Eccentric Mr Fox

Tattooed, chain-smoking Laurence Fox refuses to see himself as part of a thespian clan. He talks about religion, the influence of wife Billie Piper and his new role as a traumatised squaddie

Laurence Fox is sitting, like a giraffe in a box, in his tiny garret dressing room at London's Duchess Theatre. On one wall, brushing the top of his head, hang his costumes. His guitar is propped, ever so casually, against the wall opposite, within an inch of his outstretched feet. Long limbs draped like pipecleaners around his chair, he is glugging Tesco Exotic juice from the carton and wolfing Parma ham straight from the packet. "This is going to smell disgusting, by the way. Always does. Apologies."

It's not quite the glamorous, refined scene you might expect from this famous scion of an even more famous acting dynasty, one which has had patrician/ plummy-voiced/ period roles sewn up for the past half century. Not that Fox, 34, son of James, nephew of Edward, cousin of Emilia and Freddie, subscribes to any of that. "I don't feel like we're part of an acting dynasty, whatever that means." But you definitely are. "But seeing as I've never not been, I don't know any better." He grins through a mouthful of ham.

His new role is also quite a departure from the Fox norm. Best known for playing cerebral sidekick Sgt Hathaway to salt-of-the-earth Inspector Lewis, period romantics (Gosford Park, Becoming Jane, A Room with a View) or posh officers (Colditz, Ultimate Force, The Last Drop), he is now playing a foul-mouthed, over-sexed squaddie. Joe is the central character in Our Boys, Jonathan Lewis' warts, wheelchairs-and-all play set in a military hospital in 1984; initially the ward joker, he gradually reveals the full, tragic, extent of his PTSD. It's been a challenge on many levels. "All I'm trying to avoid is going 'ooh-arr'," says Fox. "I can't be speaking like this, can I? ".

In fact, Joe could be closer to the real "Lozza" than his typical strait-laced, stiff-upper-lip screen roles. He is, it turns out, a bit of a rebel. His method? "Have a pint, it'll be fine." Then there are the tattoos. Snaking wonkily down his left arm is "Mrs Fox 31.12.07", an indelible reminder of the day he married Billie Piper. There's a small W, for his son Winston, on the back of his neck ("Very annoying for filming. I don't regret it but I maybe should have positioned it below the collar…"). And, on his right shoulder, a giant broken cross and the number 139. "Which meant a great deal at the time," he says, looking at it, puzzled. "Psalm 139. 'Search me, God, and know my heart'. Yeah. It's a good one."

He is a "vaguely lapsed" Christian, having been brought up in a god-fearing household, following his father's famous spiritual awakening in the 1970s. As members of the American evangelical church The Navigators, his parents would take Fox and his four siblings with them to Christian conferences. "I think the world is a better place for people that believe in God. I haven't quite squared that circle," he says. "But I'll be on my knees praying for a decent performance on the first night. Those seem to be the chats I have with God – when I'm really, really in shit."

The opposite of impassive Hathaway – "I'm a lot more gregarious than he is" – he is restless, silly, a bit of a motormouth. At the first opportunity, he ducks out of his dressing room to chain smoke roll-ups on a tiny rusty balcony. "I love it out here. It's like Mogadishu or something," he says. "There's something quite nice about walking through a stage door and it all being a bit grotty and grimy. Seeing what happens. Live performances are always more fun. It's good for an actor to do it, once in a while, otherwise you can just vanish up your own arsehole." The last time he did theatre was five years ago, when he starred in Treats at the Garrick. The on-stage drama was briefly overshadowed when he was arrested after a scuffle with a paparazzo at the stage door. He was released with a caution. "He deserved every single thing he got," he says. "They were taking photos as I was riding out on the motorbike… I narrowly avoided getting hit by a taxi. It's just a boundary."

