Robson Green Interview: Grantchester’s Man for All Seasons
Robson Green, the actor behind Grantchester‘s detective Geordie Keating (and host of Extreme Fishing with Robson Green), talks about Season 6, Geordie’s good heart, and his beloved castmates—including who he’d bring on a fishing trip, and which fish their Grantchester character would be! Find out in his exclusive interview from July, 2020 with MASTERPIECE.
Now that Season 5 has ended, what we can look forward to in Grantchester Season 6?
Well, let’s just say Geordie and Will, two kindred spirits, go AWOL and go down a really destructive path together. So who’s going to save their two souls?…The great thing with Daisy [Coulam, Grantchester‘s writer/creator], just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does, and it’s all to do with her writing. She’s a genius.
What do you like most about playing Geordie, and what do you like most about him?
Well, it’s interesting. He has a definite sense of right and wrong. When it comes to Grantchester, you have this metaphorical Eden: everything on the surface is colorful, it’s beautiful, it’s quintessentially English, it’s idyllic, it’s peaceful. But it’s completely deceptive, and what I like about Geordie is the fact that he understands that no matter how happy you are in life, be it genuinely happy to your core, expect the unexpected. He always knows there’s something bad and negative ’round the corner.
He doesn’t come from the philosophy that we can sort problems out by confiding in an invisible friend, which is what Will Davenport’s is. He’s seen the worst type of mankind as a prisoner of war. I spoke to my grandfather about what it is to be a prisoner of war many years ago, not when I was doing Grantchester…My grandfather lost faith. It’s the same with Geordie, he’s lost faith. And I quite like the fact that his education is from the university of life. I like the fact that when he listens to people talk he has this complete subtext of, “You don’t know you’ve been born, you’re saying what you’re saying—I’ve seen the worst things. You’ve no idea what’s going on behind closed doors in people’s lives.” You may see a person for one thing, but not see behind them, and Geordie sees all that. He’s a…person who can observe somebody and within five minutes he gets their whole life…
And he’s a man for all seasons. He survives in whatever culture—because of what he’s seen, and because of who he is, and because he has a definite sense of right or wrong, when people are talking about things, he just thinks they have no idea what real life is, according to Geordie. And I quite like that. That’s always nice to play.
In Season 5, Episode 4, when Geordie escorts his mother-in-law, Diana, out to the ambulance to be committed, his tenderness is both staggering and surprising. What do you make of that side of him, which we’ve not seen much before?
In television—not film, and not factual, nothing else—within television, likeability is everything, and relatability is everything. And because he’s seen the worst in life, he can also see the good in people, as well. He knows there is a scenario where maybe he may end up like that.
My mother has dementia, and certain people have a short fuse with my mother and the way she is, because she’s on a loop, and she repeats certain things constantly all day. All day she’ll go, “So what are you doing at the moment?” Thirty seconds later, “So what are you doing at the moment?” So you understand that, but what I do is, I realize that my mother went without, so we could go with. I know my mother struggled to bring four children up on her own, so therefore, there is an inherent love there.
And there is a love within Geordie. He has a really good heart, and I think that is conveyed in all the scenes. He knows she’s not a bad person. He knows there’s an issue that needs solving and the only way it can be solved is with professionals. In that day, that’s what used to happen: out of sight and out of mind. However, there’s a lovely side to him. He said, “It’s important that you go and visit your mother and the in-laws,” because at one time they were just like him. And therefore, you’re every age you’ve ever been, and you’re every life you’ve ever led, and in all places with all people. He understands that and it’s a really nice layered aspect of his character to play. I really liked that. So yes, I used my mother a lot in that scene.
The father/son dynamic seems to be growing even stronger between Will and Geordie. How did that play out this season?
The lovely dynamic with Will is that he’s a lot younger than Geordie, the difference being that Sidney, played by lovely James Norton, had fought, like Geordie, so there was a common ground and understanding of the destructive nature of man and mankind. Whereas Will hasn’t lived through war, he hasn’t seen the darkest of human beings, and therefore, over-trusting them could be a flaw in your observance of humanity. That plays out in Season 5’s Episode 5 when Geordie kind of says, “I told you so.” Then Will has that fantastic speech at the end where he says, “You deserve the snakes, and you deserve to go to hell, if there is a hell, because of what you do, because you know that you’re just destroying people and you are the corrosive nature of man.” I love the fact that Geordie keeps warning him about it—it’s a great device to play within a relationship.
But it’s far more so a father and son dynamic, because he’s younger and because there’s a lot in the world that maybe Will doesn’t understand, which Geordie guards him from, and takes him under his wing, and therefore cares more about him and his welfare than he did with Sidney. And Tom, he’s got great timing—a bloody good comic, Tom Brittney. I think that plays out a lot, very subtextually throughout the series. I feel there’s a lot more humor with Will in it than there was with Sidney, and he just brings this new, young, fresh dynamic to it. He can play more with him.
Grantchester is attributed by many to be their happy place. But it looks like it’s also their funny place. So who is the biggest troublemaker, in terms of making people laugh?
Al Weaver. He’s just got this glint in his eye. His timing is so free, and gorgeous, and it’s layered, and it’s so much light and shade with his character, it’s the best I’ve ever come across. I love what Al does with that creation. And luckily we’ve earned the right to corpse in front of everyone and we’ve earned the right to laugh a lot, but he’s terrible—he just starts and then you can’t stop and then we’re done. And no one else on the set is laughing because they’re under schedule, which makes it worse. So yes, Al Weaver. He’s the Feste of the piece, definitely.
