Actor Al Weaver, who plays church curate Leonard Finch in Grantchester, began his time on the series with a rather unfortunate mustache. He tells us about his character’s journey from mustache to near-marriage and beyond, and gives some behind-the-scenes flavor of his funny, friendly relationship with his co-stars.
Jace Lacob: MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Viking Cruises, exploring the world in comfort. Learn more at vrc.com
And a quick heads up, some of the discussion in today’s episode may not be suitable for all listeners.
I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
For three seasons, curate Leonard Finch has been the fidgety junior man of faith in the quaint village of Grantchester, serving as second in churchly order to his more outgoing colleague, the Reverend Sidney Chambers.
Hillary: Mr. Finch stood up for her.
Wendy: He did. He stood up for me.
Leonard: It was nothing, really.
Sidney: Doesn’t sound like nothing.
Hillary: He was a bit of a hero.
Wendy: He was an absolute hero.
Phil: Gary Cooper, step aside.
We’ve watched Leonard struggle with questions of religion and romance, while more criminal matters occupy his friends. His tentative relationship with Daniel, a photographer, ended in heartbreak. This week, we watched as he attempted to take his own life after his engagement to local spinster Hillary fell apart.
Leonard: I’m an abomination
Leonard: In the eyes of the Lord, I’m an abomination.
We spoke to actor Al Weaver—the man behind Leonard Finch—about his narrative arc on Grantchester, his relationship with his drama school mentor and co-star Tessa Peake-Jones, and how an on-set suggestion, to head writer Daisy Coulam, led to his character’s dramatic storyline this season.
Jace: We are joined this week by Grantchester star Al Weaver. Welcome!
Al Weaver: Hello. Nice to be here.
Jace: So, your turn as Curate Leonard Finch began in the second episode of Grantchester, when you appeared with a little pencil mustache. Was that mustache real, and how happy were you to be rid of it?
Al: Um, it was real. And I was living in Dalston at the time, and so I didn’t look that much out of place. But, um, yeah, it was, uh, I was single at the time and it did me no favors, whatsoever.
Al: So yeah, I was very much glad. I was like, “Oh, we are shaving this off, aren’t we?” They were like, “Yes, we are.” Excellent.
Jace: What were your first impressions of Leonard Finch, when you joined the project?
Al: Well I guess I was just going off the, off the scripts, really. So, uh, kind of excitable, naïve, uh, clumsy, funny. It was actually trying to find the lengths we could go to with him. Because I think when I sort of went in on the first, on the second ep, I kind of, I was taking it to kind of like Basil Fawlty levels.
Al: And they were just like, “Bring it down. Bring it down, bring it down.” And we sort of uh, settled on a happy medium.
Leonard: You know they say, in moments of peril, your life flashes before your eyes?
Hillary: Well I didn’t see anything at all, apart from the back of your jacket.
Leonard: All I saw was an overdue library book on my bedside table. A penny a day. Imagine the fine!
Jace: As we approach the end of the third season of Grantchester, how do you view Leonard’s arc over these three seasons?
Al: It’s pretty incredible really, I think, isn’t it? I think he’s probably the biggest journey of everyone, I think. Yeah, I mean he’s kind of come to terms with who he is, and what he’s getting there. He came to Grantchester as a, he was a, a school teacher for an all-girls school, from up North, and so he came to this village to find a family and find a belonging and he found that and sort of knows exploring all the other sides of it and, you know, after meeting Daniel last year everything has just kind of gone into chaos, and his viewers will find out when the, the new Arch Deacon comes after I rumbled in last season. That put a sort of new pressure on him to sort of grow up and, and sort of really become the man that he’s supposed to be, I think.
Jace: While Sidney struggles with his moral compass Leonard’s conscience, for the most part, has always swung to true north. What is it about his sense of fairness and faith that defines him as a character?
Al: I think he’s a very idealistic person, and I don’t think he’s had the easiest childhood and I think he’s sort of had to fight that, and through that he’s sort of gone, “Life has to be better, life has to be better, and I’ll find that in the church and helping people.” And I think that sort of idealism and the love of, the love of helping people kind of drives him.
Jace: I mean you mentioned, you mentioned the issue of family.
