Rory Kinnear: 'Me, as Doctor Who? I've never even watched it'

Despite the hype, Rory Kinnear will not be the new Time Lord. But with starring roles in BBC comedy Count Arthur Strong and an unmissable new Channel 4 drama, his TV future looks bright. Gerard Gilbert meets him

"I don't where it came from and how these things evolve," says Rory Kinnear of recent wildfire rumours that he is due to replace Matt Smith as Time Lord. "I haven't been and I am totally certain that I will not be asked to be the next Doctor Who. If I was an actor who was really longing to play Doctor Who, then this would be torturous, but it's a programme I've never watched, so I don't even really know what it is." Really –not even one episode? "Not one."

So there you go, and music to the ears of the bookies, who were so certain that Kinnear had bagged the part that they suspended betting on the matter. But I'm also relieved that he hasn't signed up to a stint of time travel. Not that he'd make a bad Doctor, albeit a slightly reticent and old-fashioned one after the zany antics of David Tennant and Matt Smith – it's just that I think it would be a crying shame if one of the most intelligent talents of his generation were to be sidetracked so.

And while his media shorthand these days tends to be "Skyfall actor Rory Kinnear", after his role as MI6 officer Bill Tanner in the latest two Bond movies, his background since leaving Lamda (having graduated in English from Balliol College, Oxford) is roundly and impressively theatrical. Kinnear's Iago (to Adrian Lester's Othello) in Nicholas Hytner's on-going National Theatre production of Shakespeare's tragedy has been deemed a triumph, as was his low-key Prince of Denmark in Hytner's 2010 production of Hamlet. "I really enjoy acting," he says, laughing at the self-evident nature of that utterance. "So the idea of doing the same part over a number of years is not something I've longed for."

Next month, television viewers can watch another beautifully understated Kinnear performance, in the extraordinary Channel 4 drama Southcliffe. Written by Tony Grisoni (Red Riding, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Southcliffe is the name of a fictional Kent coastal community that suffers a Hungerford/Dunblane-style shooting massacre. Kinnear's character is a cynical TV news reporter who happens to come from Southcliffe, where he spent a troubled childhood. "He's dealt with it with hard drinking and womanising and ambition and being this insufferable prick," says Kinnear, who researched his role by shadowing a friend's brother, a TV reporter.

Southcliffe should not be missed, once again displaying Kinnear's ability to play complex, even deeply unpleasant characters. It couldn't be further removed from his other current TV role, in the jolly BBC2 sitcom Count Arthur Strong. With this, Kinnear is following in the footsteps of his father, the late Roy Kinnear, the comic actor who came to prominence in the early-Sixties satire That Was the Week That Was before a career that encompassed numerous classic old-school sitcoms. Father Ted creator and Count Arthur Strong writer-director Graham Linehan suggested to me that Kinnear has come late to comedy because he wanted to prove himself first as a straight actor.

"Yuh… probably," says Kinnear when I put this to him. "I'm glad to have shown myself able to do other things rather than people thinking 'Oh, he'll just do the same as his dad'. Dad was a brilliant actor, but it just so happened he was five foot five and a half, fat and bald."

Roy Kinnear died in 1988, at the age of 54, after a riding accident while filming The Return of the Musketeers in Spain (the director, Richard Lester, has not made another feature movie since). Some of Kinnear's earliest memories are of going to see his father record studio sitcoms. "I was reconnecting with that," he says of making Count Arthur Strong.

He has become an avid collector of his father's work, although he watches it less since becoming a father to two-year-old Riley. "Maybe that itch I don't need to scratch as much," he says. "He died when I was 10 and I've spent much more of my life developing that relationship more in his absence than I did in his presence."

Kinnear believes a sense of humour runs in families and that he inherited his equally from his mother, the actress Carmel Cryan. "It's also important for me that I find funny the person I'm spending my life with," he says of his partner, actor Pandora Colin, who has to put up with Kinnear on the rare occasions he gets too wrapped up in a character "In The Last of the Haussmans at the National, I played an alcoholic heroin addict, gay, spoilt and incredibly selfish. And Pandora came to see a preview and said, 'Oh, that's why you've been such a prick recently.'"

It was Colin who badgered Kinnear to go off and write his first play, "a domestic drama set around a 21st birthday" called The Herd, which opens at London's tiny Bush Theatre in September, directed by Howard Davies, no less, who worked with Kinnear at the National in The Haussmans and Burnt by the Sun.

At the other end of the spectrum, I wondered whether Kinnear, now that he tasted the riches of the big screen in his two Bond outings, was feeling the lure of the Hollywood pay cheque. "On the first day of filming Skyfall, there was me and Daniel (Craig) and you realise there's a heap of people interested in what you're doing, and it can affect the way you perform," he says. "Sometimes the higher the financial stakes, the greater the paralysis created.

"I'm not a snob… there's room for entertainment that reaches a lot of people and can be really good, but you don't just have to be one kind of actor." And as if to echo this, the photographer, once he's finished taking Kinnear's portrait, says to me: "Very impressive, isn't he? He's going to be around for a long time." Yes, and I also firmly believe that stepping inside the Tardis would have seriously compromised that promise of longevity.

'Southcliffe' begins in early August on Channel 4; 'Count Arthur Strong' continues on Monday on BBC2

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