Vincent Franklin: "I think Cucumber is one of the shows that's..."
Interview by Carl Marsh
You recently appeared on the TV in Cucumber, you and the rest of the cast must have been over the moon at how well it was received and reviewed? Can we expect any follow-on series?
I'm delighted by the way people responded to Cucumber. I'm especially chuffed when people I don't know quietly tell me how important it was to them; how it helped them or celebrated them. TV is supposed to open up worlds to people and I think lot and people, straight, gay and uncertain, found they could really relate to Henry's world and the way he felt about his place in it. We're all a bit more Henry than we might like to admit. Too much telly is about people in their twenties, when the audience is in their forties and fifties. I think Cucumber is one of the shows that's fighting back for unrepresented groups in society - the greying and balding!
Sadly, and perhaps joyously, there was never any chance of series 2. This was a story Russell T Davies wrote with a beginning, a middle and an end, and we've come to the end.
The show was/is a big two fingers up to all the homophobic brigade that no doubt would have sprouted their crap on social media. When filming the show, did you and the rest of the cast/crew want to push the boundaries even more than what was filmed, or did you stop yourselves from going too far?
I'm surprised by how little 'crap' I got on social media. I hope everyone else involved had a similarly calm crossing. I don't think we ever set out to stick fingers up at people. We just tried to tell the story with honesty and a bit of hutzpah - you know, like Henry would. But you're right, we certainly didn't compromise to make things easier for an audience, or to make it cosy and comfortable for them. Some people wanted Henry to be nicer, but Henry isn't nice, that's just the truth of it. He's funny and clever and self-destructive and brutally honest and constantly confused. And he's great company. But he's a flawed individual, just like the rest of, and there's enough niceness on the CBeebies channel anyway.
Now that Cucumber and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell has finished on our TV screens, what next for you?
I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing next. Which is a bit scary. We shot Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell before Cucumber, even though it's only just finished airing, so I've not actually done any telly for a while. I've done a radio comedy series, called The Lentil Sorters, which will be out and about soon. It had very funny scripts and it was exciting/terrifying to record in front of an audience. But I'm struggling to find anything that's as interesting as Cucumber - or at least anything that's as interesting, and where they also want me! So I am available for panto.
Have any of the characters you have portrayed being anywhere near to the real you?
I was the youngest man on my course at drama school, but I played everybody's dad. I'm not complaining. As every actor in every interview always says, the great thing about acting is pretending to be someone else, and the further from you the character is, the more interesting it gets. You get to think, feel and say things that you couldn't, wouldn't, or daren't the rest of the time. But I suppose you always bring bits of yourself to everything you do. Moments or thoughts the character has resonate with you, tap into your memories, fire up your imagination. I'm sorry if that sounds pretentious. I hate actors talking about acting. We have a plumber who is really good, but he doesn't insist on telling me about how he welds joints. So, Henry is a bit like me, but so was Nic Jowett in TwentyTwelve - I'm a middle-aged “Northerner” confused by the world around me.
Besides acting, I see that you are also the founder of a communications consultancy company, what type of consultancy is it?
Mark Scantlebury and I set up Quietroom 15 years ago. We're all about words. We help organisations talk and write in a way that's clear and vivid and real. We work mainly in finance and government, where the things they need to talk about are often invisible, unloved and complicated.
You have a love for reading books don’t you, do any stand out for you?
I have just finished reading To Kill a Mocking Bird, which everyone else read before their voice dropped. I don't know why it slipped through the net. I've also just finished Alone In Berlin, which left me bruised. And I'll bore anyone who wants to listen, or who can't move away quickly enough, on the reasons why Fielding's Tom Jones is the finest book in the English language. Right now, I'm reading Trollope's The Way We Live Now. He wrote it in the 1870s, but only the technology seems to have changed in the last century and a half.
Do you think it is important that everyone should read more?
Books are like bicycles. They make travelling to new and exciting places affordable for everyone.
Movies and TV stimulate your senses, but not really your imagination - all the work's been done for you. Books are different. They make us work hard, but they reward us for our effort. With a book, you get right inside the head of the most amazing people you'll never meet.
You must have many a funny story to tell that have happened during your career so far?
I have no funny stories from my career. Not one!
How did you get into acting, what is your story, how did you start, and was it always your intention to become an actor?
I've wanted to be an actor since I was about ten. My parents were keen I should go to university rather than drama school. I don't really know why - no one in my family had ever been to university, and it certainly didn't give me 'something to fall back on'.
I was lucky because I looked old and fairly ugly from my mid teens. So, when I was at university and drama school, I got to play all those great roles that I was really too young for. They needed a bald northerner - good looking public school boys were two a penny! I'm just starting to be offered all the roles I played at university thirty years ago!
What advice can you offer to anyone wanting that acting career?
It's a great way to make a living, but don't let it be the only thing in your life that makes you happy. That way, madness lies.
Perhaps you have goals of taking your acting in a totally different direction?
I've never really had goals. I've never thought beyond the next job. I think this job is too chaotic to think ahead much more than that. It can drive you mad. When I was directing at Harrogate Theatre, I met actors in their early twenties who saw working there as a stepping stone. But as a result, they didn't make the most of being there, they were always thinking about the next job, instead of the one they were doing there and then.
In August, I received my Equity diary for next year - what's the point of that? I don't know what I'm doing next Tuesday, let alone next March! I'm not like Uncle Monty realising he's never going to play the Dane. But, I'd love to go back to the National Theatre at some point. I was in This House there a couple of years ago, and I had a dressing room between Frances de La Tour and Billie Piper - what's not to like?
I am keen to write more. I'm working on a TV drama at the moment, and in the new year I'm directing a short film that I wrote.
Is there one thing in life that makes you mad?
People who see the sign on the motorway that says two lanes are closed and we all need to move to the left hand lane, but decide to race down the outside lane, past the rest of us, and join the line at the front. Bastards!
Name three things that make you happy?
My family, fireworks, and Christmas.
Life is too short. And goes so quickly. Have you any regrets so far, and would you have done anything differently if you could?
I wish I'd broken the rules a bit more. I wish I worried less about what people think. And I wish I could dance at parties.
Last question, if you were an animal, what would it be and why?
I am an animal, I think Darwin pretty well nailed that one. But I'd be a Golden Labrador - keen to please, and a tendency to turn to fat...