Jace: Certainly, at the Vicarage Leonard, Sidney and Mrs. Maguire comprise rather, we’ll say, dysfunctional little family. How does Leonard fit into that off-kilter domestic portrait?
Al: I think he’s the peacemaker. These families where you kind of got the, the grown, up and then the, the children maybe the middle one and the, and the younger one. I don’t know. He feels, he feels like the peacemaker, sort of always, sort of getting in, between Sidney and Mrs. Maguire, and even Sidney and Geordie. But then it’s sort of like then, I think, he actually gets so used to it and starts coming out of himself and allowing himself to sort of be this person that he’s wanting to be. That actually he’s quite a stern and moralistic and driven and quite argumentative character.
Jace: You mentioned the arrival of the Arch Deacon Gabriel. His arrival definitely puts pressure on Leonard to marry and start a family.
Jace: Reinforcing the idea of the heteronormative, especially in the Anglican clergy.
Gabriel: It’s fortunate that she has a friend in the church to counsel her on the institution of holy matrimony. Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
Sidney: Indeed. Thank you, Archdeacon. If that’s all.
Gabriel: You must help him, Mr. Finch. Sometimes, it’s not just the flock that need a shepherd.
Leonard: I’m sure Sidney understands.
Gabriel: Make sure he does. As well as this friend of his.
Jace: Following his tentative relationship with Daniel last season, is Leonard more aware of his own sexuality?
Al: He’s definitely a gay man. I mean, he was kind of going for the thing with Daniel as best as he could step by step and then, you know, he found him, you know, half naked with a hunky-dory chappie on his doorstep, which broke his heart. But, I think he’s getting there, but I mean he’s, it’s the ultimate sacrifice, isn’t it? I mean, you know, this is the thing with the church. It’s that, you know, you can’t, you know, have sex before marriage or, you know, back in the day you couldn’t be gay. It was just not, you … Well, you know, it was illegal to be gay in 1955 for anyone, let alone a clergyman, so he’s just trying to do the right thing. He wants to serve people. He wants to help people and, and he’ll take the, the cost to his own sort of happiness, and, as you say, he’s sort of has it put upon him that he should have a family and I think friendship, you know, back in sort of this time is a huge thing and I think that he finds that with Hilary. And that could be enough for him, you know. And I think that’s okay. But it isn’t ultimately. And I think that’s great in the writing that they kind of explore that and kind of go actually, “It isn’t enough.” He does want more. He has sexual desires, and actually his identity is bigger than the church and it’s bigger than what society’s kind of told them.
Jace: He first meets Hilary when she’s caring for her dying father and he actually reveals that he too watched someone he loved die. They very quickly form a bond and they’ve a lot in common, including a love for Russian authors like Dostoevsky.
What does Hilary represent for Leonard? Is she a safety net or a trap?
Al: Ooh, interesting question. Ooh. Uh, what do you think? I don’t know. I’ve never thought of it like that.
Al: I just thought he’s finally, you know, he’s found friends here and you know, Geordie’s, you know, he’s Geordie, but Sidney’s very much fine, but this is someone that he can really, I say, be himself with. But he has like he says he’s met someone in the village that gets him. That he’s … They’re, they’re literally soul partners, you know, they’re soulmates if it wasn’t for the fact that, you know, Hilary has boobs and not, you know, that she’s not a man.
Hillary: Everyone in the village is talking about you. Saying how brave you are. Mr. Chapman asked if we might be stepping out to the bingo together. I do think of you, Leonard. Do you ever think of me?
Al: So, yeah, on every level they are compatible and perfect and, and that’s all we, you know, we date in this life and, you know, we go on whether it’s Tinder or meet a girl at a bar, or whatever it is, you know, and you go for attractiveness, but also you want that spark. You want the personality. You want the, you want them to make you feel complete and, and she does that to him. I believe that and Emily, who plays Hilary so beautifully, and we had a really good sort of chemistry on set and had a really sort of good laugh doing it. It felt really good to do that with her, especially, just because it felt like we had a natural bond and that, and that felt real to play.
Jace: Well his innocence is, I think, very childlike almost whether it’s about his own sort of understanding of his sexuality. He does appear, at first, to be asexual and this is now sort of seeing him almost move into adolescence. As though he is sort of becoming aware of these feelings.
