Trevor Eve: 'I want my work to be the best it can be'

'Waking the Dead' may be on the way out, but its star is looking to the future. Rachel Shields meets him

He is known, in the polite parlance of the entertainment world, for being "difficult": barred from a London theatre after a row over a seat; berated two women, at a polo match of all things, for smoking near him. Trevor Eve has a history of arguments with colleagues, about everything from costume choices to camera angles.

Journalists who have spent time with him employ such coded adjectives as "tempestuous". I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about spending an hour with the man shortly after the announcement that the next series of his BBC1 drama series Waking the Dead will be the last.

But Eve turns out to be a man of contradictions, charmingly proffering biscuits and coffee and leaning across the table to compliment me on my watch. That charm is another, much-remarked, facet of his reputation. He has been married for 30 years to the actress Sharon Maugham, but rumours of Eve's philandering have swirled around the couple for decades.

Although Maugham admits her husband is a "terrible flirt", their marriage seems stable. So it looks like another apparent contradiction when Eve declares himself disappointed by the speed with which many celebrity marriages break down. "Why is that? It's sad," he says. "Your partner has got to be the person you want to share everything with, and the person you want to be with in terms of friendship as well. They've got to stimulate you mentally and emotionally. You've got to work at it."

The pressures of marriage and family life are a pet topic. Unlike many of his colleagues who want to keep their private lives private, he speaks at length about their three children, Alice, Jack and George. Alice is a particular source of pride: she is an actress with whom he worked in the film She's Out of My League. "My children are all very different. They are probably much better evolved than me."

To a limited extent, his fervour for family is reflected in his new show, Kidnap and Ransom, a three-part series made by Eve's company Projector Pictures, in which he stars as hostage negotiator Dominic King. The character is a long way from the young, heart-throb detective Eddie Shoestring, who gave Eve his big break in the late 1970s. King is trying to juggle the world of hostage negotiation with a troubled teenage daughter.

"I wanted him to have a family," Eve explains. "Their families are always fucked – they are on their second wives, ex-military men who can't handle a desk job and want to be out in the field with the adrenalin rush, and Tesco and golf don't work. I wanted to see someone trying to make it work. In our own lives our personal lives make up a huge part, but in drama you don't see that."

Like his character, Eve's personal and professional lives often overlap: he and Maugham have worked together repeatedly – from first meeting on the set of the West End play Filumena to appearances together in Waking the Dead and Kidnap and Ransom. The new series features a woman kidnapped in South Africa, but the company is already developing new storylines for future episodes, including having hostages seized by religious extremists. "Mexico is a nightmare because the police will probably be in on it... the big nightmare is if it is not for money, for ideology, if it is al-Qa'ida," he says.

He immersed himself in the murky world of abductions for the show. "I do hugely enjoy research. The world of hostage negotiations wasn't easy. They don't want to meet, but we found this company which had been working with the Iraq hostages recently and we based ourselves on them.

"We were asking them what it is really like – the kidnappers don't arrive with the hostage, and you with a bag of money, do they? And all the things which we thought were cinematic clichés turned out to be true."

Despite the immersion in the subject and obsession with detail, the Birmingham-born actor denies he is a control freak. "When I work on my own stuff, I'm an actor. All my executive producer stuff is to one side. I don't say 'I think that the camera should go here'," he insists. Nevertheless, he is hyper-focused on his production company, which he set up in 1995 when he was incapacitated after a riding accident. "What's more exciting than to come up with an idea and develop it with a like-minded unit?"

This may be why he shrugs off the demise of Waking the Dead. Fans of the series were devastated to hear the ninth series will be the last. Most jobbing actors would take a similar view. Not Eve. "The BBC basically didn't have the money to continue to make it as it is. At the moment we are in the studio 50 per cent of the time and on location the rest, but the new budget meant it would be an 80/20 split. It just wouldn't be the same. I care about the stuff I do and want it to be the best it can possibly be. You'll have a scene that isn't right, and some people say 'just shoot it', and then when they watch it back it's nonsense. I want to do things right. I'm just genetically set that way."

The approach seems to have paid off. His role as detective Peter Boyd reportedly nets him £1m a series. Predictably enough, he takes the contrarian view of this, pointing out that others – say, for example, chat-show hosts – do far better. "If you want someone to sit on a sofa you have to pay them a lot more," he says. "Celebrity has debunked the actor. I think Jonathan Ross is phenomenal but there are certain celebrities who do seem to get paid an awful lot."

And after this neat piece of diplomatic footwork, I am lulled into thinking that age and two Olivier awards have mellowed him. Until we touch on the subject of critics.

"The critics have changed the way that they critique. It's sad because I love reading a really good – not necessarily positive – review of something. But I can't stand it when the reviewer is trying to be clever... In one review they were going on about my body, which is just ludicrous." Then just he appears to be disappearing into thesp-world, he puts on an arch, mock-theatrical tone. "I thought: I'm a professional!"

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