Julian Rhind-Tutt: No more doctor who?

Julian Rhind-Tutt's been on television for years. No, really - even before we finally noticed him in Green Wing. Sholto Byrnes meets a ginger-haired sex symbol whose time has come
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The Independent Online

Now is probably a very good time to be Julian Rhind-Tutt. Green Wing, in which he played the tousle-haired Dr "Mac" McCartney, has proven that the British sitcom has a future, albeit one more surreal than the likes of Terry and June could ever have predicted. And, in him, it has also brought to prominence a new actor with the potential to clear the schedules of the Colin Firth/Hugh Grant block to which viewers have been subjected for so long.

Now is probably a very good time to be Julian Rhind-Tutt. Green Wing, in which he played the tousle-haired Dr "Mac" McCartney, has proven that the British sitcom has a future, albeit one more surreal than the likes of Terry and June could ever have predicted. And, in him, it has also brought to prominence a new actor with the potential to clear the schedules of the Colin Firth/Hugh Grant block to which viewers have been subjected for so long.

Even if you've never watched Green Wing, you've almost certainly seen Rhind-Tutt. The 37-year-old actor has appeared in a long line of films and television programmes, such as the BBC comedy Hippies and Channel 4's Black Books. As Mac in Green Wing, however, he has emerged with a new fan base. As the non-conformist who still manages to be successful, his character has been admired by men - male viewers can imagine sharing a pint with him - and, for a large number of women, his dishevelled charm and sensitivity has reached the erogenous parts that the rest of the cast couldn't. Even a cursory glance at the gossip magazines underlines his status as something of a heart-throb.

While the second series of Green Wing won't run until next autumn, Rhind-Tutt has two cinematic releases upcoming - The River King, starring Edward Burns, and Rabbit Fever, a spoof documentary about women addicted to using their Rabbit vibrators. He will also appear in The Rotters' Club, a BBC1 dramatisation of the Jonathan Coe novel.

But Rhind-Tutt, a little old by Hollywood standards to be making the big breakthrough, is relaxed about what the future may hold. "I have no expectations of anything that I do anymore," he says, supping a pint of Guinness in The Cow in Notting Hill. "I've been around long enough to have been in so many films, programmes and plays where there have been expectations that have never been met. I've worked consistently with very successful, high-profile people on projects that have come to nothing. Perhaps I should ask myself why that is - my involvement seems to be the common denominator..."

His film roles have included the Prince Regent's younger brother, the Duke of York, in The Madness of King George, the Time Out journalist who exchanges a word or two with Hugh Grant (as the latter pretends to be an interviewer from Horse & Hound) in Notting Hill, and appearances in Tomb Raider, Tomorrow Never Dies and The Saint.

They were all, ahem, very small parts, I say to Rhind-Tutt. "Yes," he agrees. "But with a Hollywood film they secure the star, and then for the rest they get the highest quality people they can, with the caveat that they're probably going to try and fuck them over to save the budget. So they ring up people like me, and say 'I bet you always wanted to be in a Hollywood blockbuster,' and you say: 'Crikey, yes.' Then they say, 'We start on Thursday. You can do it - for 10 quid.' And they've got 85 actors behind you who'd like to do it. Most of the time they've got you over a barrel."

Maybe Rhind-Tutt just isn't ambitious enough. Maybe, though, that's why he views his career with such healthy equanimity. He certainly seems very easy going. What, I ask, does he do when he's not acting. "Macramé," he replies. "No. Actually, because I'm a man it takes me an inordinate amount of time to complete normal functions. So that takes up the rest."

He has, however, worked consistently since he left the Central School of Speech and Drama and immediately won a part in The Madness of George III, Nicholas Hytner's 1991 London stage production of Alan Bennett's play. Had he always wanted to be an actor?

"I just fell into it," he says. Rhind-Tutt's first appearance on stage was at Heathrow Primary School, when as an 11-year-old he played the lead role in The Happy King. He grew up in the area, the son of a master builder and a mother who looked after the family of five. "I'm 10 years younger than any of the others - it was like having six mums and dads."

Plays at school were followed by more acting at Warwick University, where he read English. "Towards the end we wondered how we could carry on doing this and get paid for it." Acting school in London beckoned for Rhind-Tutt and a friend. "He was much better than me, but he was too intellectually energetic and talented to have the patience to wait around."

At about this time, our conversation is interrupted by a loud snoring. Behind the next table, an elderly man is slowly keeling over. "He's obviously listening in on us," jokes Rhind-Tutt. (I later discover that the "mate" in question is Johnny Geller, now the managing director of the book division of the Curtis Brown agency, and still a friend of Rhind-Tutt's.)

Where does his surname come from? "A lot of people think I come from a long line of German aristocracy or Egyptian pharaohs," he says, "but it actually comes from a man called Tommy Tutt, who married a young woman called Jane Rhind four generations ago. I think they ran a post office and they put their names together. So I have a very aristocratic sounding name, despite being a kid from the airport."

Perhaps this partly explains why The Sunday Telegraph used him as a model eight years ago, an experience he describes as a "travesty". Thought to have the right frame to wear original military uniforms from the 19th century, Rhind-Tutt turned up at the shoot and duly posed for the pictures. "At the end of it, the guy asked me if he could take a couple of shots for his personal portfolio. I agreed. So then they said: 'We just want to mix things up a bit.'" This involved tying Rhind-Tutt's hair into two bunches with pink ribbon, and placing a can of Special Brew in his hand. "Three weeks later, there's the spread in The Sunday Telegraph with a massive picture of me in the bunches and ribbons."

It would be interesting to see how Rhind-Tutt's female fans would react to these pictures, given that he is now seen as a sex symbol. "For a tiny, tiny corner of the country," he says. And a ginger-ish sex symbol at that. "Yes, I'm differently abled in the hair department. I'm not unaware of it. When people are attacking forms of abuse, they often say, 'Of course it doesn't matter if you're black or brown. I mean, what if you had red hair?' It's often next on the list as a form of difference that could give rise to prejudice. I think anyone who's got reddish hair has a tiny reminder of that." So how does it feel to be a ginger sex symbol? "It's a blow for the gingas!"

What Rhind-Tutt really wants to do, he confesses at the end of the interview, is direct. "When I'm not acting, that's what I usually work on - just little projects. Look, there's 50,000 people wearing black polo necks sitting in Soho saying 'I'm making a film.' It would be rather churlish to say I'm joining them right now." Currently, he is making a film at the special needs school where his brother is the headmaster. "It's just something for him to use as part of his job. There's a question mark about the council finances that might result in the school's closure, and this might help in the fight."

Like Mac, Rhind-Tutt seems to have a good balance in his life, dividing his time between his father's house in Uxbridge and his girlfriend Tara's flat in Holland Park, and hanging out with actor friends like Daniel Craig and others "you'd never have heard of". The success of Green Wing pleases him, but hasn't turned his head. "Nobody goes up to a baker and says: 'Excuse me, mate, you don't know me, but that bun I had last week was absolutely fantastic!" he says. "Being an actor is just like any other job, just more in the public eye."

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