Al: I think he’s very much sort of behind in his progression of his feelings and his emotions. And that’s not, I mean, it’s a lot to do with his sort of upbringing and his life and the fact that he’s been sort of held down his entire life. He had a father who was quite cruel, after he lost his mother and he didn’t have anyone to talk to and, you know, he’s come to the church to kind of see counselors, but now the church is going against him as well because it won’t let him be his true self. And yeah, and I like the way you described that sort of saying about in adolescence and I think it very much is that. He’s almost a teenager in his emotions and as you, you know, you act out as a teenager and we’ve all done it and (laughs) stormed out of the house shouting at your parents.
Al: Yes, I think, I think you’re bang on. I think that is, that’s definitely something to do with it.
Jace: I’d love to discuss the horrible tension of the engagement photo scene in which Leonard and Hilary have to be awkwardly posed by Daniel. The script is very sparse, but direction for that moment it says, “Leonard is dying inside.”
Al: Yeah. Yeah.
Jace: What did you feel was going through Leonard’s head in that sequence and how did you manifest it?
Al: I mean, he’s dying inside and all his emotions are going up. He’s a volcano about to explode, and he’s just trying to keep it together, and now he’s got to go and babysit and he can’t tell Hilary, and Sidney’s there. And he’s kind of still kind of angry at Sidney as well, but kind of asking for help, but he can’t do anything, and Sidney kind of gives him this look like ‘you’re kind of on your own. You need to stand up and do something about this’, and eventually he does, but he has to go through quite a lot of turmoil to do that. It’s very hard when you got, you know, Daniel looks like a young Marlon Brando and, you know, Leonard’s going crazy, so…
Jace: Leonard is horrified by Hilary’s sexual desire calling it quote, “Disgusting, not right.”
Hillary: …. Have you ever, you know, been with a woman
Leonard: No. No
Hillary: Oh, I’m so glad. All my school friends got married young. I thought I was the only virgin left on Earth. I’m not sure it’s anything to be afraid of. I’m quite looking forward to it, really.
Leonard: Stop it, you’re being crude.
Leonard: It’s disgusting, it’s not right.
Jace: What are Leonard’s anger and disgust really about here?
Al: He’s trying to get right in the fact that he is kidding himself. That he is trying to convince himself that she, that he can do this. That Hilary is the one. That they can go through with all of this. And I mean it’s beautifully written with bringing the babies into it that soon. When I read those scripts, me and Emily and all of those, it was kind of like, “God, this is so like, ugh, it’s so in your face, for Leonard and like it’s just too much.” And so, but I think I as an actor playing it actually felt like, I didn’t know whether it was too much or it wasn’t. I felt so awkward with it and, you know, you play a character for three years, you kind of, not saying you can feel every emotion that they go through, but you can understand the decisions they make and what triggers they feel and how they go about, and I think sort of the sex thing is, really, really freaked him out and I think that was the, you know, that was definitely the turning point. I mean she is very brazen with it, isn’t she? Like she’s like, you know, “I’ve never had sex, have you? ” um, it’s pretty out there.
Jace: “All my friends got married young. I thought I was the last virgin in England,” she says.
Al: Yeah, right? I mean, that’s pretty, it’s not, you know, it’s, it’s pretty out there. It was, it was great fun to play and actually, well actually it wasn’t great fun to play. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t. That day was not fun. But it felt, it felt right for their journey and for the show.
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Jace: Following the dissolution of their engagement, Leonard attempts to take his own life. As a Curate, what is his view on the sin of suicide, and does he seen no other way out?
Al: it’s a huge, huge decision and for him it’s, it’s weird because, you know, when we’re talking about this, and talking with it to the guys, kind of going, there was a feeling that he’d done this before.
Jace: Mm, hmm.
Al: And that was, I don’t know if you get the sense of that. Maybe there’s not enough in it to get the sense of that, but playing it, there was definitely a feeling, and we talked about it, and said that he’d probably tried this before. And so yeah, so I think like he said, “It’s his only way out.” And it’s about him finding courage this entire, you know, Leonard’s journey through this whole sort of thing, you know, making a family, but also finding the courage to be himself, and this is the final straw. He just can’t, he can’t do it, and there’s no way out. I mean it’s horrible to think that, that’s his only option but he loves the church so much. And there’s a speech after it in which Sidney, you know, Sidney finds him and he says, “I’m an abomination”, and “in the eyes of the lord I’m an abomination.” And that kind of says everything you need to know about that because that’s his belief and I guess he’d rather, I guess he’d rather go to hell than sort of be that in the eyes of God, I think.
