Dee goes straight

Jack Dee as a charming murderer who melts Amanda Burton's heart? Get serious

Pretty soon there will be no stand-ups left on the comedy circuit. They'll all be too busy starring in straight TV dramas. Next week Lenny Henry throws away his red nose to play a headteacher in a new BBC1 drama, Hope and Glory. This week, it's the turn of Jack Dee, who stars as Chris Caldwell, a chillingly plausible murderer in "The Good Body", a new two-part Silent Witness for BBC1.

Caldwell skilfully melts the heart of Sam Ryan (Amanda Burton), the ice- queen pathologist, with his combination of cleverness ("Facts are always subject to interpretation, aren't they? That social science foundation course wasn't entirely wasted on me") and charm ("I'm not a dangerous man, believe me").

Dee found himself enticed by the ambiguity of Caldwell. "I like the contradictions in the character," he says. "When he comes out of prison, he's desperate to go straight, but he can't tear himself away from the lifestyle and the mindset he was in before. Circumstances around him prove greater than his resolve to change. That's an interesting dilemma to play out."

But just why are performers such as Dee, Robbie Coltrane, Billy Connolly and Alan Davies increasingly exchanging smiles for scowls? According to Dee, "It shouldn't be a surprise. In fact it would be a surprise if comedians weren't turning to acting. Comedians are involved in timing and delivery. We're also in the business of telling stories and creating pictures for an audience. That's a useful technique. We have the ability to look at a script and see how to bring it to life."

Although he is currently starring alongside Jonathan Ross and Julian Clary in BBC1's not universally acclaimed new comedy panel game, It's Only TV... But I Like It, Dee has been showing his other sides. He's had two runs in the hit West End play Art, played an irksome PE teacher in the pilot of ITV sitcom The Grimleys, and took the role of a sinister cult leader opposite Pauline Collins in BBC1's Ambassador.

Acting provides Dee with a sort of career life-insurance policy. "With stand-up I got to the point where I thought, `Yes, I can come up with a new show every two years, but is that what I want to do for the rest of my life?' So I went into Art and took it very seriously for a year because I wanted to be able to look other actors in the eye. I didn't want to be seen as a celeb allowing his personality to be grafted on to various dramas just for the sake of it. I consider acting a great challenge and discipline."

Particularly in something as serious as Silent Witness, not noted for its high laughter quotient. Dee says he jumped at the chance to play Caldwell: "I knew the calibre of the series and, to be honest, I would have done it even if I was playing Coco the clown."

But, rather than a circus joker, Caldwell is what actors most relish playing: an insinuating baddie. "When actors talk about being attracted to certain roles, they always neglect to say that it was the only thing they were offered," Dee laughs. "But there is a fun side to baddies. They are dramatically more complex than inherently good people. I also liked the challenge of presenting the audience with a baddie you care about. If people don't like baddies, it doesn't matter when they meet a sticky end. Drama shouldn't provide you with ready-made emotions. It's a cop- out to be told what to think all the time."

Dee reveals that "there is quite a serious amount of interest in me as an actor. There is a BBC drama which has got my name on it."

Perhaps that will stop people seeing him as just a simple gagsmith: "I like to surprise an audience and deliver something they were not expecting. That's crucial to a performer. If that's not your motivation, you're just providing people with what they expect. That's a short cut to going very stale very quickly.

"I say good luck to people who can do that, but I can't," Dee concludes. "I would wake up in the night thinking, `Why am I doing this?' You question yourself if you allow yourself to become a tart."

A two-part `Silent Witness' is on BBC1 on Tuesday and Wednesday at 9.30pm

James Rampton

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific