Dan Stevens knew little about Watergate earlier than being forged in Gaslit, a brand new status drama in regards to the Seventies American scandal that toppled a president and shook America. The 39-year-old actor, of early Downton Abbey fame, may now be sitting in his very personal Los Angeles backyard however, as with many Brits, his data of the affair prolonged solely to essentially the most superficial stuff. “I knew it spawned the gate-suffix,” says Stevens, over Zoom. He’s carrying a jazzy Paul Smith shirt, behind him lush leaves and that Hollywood sunshine. “However you shortly realise there’s a universality to that silly degree of corruption. It’s present in each administration in each nation on the earth; it simply so occurs that these guys obtained caught.” He sees obtrusive parallels with the British authorities, or as he put it in a now viral One Show segment: “You’ve obtained a felony for a pacesetter who’s wrapped in a messy battle, embroiled in a silly scandal, surrounded by formidable idiots and actually ought to resign… Oh no I’m sorry that’s the intro to Boris Johnson.”
Additionally starring Julia Roberts and Sean Penn, the five-part sequence – based mostly on the extremely profitable Slow Burn podcast – sees the often-told story of nefarious political espionage rerun as soon as extra, however by the experiences of characters who may in any other case have been thought of minor gamers in a narrative of high-level Washington rot and paranoia.
“It was one of many first occasions that one thing performed out on tv in actual time,” says Stevens. “We’re proof against the hypocrisy of our leaders as of late, however again then it was such a scandal. And a lot of it was buried.”
Roberts performs Martha Mitchell, the Arkansan socialite and spouse of President Nixon’s loyal lawyer basic, John Mitchell (Sean Penn). Regardless of social gathering affiliation, she’s the primary particular person to publicly sound the alarm on Nixon’s involvement in Watergate. Stevens, in the meantime, takes on the a part of younger hotshot Republican lawyer John Dean, who was steadily climbing the ranks of energy when the Watergate break-in occurred. There was discuss, earlier than filming began, of Stevens assembly with Dean, one of many few surviving figures depicted. Right this moment, he’s an everyday face on CNN and the speaker circuit; both nationwide hero or treacherous rat.
“I used to be eager to take a seat down with him,” says Stevens – however one way or the other, phrase obtained out in regards to the lunch date. “Then I used to be informed I’d have to talk with Common’s attorneys upfront, which I didn’t need to do; I didn’t suppose it could make the meal style notably good.” As an alternative, he pored over supply materials: footage from hearings, newspaper clippings. There was loads to work from as Stevens set about doing what he at all times does: throwing himself in on the deep finish, and studying on the job.
In his personal phrases, Stevens was fairly the “energetic” youngster. Adopted simply days after start, he grew up first in Essex, then Wales and Sussex, as his dad and mom – each academics – moved to observe work. His personal faculty reviews, in the meantime, have been a minimum of constant of their content material: “Daniel should study to not distract others” a recurring theme. He’s considerably guarded in relation to setting out the total extent of his adolescent indiscretions. He’s blanked out, he says unconvincingly, the main points of any main misbehaviour: “Let’s say I used to be by no means excellent with the institutional aspect of training.”
At 9, he was despatched to boarding faculty. His dad and mom believed a “totally immersive” training may do all of them some good. “It’s a bizarre factor,” he says, of the general public faculty system. “The additional you get from it, the extra absurd it appears to be to place 60 boys in a home run by youngsters. It takes by itself Lord of the Flies high quality – or character constructing, because the English prefer to name it.”
On a scholarship, he attended Tonbridge College in Kent, the place his, let’s say, spiritedness, was shortly channelled into the drama division. “I used to be shepherded by some nice academics who recognised I may and may act,” Stevens says. “I used to be nurtured in that route and evaded an excessive amount of hassle, which was an unimaginable reward.”
It turned clear early on that he was a expertise. There was his flip as Professor Higgins in My Truthful Girl, nevertheless it was a manufacturing of Macbeth, when he was 14, which was a very formative position. After he auditioned for the a part of Fleance – one thing of a minor character – his academics steered he ought to, in actual fact, take the lead.
Studying English at Cambridge College, Stevens discovered the Footlights. “I used to be doing standup, sketch reveals and musical comedy,” he says. Granted, he provides, a lot of it was mediocre. “I by no means had ambitions to be a comic book,” he continues, “however I discovered an enormous quantity about stagecraft from doing it: the power to rise up and make phrases work for an viewers, timing, rolling with what makes folks snort.”
In his last 12 months, Stevens was as soon as once more forged because the lead within the Scottish play. And, Cambridge being Cambridge, it simply so occurred that enjoying Girl Macbeth was Rebecca Hall, now actor and author. Again then, nevertheless, she was a fellow undergrad drama sort, whose father was the revered theatre director Sir Peter Corridor.
“Dan was this putting, oddball man,” she tells me, the pair are nonetheless mates. “He has at all times been extremely dextrous – his mind works very quick. My father appreciated nimble actors, and Dad noticed that extremely shortly.” Impressed, Sir Peter provided Stevens a gig enjoying Orlando in a touring manufacturing of As You Like It earlier than commencement. Scholar life was swapped for treading the boards. “It was unimaginable,” Stevens says of the chance, “an actual apprenticeship in classical theatre, being a part of a touring troupe, what I may need been taught at drama faculty had I gone.” With no formal coaching, Stevens labored it out as he went alongside.
He quickly moved to London and carved out a profession within the trade. There have been West Finish roles, and loads of interval telly: The Line of Magnificence, Sense and Sensibility and The Flip of the Screw to call a number of. When, in 2009, auditions for Downton Abbey have been being held, it appeared to be a job like every other. “I’d performed my justifiable share of interval drama by that time,” he says. “I thought of not going up for it, or not doing it after I obtained it. I felt I’d already performed them.” Ultimately, Stevens determined to do only one extra. “No person knew what it was going to develop into,” he says. It was commissioned as an eight-part mini-series. “There was no sense once we have been making it that it could be the juggernaut it was.”
Julian Fellowes, Downton’s creator and author, remembers clearly what he noticed in Stevens: “Dan had this great energy on display screen and is likely one of the handsomest males I’ve ever met,” he tells me. “He had an enthralling ethical decency we felt would work.”
In late 2012, three seasons in, Downton was nonetheless clocking up 10m+ British viewers throughout its Sunday-night airings; within the US, that determine was hitting a staggering 24m week on week. However whereas the present was going from power to power, Stevens was eyeing up an exit, discontent on the prospect of a lifetime enjoying floppy-haired, morally respectable, period-drama chaps.
“There have been positively inventive itches left unscratched,” Stevens explains of his determination to go away the present, “genres I hadn’t labored in. Three years have been up, that’s what we’d initially signed up for, and the urge for food to discover additional was too nice.”
It was solely near the beginning of filming for that third season that Stevens confirmed his departure. Fellowes tells me a significant loss of life had already been booked in for episode 5, leaving them little room for an additional. So on Christmas Day 2012, his character, Matthew Crawley, was killed off in a deadly automotive accident in what was, fairly frankly, an ending altogether void of festive cheer.
“It’s not one thing I count on folks to readily perceive,” Stevens says of the departure. “Some admire it, others suppose I used to be mad: that the half was the best factor that would ever occur to me.”
It takes some self-confidence, absolutely, to stroll away from such a safe spot in a behemoth of broadcasting, at a time when more and more profitable contracts have been, little doubt, being negotiated as soon as extra. “However the query is what would fulfill you? A bit extra money and the identical factor for an additional decade,” Stevens replies, “or the good unknown. The wild west. An open enjoying subject of potential.”
Being in such a high-profile manufacturing additionally got here with consideration. “There was definitely a sense that such a degree of focus from the British tabloid press was not the best factor to have in a single’s life,” says Stevens. “We obtained out of the UK at a time when it wasn’t massively problematic. And perhaps it wouldn’t have been. However there was this worry of elevating a household into that setting.”
And so, Stevens headed stateside. By that January, he was rehearsing for his broadway debut reverse Jessica Chastain. Then got here a film in Brooklyn. Stevens upped sticks and settled in New York together with his spouse – Susie Hariet, a South African Jazz singer and instructor – and their two oldest youngsters. Six years later, by now with one other youngster, they headed west to LA, the place the household has remained.
“There’s an creativeness in casting right here that’s refreshing,” Stevens says. “For those who haven’t been seen doing one thing, they could be open to seeing you strive. There are strict channels within the UK: ah you play posh interval dramas? In your field you go. Gritty northerners? That’s what you’ll do… I may see a world through which sticking round wouldn’t have been satisfying.”
If a various plethora of components was his ambition, it’s truthful to say he has achieved it. From sci-fi (Colossal, Kill Swap) and household blockbusters (Magnificence and the Beast, Night time on the Museum) to Apostle’s sheer horror, Stevens has grafted to carve out fairly an eclectic profession. He’s additionally been dipping his toe again in comedy, incomes himself no scarcity of admirers, Will Ferrell included. The pair labored collectively in Eurovision Track Contest: The Story of Hearth Saga, which Ferrell additionally produced. “He confirmed up on the primary day with this totally fleshed-out character, full with Russian accent,” Ferrell tells me. “He was working far more durable than I used to be, whether or not improvising with me or performing his music and dance numbers. Plus, by the night time he was auditioning for different initiatives; he has this extraordinary dedication to his craft.”
“You must be ready,” Stevens says, “for folks to be confused by your need to do each animated household comedy and twisted horror in the identical calendar 12 months.” It’s that inventive stimulation that he thrives on.
“That’s to not say you and I received’t sit down in 10 years after I’ll have been enjoying the identical sitcom character for a decade, and I’ll mutter one thing about mortgages and faculty charges…” However truthfully? Stevens can’t see that occuring. “Probably there’s a sure inventive ADHD in me,” he says. “I’ve tried all types, not all of it profitable. It’s terrifying and thrilling, but when the territory is just too acquainted, I’ll simply get bored.”
Gaslit premieres on Sunday 24 April on StarzPlay