Dominic West: I put on about two stone filming 'The Hours'. Thank God for elastic seams…

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The return of the Fifties-set newsroom drama The Hour sees Dominic West’s character descend into the seedy side of Soho. He tells Gerard Gilbert why it, and the on-site catering, was an actor’s dream

Dominic West is mock-disgruntled – it seems that he was off duty on the day when they filmed a scene in which a striptease artiste  removed her bra.

“Dominic got to watch a lot of burlesque girls,” Abi Morgan, creator and writer of BBC2’s 1950s-set newsroom saga, The Hour, told me, with the sort of fond indulgence that a lot of people seem to extend to the former The Wire actor (it’s something to do with West’s air of a naughty over-grown public-schoolboy, but also  because he is disarmingly – almost recklessly – frank).

“The dancers gradually got more and more risqué as the episodes went on,” continues Morgan, “and in the end there was a girl who did all that thing with her… ”

“When?” asks West. “Took her top off? I missed it… I wasn’t in the bloody scene… Damn.” The volume of burlesque girls in the new series of Morgan’s widely (but not universally) acclaimed drama can be  explained by the fact that West’s character, Hector Madden, the anchor on the titular BBC news programme, is spending an  increasing amount of time in seedily glamorous Soho nightclubs – mixing with a heady brew of journalists, prostitutes,  policemen and gangsters.

We are a year on from the first, Suez-era series of Morgan’s drama. It’s now 1957, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is telling voters that they had never had it so good, which, for the immigrant families running vice in Soho, and the Metropolitan Police officers paid to turn a blind eye, was undeniably true.

“Series one was very much about post-war austerity,” says Morgan. “Series two is really about us preparing ourselves for the Sixties, and a time when London was feeling a sense of glamour. But the counterpoint to that was a dark, seedy underworld, a lot of it related to these migrant families.”

The day-to-day reality for West filming all these nightclub scenes involved smoking a lot of fake fags (“those honeydew cigarettes – we tried every brand and they’re all awful”) and sipping flat cola and cold tea as if it was hard liquor. But the Old Etonian actor did get to imbibe on a delicious  storyline, as Hector finds himself wooed by the BBC’s brash new commercial rival, ITV, and slips out of his depth in the company of his “friends” in the underworld.

“It was an actor’s dream, my story arc,” enthuses West. “In episode one, I start as this celebrity on top of the world and within two or three episodes he descends into the pits of shame and ignominy – you very rarely get a part like that and it was a real challenge. I don’t know what viewers will think – I don’t tend to think about that – but just in terms of a character arc it was a wonderful season for me”.

“In the first series, Dominic is completely charming , strong and is in many ways  unbreakable,” says Morgan. “Series two is very much about this man being taken on a downward spiral, and I was really inspired by Dominic and where he can go as an actor.” And where West can go as an actor was forcefully demonstrated by his Bafta-winning performance as serial killer Fred West in ITV’s Appropriate Adult – a bit of a one-off, he remarks, and West was glad to get back to The Hour. “I got a huge sense coming back for the second season of familiarity,” he says. “It saves you so much time and effort, particularly  between actors because we had a rapport… we knew each other’s foibles. That’s the nice thing about doing the second season – you get stuff done more quickly.”

But hadn’t the actor turned his back on episodic television after his epic five seasons playing Detective Jimmy McNulty in The Wire? “I was very reluctant to do any more episodic television”, he had told me on an earlier visit to the now de-commissioned town hall in north London where The Hour is filmed. “What I like about acting is that you do something intensely for a finite amount of time and then you move on, and episodic television just goes on and on and on. In America, the contracts are such that you feel that you’re being co-opted into a vast corporation and that they own your arse for a very long time, and you don’t get that sense, thank God, here.”

In fact, West turned down a meaty role in the epic HBO fantasy Game of Thrones because it meant shooting for six months in Iceland, and being away from his family in London. He lives in Shepherds Bush with his wife, the Anglo-Irish aristocrat Catherine FitzGerald, and their three children, Dora, Senan and Francis (he has an older, teenage daughter, Martha, from a relationship with Polly Astor, a grand-daughter of Nancy Astor). West himself was born in 1969 into an Irish Catholic family from Sheffield, where his father owned a plastics factory.

The relatively short shooting schedule for The Hour also meant that West has the freedom to pursue his eclectic, post- McNulty career, with projects ranging from Disney’s $250m Edgar Rice Burroughs movie adaptation, John Carter to the  low-budget Irish short, The Girl with the Mechanical Maiden. And he has just opened to rave reviews in the acclaimed Royal Court Theatre production of Jerusalem writer Jez Butterworth’s new play, The River

In the meantime, West has been optioned for more series of The Hour, Morgan telling me that she hopes to set any next series in 1960 or ’61. “Well, I’ve got 10 years of school fees to get through,” she says with a laugh. “No, I really would love it to grow.” And grow it most certainly has. The second series feels more confident and less clumsy, with no  noticeably (to my ears, at least) anachronistic language – the first series having been peppered with such modern expressions as “Note to self”, “Farting about” and “You just don’t get it”, while “bottled it” was not  recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary until 1979.

On the evidence of the opening episode of the second series, The Hour seems to have truly found its feet. Ben Whishaw’s character, the hot-headed Freddie Lyon, returns from America with a beard and a surprise for the object of his unrequited love, Romola Garai’s producer, Bel Rowley (the character based on innovatory 1950s producer Grace Wyndham Goldie, and yet arguably the least plausible of the leading characters). And a newcomer has been drafted in to replace Anton Lesser’s Clarence Fendley, the head of news who was revealed, at the end of the first series, to have been a Soviet mole. 

Peter Capaldi – the actor best known for playing the sweary Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It – gives a far more low-key (but strangely just as menacing) performance as the new BBC executive, “Mr Brown”. “I came very late to The Thick of It and I’m very glad because I think I would have been incredibly intimidated if I’d seen how brilliant his performance was in that,” says Morgan, who wrote the part specifically for the Scottish actor. Capaldi’s character brings a new sense of jeopardy to the newsroom, clashing repeatedly with Hector, who is being tempted away by ITV. Did West model Hector on any particular 1950s broadcasters?

“Well, inevitably I did find you can’t get Paxman out of your head,” he says, “And I suppose the sort of confrontational kind of interviewing only really came about with Robin Day, after this period, so I think there’s a bit of anachronism in the way one approaches the interviews we did. But I did look at a lot of the presenters then, particularly the paternal, or avuncular, Richard Dimbleby,” he adds, slipping into a 1950s-style broadcasting voice to mimic the vocal style of the era: “ ‘Now then, viewers, we’re going to listen very carefully to an expert or an academic here and he’s going to teach you what’s what’…

“I long for those days to return,” he adds, perhaps only half-jokingly. “My dad wasn’t like Hector but he was a man of the Fifties, and dressed like that, and so I felt my  affection for the character and the period was because of my dad.”

Another difference with the first series is the way in which Abi Morgan found herself writing while episodes were being filmed – Danish author Soren Sveistrup puts together The Killing in this last-minute manner, and it seems to give dramas more flexibility and less predictability. It also allowed Morgan to have digs at West, for his poor timekeeping and ever expanding stomach.

“First of all because I’m so late, she put in ‘Hector is always late’,” says West. “Lots of great speeches about being late… how rude that is and unprofessional. And then it was how fat he was. And we did have incredibly good caterers on the shoot and because it was incredibly long hours… you look forward to lunch. I put on about two stone. Thank God for elastic seams…”

‘The Hour’ returns to BBC2  on 14 November at 9pm

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?