Jace: You mentioned how tough it was to shoot the breakup scene with Hilary. How difficult was it to film the suicide scene?
Al: I mean, they’re not, they’re not fun those. Um…
Jace: I imagine not.
Al: It’s not a fun rehearsal. It’s not fun performing it, but there is a very much sense of satisfaction and achievement and fulfillment once the process is over and as, if you feel like you’ve been honest to the character, been honest to your audience, been honest to yourself, and if you’ve put yourself out there and you’ve tried your best to show this person in this situation and truthfully told it. So, it was, you know, I’m very lucky on that show. We have a beautiful director called Rebecca on that episode and Emma, the producer. It was a very small crew and it was very nice and it was just, yeah. You just kind of do it, you kind of do it and get through it. So, it’s a sense of fulfillment. When I watched it, I thought, “Yeah”, and also, when you sort of finish your take and you know the directors crying her eyes out that’s sort of a sense of (laughs) … During the whole thing she was like, “Al, if I’m, if I’m, if I’m laughing in a funny scene at the end of, when I say ‘cut’, it’s good. And if I’m crying, it’s really good.” So, I’d always sort of do it and then kind of just look to her really quickly and she was like a wreck after that bit so I was like, “I think,”
Jace: Uh oh.
Al: And also (laughs) yeah and then you see like a guy with the boom up like Les or Nicky holding the boom and they’re crying their eyes out and you’re like, “Okay, I think we got it. I think we got it guys. Let’s do the next horrible scene.” You know, so there’s always mixed emotions on those things.
Jace: When, when did you learn that he would be attempting suicide? At the beginning of this season or just when you got this specific script?
Al: Well, I don’t want to take credit for it, but it was my idea.
Al: It was at the end of filming season two and I was talking to Daisy, she goes, “I can’t, you know, it’s starting to get stories for filming season three.” And I was like, “I’d love to see him like really like commit, try and commit suicide or something because, you know, he just can’t deal with this. This whole Daniel thing is driving him nuts and he would, wouldn’t he?” Like this is wake up, and when I read that I was just like, “Oh, my god I can’t believe this. I can’t believe she’s done it.”
Al: I thought they were so brave in this season with everything. I thought they really sort of went there and so yeah, I was delighted that, that’s where it went because I think he, I think, I think he kind of had to. You know, I think sometimes stories write themselves and the logical thing was if he wasn’t going to do that, was he going to marry her and then is there a story there? Maybe. And, you know, for dramatic purposes and for his, for his journey especially, I think he kind of had to go there so, you know thanks to the guys for actually doing it.
Jace: Sidney says to Leonard, “You can’t fight who you are.” What do you make of Sidney and Leonard’s dynamic and how does that shift following Leonard’s suicide attempt?
Al: Their dynamic is very much a family I think, you know, they’ve very much become brothers and (laughs) I don’t know who’s the old and the younger. I think it depends on the sort of situation that they’re in. That they find themselves in. But I think, after the suicide, I think, I mean, I thought James was so good in that scene and like it was hard, you know, doing that scene. That’s all you’re thinking about. You’re trying to get something off your chest and you’re seeing James just going, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. Don’t listen to him. That guy is wrong. The church doesn’t think that.” And it’s such powerful words and he delivers it with such, purity and honesty and feeling, and obviously because we’re good friends and, you know, we’ve known each other a while now, and it was a real beautiful scene. It was my favorite scene we’ve done and, because it really cements Leonard’s sort of trust in Sidney that after he’s accepted himself, because that’s the only scene he comes out. When he says, “I’m an abomination” and that’s him going “I’m a gay man”. I’m saying it. “I’m a gay man.” And Sidney just goes, “But, you’re a beautiful human being. You’re a beautiful human being.” So, I think that cements their relationship after that because he knows that Sidney will be there for anything, and then he pisses off in episode five so, and then goes and joins the gypsy camp. So, yeah, so great stuff there.
