Captain Moonlight: A monster you can believe in

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The Independent Online
PATRICK MALAHIDE is an actor with edge. 'I have,' he says, 'pale blue eyes. You try looking soppy with pale blue eyes.' Malahide characters specialise in the suggestion of tension, the sketch of depth, usually dark. He has a look that withers like none other available today. These considerable powers are presently operating at their most telling in Middlemarch, the BBC's satisfying return to classic form.

Malahide plays the Reverend Edward Casaubon, elderly, unlikely and unhappy husband of the heroine, Dorothea Brooke. The look that withers has never been seen to better effect than last week, when Dorothea's uncle, played by Robert Hardy, suggested that the ailing Casaubon should take up fishing. It was the look that Arthur Daley of Minder never quite received from Malahide's great comic creation, the late Detective Sergeant Chisholm, a wondrous parody of tense, dark depths, a man who would have loved to wither but didn't have the weight for it.

Over a spare Soho lunch, Malahide is good company; but does not gush. The sensible, sensitive actor today knows that anything he might say will be taken down and used as evidence that he is one of those awful luvvies. Besides, this is the man who once had his 15 minutes as the Heaving Buttocks in the outdoors scene in The Singing Detective. Whitehouse wailed; Malahide talked of 'freedom of expression' and a moral message; Joe Haines asked if this was what we had fought the war for.

So, ask him to describe his gifts and he doesn't help: 'You're making me sound like a tie salesman.' He is amiable enough, though, and if you blunder along long enough, he will agree that his acting does have edge, that he has specialised in 'beady parts' (as in 'beady-eyed villain'). But, as he says of Casaubon, 'I don't like playing villains where the door creaks. It cheapens it. I resisted any temptation - and there were some - to play Casaubon as a pantomime villain. The only way you can make monsters believable is by showing where it comes from.'

He also points out that he doesn't play only villains, sensitive or otherwise, viz his Inspector Alleyn in The Detective Alleyn Mysteries, also for the BBC. But he will agree that his is a talent not best suited for sitcom: 'I was in one once. The director ran the whole thing like a destroyer. 'Padders,' he barked, 'Can we have a little more reaction?' I thought I'd been doing the most awful mugging, but he said it looked as if the camera had gone on to me by accident. This was when I realised sitcom was not perhaps my metier.'

Malahide, 48, used to be Patrick Duggan. He took his name from the Dublin suburb. His parents, Irish of varying degree, struggled to send him to Douai, the Catholic public school in Berkshire. 'If you're brought up in a working-class home and you go to a posh school you do learn a certain amount about the English and class, and that has obviously been a help in what I do. It has left me with a feeling that although I've been brought up in English society, I'm not completely of it.'

He has two children by his first marriage and recently remarried. He is also the only one of three children not to have a PhD. At Douai, he wanted to be a priest. He studied psychology at Edinburgh University, 'prodded a few rats', then gave up. He taught English for a while - his nickname was 'Lurch' - before getting into acting via stage management, directing, and selling kitchenware in Germany. He thought teaching 'a short route to middle age'. Ask him to compare professions and he says, amiably: 'You mean is acting a serious job for grown-up people to be doing? You sort it out.'

He is, he says, 'picky' about parts, and doesn't seem to get offered any decent ones in the theatre. There will be no more Alleyn series and he is treading water at the moment, 'although I'm getting a whole raft of tortured cleric offers'. He writes, and has set up his own company to develop ideas for film and television. Why doesn't he write a part for himself? Unwise, he feels. Sylvester Stallone does it, I tell him. 'Yes,' he says, 'But have you seen his Casaubon?'

(Photograph omitted)