Sidney helped Geordie solve crimes, Will helps him, and even Leonard had a shot at it. How about Mrs. C?
Well, there’s a thread in series six—oh, I hope it sticks there! She really finds a certain amount of worth in getting involved, and Geordie’s going to go, “Well, who else? Why don’t you get Jack (Nick Brimble) involved? Everybody wants to be a detective!” All I want to do is direct, that kind of thing. Everybody wants to be a detective. It’s so true.
But Mrs. C, Tessa Peake-Jones, is fantastic. She’s from the monster show here that was Only Fools and Horses. She was fantastic in it, and integral in the pathos and the timing. Like Al Weaver, like Tom, like Kacey Ainsworth, she’s got really good timing. You’re not hit over the head with the comedy with Tessa or Al or anyone else. She provides that wonderful hybrid of comedy/drama, which is a strange one and a very difficult one to achieve. But she does it because she has the experience and understanding of where comedy comes from: it’s from circumstance and situation and relationship. You don’t try and be funny. She just is, and that really helps. She’ll be great as a detective, but it’s all to do with how…this is all going to unfold under the cloud of Covid-19. It’s just mind-blowing, but we’re going to do it, and hooray!
You are a real fishing enthusiast and host of the popular series Extreme Fishing with Robson Green. Can you rank who in the cast, from first to last, that you’d like to bring along on a fishing trip?
First would be Tom because we’re incredibly close friends. Then James Norton, because we’re incredibly close friends and he’s always been badgering me about going fishing. But when I offer him fishing…I offered him fishing on the Tay in January. I’d been asked to open the Tay River in Scotland, which is an incredible honor, and I said to him, “They said to bring James Norton along, so I told them ‘yeah, no worries.'” He said, “Will there be cameras there?” and I went, “You’re James Norton, of course there’s going to be cameras there, you idiot!” So James will be second.
Then it’ll be Tessa, and I think Tessa will be a really good fly caster (because it’ll be fly fishing we’re doing). Tessa will have the patience and understanding, and I know she’ll listen, whereas Tom and James just won’t listen to me, only because they’ll think, “Who do you think you are, Robson, trying to teach us fly fishing because you had your own fishing show?” Then after that will be Kacey [Ainsworth, Cathy Keating], because she’s gorgeous and she’ll be a really good caster. Then it will be Dickens the dog.
Drawing further on your expertise, if each actor or Grantchester character were a fish, which fish would they be?
I think Tom, because he’s so athletic—he boxes, he runs—I think he’ll be the sailfish. The sailfish (Latin Istiophorus platypterus) is the fastest fish in the ocean. It’s called the sailfish because of its sail fin on its back, dorsal fin, and it uses it to corral and congregate fish that it can then hit with its bill and scoop up. So keeping with the vicar theme, congregation, and keeping with the speed, because he’s athletic, he’s a sailfish.
I think Mrs. C (played by Tessa Peake-Jones, and I hope she’s not offended by this), I think she would be a grouper because there’s something incredibly dominant and hidden in her character. It’s an ambush predator, the grouper. It just lies in wait, and if you get on the wrong side of it with your lure or whatever, it’s going to unleash its almighty wrath on you. And that’s what she does.
I think Al Weaver, he’s just probably really unusual. He’s really colorful, isn’t he? He’s so layered, so he’d be a mahi mahi. “Mahi mahi” is Polynesian for “very strong,” but then, the mahi mahi lights up green and golden and is acrobatic. And when it comes to dynamics, it’s the most extraordinary creature. When it comes to speed and acrobatics and intelligence it’s really out there. So Al Weaver would be that.
The fish I like most is the golden dorado, which you get in South America, and that would be Kacey Ainsworth. Colorful, beautiful, really likable. And it’s a catch you want to keep, so there you go.
What about Geordie? What about you?
I was asked this question the other day, “Who is Robson Green?” I couldn’t answer, it was hilarious, because I’ve been asked it many times…I think I’d be like the salmon. I’ve traveled around the world, seen 130+ countries around the world. I’ve been so privileged, but there’s no place like home. Like the salmon—it travels thousands of miles when it migrates, yet it finds its home water and migrates to the very spot, within a square yard, of where it was born. So I’d be the Atlantic salmon. That’s what I’d be because there’s no place like home for me, which is why I live in Northumberland. Yes.
What are you most looking forward to when Grantchester can finally begin filming a new season?
The money. I’m broke! I’m having to wear a cardboard belt, I’m poor! Are you insane? I’ve been out of work. We have fallen through the furlough system. I’m dying here! [laughs] Do you know what I’m looking forward to? I’ll tell you. I’m looking forward to laughing. I’m looking forward to having fun. I’m in the last third of my life, all right, and I just want to have fun. I want to do things that make me genuinely happy, and Grantchester is a happy place, it really is. Of all the jobs I’ve done in the last 37 years of my career, it’s the happiest that I’ve been on a set.
My father, God rest his soul, was a miner for most of his life. And he always said, “Work is a word that’s not meant to be enjoyed. That is why you call it work. But if you find something you love to do, you’ll never have to work again.” And in the last third of my life, that’s all I want to do. I want to have fun and I want to work with people who are fun. I’ve gone through the gambit of narcissists, I’ve done all that. I’ve come across that strange gambit of people, and this stage in my career and my life, I want to do things that make me genuinely happy. And Grantchester does.