Al: Sidney’s going through his own thing, and Leonard’s got to stand up and take it on, so just when he thought he had his brother there forever then, you know, drama kicks in and (laughs), it’s all over the place. But yeah, but you know, they love each other.
Jace: I mean given everything that’s happened, is there any chance of future happiness for Leonard and Daniel?
Al: It’s such a complicated thing, because it’s illegal. And I don’t know how far they can, realistically take it. Unless he, you know, quits the church and becomes a, ughm, I’ve got no idea. I’ve got no idea.
Jace: Tessa Peake Jones who plays Mrs. Maguire was your mentor at drama school.
Al: Yes. (laughs). Did she say that? Yeah, she did. She was.
Jace: What do you remember of that time together, and what did you learn from her?
Al: She’ll hate me for saying this, but not much because she’s like, “Ugh, you never called me. You never needed me.” I was, I don’t know, I think I was so confident, and like thinking at drama school I was just like, “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. It’s cool.” I think we just had one chat and I was so star-struck, obviously, because I had grown up on “Only Fools and Horses” and it was like mine and my dad’s favorite show. Just to me, like Del Boys’ wife was mental. I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is my, my mentor.” And you know, and the tables have turned now. Very much; I am her guide and she accepts that and I take her through scenes and, you know, make sure she’s acting well and stuff, but even, I still … You know it did give us? It gives a real sort of kinship. It’s such a joy being on set with her and like we have such a beautiful friendship, and she’s so much fun to be around. She’s the most wonderful, giving actress ever. She never complains. She’s always like, “Hey.” She’s always happy and like, you know, making everyone feel good and it’s a very, very happy set, not to sound over-sentimental and stuff, but it really is. So yeah, so nothing really, I learnt from her. She was just there if I needed. Actually, I did learn when we got on set, and I was like, “Ugh, I wish we had more lines.” She’s like, “Al, my favorite acting is listening acting, thinking acting.” I was like, “What? But you’re not speaking.” And she was like, “It’s what you say without your eyes.”
Al: And I was like, “God you’re, God you’re good.” And you watch her, when she’s like silent and doing the listening. She is brilliant. Like she really is brilliant, but when she does it in the, when we’re doing the church scenes, when I have to sit next to her in the church literally like I’ll, she’ll just be doing her silent acting and I’ll just try and make her corpse the entire time. But yeah. She’s, she’s fantastic, and she’s great in this.
Jace: I’ve heard that you and James can get up to mischief on the set, and according to Tessa Peake Jones you were shooting a scene, and you and James quote “had to be banished out of the house completely.”
Al: (laughs). Yeah. We had to be banished.
Jace: What happened there?
Al: Well, so Mrs. Maguire’s (laughs) this is brilliant. Mrs. Maguire was, is, Tessa. She always appears like behind a door, or like you open a door and she’s like spring cleaning or something, or she’s listening behind a cupboard, or she’ll pop up from chair, but it’s also because Tessa, as an actress, and this is where I’ve tried to come in and help her as a mentor and a guide, that she is the loudest walker, and prop maneuverer like, and she’s constantly making tea and stuff, so she’s like BOOM BOOM. Plus, she’s got these big, heavy shoes on while she’s like this, THUMP THUMP. I’m like “Tess, for Christ sakes, just put some socks on. Just do it in your socks.” She said, “No, that’s not real. That’s not real.” I was like, “This is ridiculous. We’re going to have to ADI the entire thing.” And anyway, so we had this scene, and we’d gone already because she pulls this face when she’s like looking in one direction, and then you go, “Oh, and that’s Mrs. M,” and she’ll look right in with this kind of, she’s got very big eyes and kind of like this surprised, like weird look. And I just find it really funny because I know her, and yeah, and basically there was a door open in this scene, and she was there spring cleaning with these big eyes just like looking. We couldn’t do it. Me and James just could not stop laughing, and so after take four the director just went, “Get out. Get out. I don’t want you on the set. Get out. We’ll do it without you.”
Al: So, we were like, “Okay, cool. Let’s go sit in the sunshine for half an hour.”And I think Tess appreciated it, because, I think she was better without us because she, because she’s a terrible corpser anyway.
Jace: Well Al Weaver, thank you so much.
Al: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you for, for having me.
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