually refuse to take much off!"
Campbell's many credits include Masterpiece Theatre productions The Way We Live Now, The Mill on the Floss and Bramwell, as well as Absurd Person Singular, The Shooting Party, Midsomer Murders and Sherlock Holmes. Her feature films include Chariots of Fire, McVicar and Greystoke.
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