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
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little