More significantly, it was on the set of Treats that he met Piper. They married later that year and now have two children, Winston, three, and Eugene, five months. They live in a village in Sussex, 20 minutes down the road from Cheryl Cole and far away from the paparazzi. "If we lived in London they'd live outside and wait for you to drop your kid like poor old Peaches Geldof and then take their photo of it and vaguely insinuate that you're a terrible parent. They're scum, a lot of them."

He'd always wanted to live in the country anyway, having grown up in London. He watches Countryfile, fishes and until recently had a horse, "but I sent it back because it was a bit nuts. It threw me off repeatedly." At the moment he is staying with his parents in London and is missing his sons. "I want to be around them and it's quite hard when you're working all the time. But I'm a man. I can't just sit around and say, 'I'll raise the kids while you go off and work.' Because I'm not very good at it. I'm not bad at it but kids need their mums more than their dads."

Piper is also back on stage, currently in rehearsals at the National for The Effect, a new play from the writer of Enron, Lucy Prebble. For a few weeks, the couple will compete for audiences: do they compete over their careers? "It's not competitive but I do feel like I've got to raise my game a bit. She's really good so it would be nice if I was really good too. I watched her in Reasons to be Pretty and thought: 'Bloody hell, she's amazing'." That was last year when Piper took the lead in Neil LaBute's play while five months pregnant. "But that must make it easier. You're full of it when you're pregnant. I noticed that my wife became about 10 percent more intelligent."

Surprisingly, given his genes, it took a while for Fox to find his calling. He followed his father and older brother to Harrow and then followed them by being chucked out. "It was a 'You're not welcome here anymore' thing, rather than a direct expulsion," he says. The antagonism remains, not least because the school apparently tried to sue him the last time he badmouthed it. He replied to their letter with a quote from WH Auden's September 1, 1939: "I and the public know/ What all schoolchildren learn,/ Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return."

His one acting foray while there was playing Blind Billy Blue in Derek Walcott's The Odyssey, complete with cod Jamaican accent and, yes, cosmetics. "I seem to remember some quite severe, dark-brown facepaint. I 'darked down' for it. Bearing in mind that there were a lot of boys playing girls, so it was in that ilk." Unable to get into university due to poor references, he drifted, first working at seismological analysts and then as a gardener before applying to Rada and getting in on the second attempt. Despite one teacher telling him he had "no access to his emotional life", he got his first job while still a student and was soon on the well-worn Fox trail.

It was Kevin Whately who handpicked him for the part that made his name, having spotted him in Colditz. They have just finished filming the seventh and final series of Lewis. He is not sorry to be leaving it behind. "It's lovely. Like a warm bath. But I wouldn't have minded if they'd killed me off – put it that way. I just stand there and offer the rude comments from behind Kev's shoulder. It gets samey. There's only so many times that you can say 'Where were you between the hours of four and six last night?'"

The end of the show frees him up to move on to bigger things. After their theatre stints, he and Piper are moving to LA. He is planning to hit the audition circuit and is honing his American accent, though one suspects the studios might prefer the Old Harrovian approach. "The posh evil guy? I can do that. Maybe I'll play up the acting dynasty thing. Be really eccentric and wear a tweed suit."

If it doesn't work out, he has a fallback. He has been recording "quite miserable", Coldplay-style guitar music in his studio for a few years now. Last month, he did a session for local radio, plays pub gigs around London and set up his own label, Fox Cub Productions, after turning down a record deal. "Do some covers, release it on Mother's Day… no thanks," he says. "I've made a least £600 from my music career so far. Not bad, is it?"

A singing Fox. It's one thing, at least, that sets him apart from the brood. His younger brother and sister, Jack and Lydia are now starting out as actors, too. Does he indulge in sibling rivalry? "Not until one of them starts doing really well." Is there a Fox family ranking? "There probably is... Is there? It would go Edward at the top because he's oldest, then Dad and it would just go down in age. But, who knows, maybe I'll try to overtake them."

'Our Boys', Duchess Theatre, London WC2 (0844 412 4659; ourboystheplay.com) to 15 December

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
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.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York