Home Entertainment ‘I’m on the telly sometimes’: actor Mark Bonnar on his quiet anonymity – and his new spy drama

‘I’m on the telly sometimes’: actor Mark Bonnar on his quiet anonymity – and his new spy drama

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Mark Bonnar is in every single place, however when the actor will get stopped by followers on the street, they wrestle to recall the place they know him from. “‘I’m positive we’ve met, is your boy Jimmy?’” they ask, assuming he’s a mum or dad they’ve noticed on the varsity run. In these circumstances, Bonnar – who’s been nominated for 5 Scottish Baftas and has received one – doesn’t name himself an actor. “What I often say is, ‘I’m on the telly generally,’” he says. Then comes the “Aha!’ second, and he watches the items fall into place, with one (or many) of his characters coming to thoughts.

Bonnar has constructed a profession out of this quiet ubiquity. He performed the corrupt cop Mike Dryden in season two of Line of Duty; the sweary, straight-talking good friend to Rob Delaney in Catastrophe; and a detective’s mate with a murky historical past in BBC’s Shetland. That’s three of the greater than 65 performances he’s delivered on display screen, and his stage work, which stretches again additional and to esteemed locations like London’s Nationwide Theatre, is equally prolific.

He’s seldom entrance and centre, however has a behavior of appearing as a significant vertebra within the spine of his reveals. That explains why, when he walks right into a principally empty café in east London on a sharply chilly Monday afternoon, barely anyone lifts their head aside from me. He holds out his hand in greeting, gray peacoat over a darkish V-neck sweatshirt, hair chrome-silver, and sits all the way down to look over the menu. They’re out of the salads, I say. “That doesn’t matter,” he quips. “We’re Scottish!”

Mark Bonnar as DS Timmons in Litvinenko
Good cop: as DS Timmons in Litvinenko. {Photograph}: ITVX/ITV Studios

We’re right here to debate Bonnar’s new challenge: ITV’s Litvinenko, a four-part collection that unpacks the investigation into the 2006 poisoning of the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko, an occasion that dominated British headlines on the time as a consequence of its weird, spy-thriller nature. The collection isn’t an account of Litvinenko’s life – he solely seems in episode one, performed by a frosty and compelling David Tennant – however relatively a dramatic retelling of the preliminary investigation that uncovered the culprits behind his loss of life. “It makes you realise what utter clowns [the agents] had been,” Bonnar says. “It was only a large botched job.”

Bonnar performs Detective Superintendent Clive Timmons, the person who oversaw the investigation, and was a part of the crew accountable for tracing the poison that killed Litvinenko again to its supply. Even for an outdated hat at detective dramas like Bonnar, it stood out: it supplied him the uncommon expertise of taking part in an actual one that’d be alive to guage how he did. “It’s fairly a nerve-racking factor,” he says now, “since you need them to love it.” The pair first met on Zoom, whereas Bonnar ready for the half, after which afterward set. (He remembers gawking at how tall Timmons was.) On Zoom, Bonnar peppered Timmons with questions. “I wished to know all of the boring stuff,” he says, squeezing his teabag to the facet of his mug. “The place he grew up, what his standout childhood recollections had been.” He ended up creating a personality that dialled in on Timmons’s turns of phrase, and the inflection of his voice.

Bonnar has credited his position in Line of Responsibility because the half that put him on the map. After the collection aired, he was despatched a number of scripts asking him to learn for related characters. However he wasn’t desirous about treading related water. He was drawn to Litvinenko as a result of it supplied another. “Dramas nowadays [are usually about] the damaged copper, the alcoholic copper breaking apart along with his spouse. However this was a narrative about good cops doing good, you recognize? I believed that was value telling.”

Mark Bonnar crouching down, wearing suede jacket and trousers both by berluti.com; shirt by to.ast; boots by hermes.com.
‘There’s an unimaginable, wonderous variety of tradition that emanates from Russia’: Mark Bonnar wears suede jacket and trousers each by berluti.com; shirt by to.ast; boots by hermes.com. {Photograph}: Simon Lipman/The Observer

The shortage of fine cops on display screen, I recommend, is perhaps a mirrored image of the actual world – the slew of scandals stemming from the Met, ones that pressured Cressida Dick to resign, for instance. Timmons informed Bonnar: “You need to go into [policing] since you need to do good and assist folks.” However Bonnar accepts that the general public notion of policing is at a low. “It’s troublesome, nowadays particularly, to maintain issues in perspective,” he says. “Should you select to be bombarded by a sure sort of dangerous information, you’ll be able to simply overwhelm your self. Social media doesn’t fucking assist. It’s vital this story is informed since you overlook that, each single day, there are people who find themselves serving to us. That’s the factor concerning the police. There’s a really choose few folks that have tarnished it. It was an honourable job to do.”

Bonnar has lengthy had what he calls a “low-level fascination” with Russia. It began with their nice theatremakers. He performed Trofimov in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and appeared reverse Ruth Wilson in Gorky’s Philistines on the Nationwide Theatre. It was Howard Davies, the late, longtime director, who solid Bonnar in each productions. “He was the one which had essentially the most first-hand data of the place,” Bonnar reminisces. “He had Russian pals, went over a number of occasions, spoke so eloquently concerning the Russian character. And that bled into plenty of what he did on stage.”

Then, across the time of the Litvinenko poisoning, the dial began to show for Bonnar. It was a domino impact: the Salisbury poisonings; political interference with the Tory social gathering. “You may’t assist however take extra of an curiosity. You’re pondering, ‘What the fuck are they doing?’” he says. “Nonetheless many thousands and thousands have been donated to the social gathering by Russians, you simply assume, ‘What’s occurring there? Why are they compromising themselves?’” He calls it “a two-sided coin, as a result of on one hand there’s an unimaginable, wonderous variety of tradition that emanates from that nation. And on the opposite facet it has this tumultuous historical past. It’s simply an enormous pity that it’s run by this gangster who appears to have the world underneath his thumb.”

Mark Bonnar with Ruth Gemmell in Home Fires.
‘You need to survive in your wits’: with Ruth Gemmell in Dwelling Fires. {Photograph}: Shutterstock

Bonnar’s paternal grandfather fled Poland initially of the Second World Battle. “The story goes that his brother was put in a focus camp and my grandad and his mate determined to up sticks and stroll to Yugoslavia,” he says. His data of the occasions is scanty – his father hardly ever mentioned it – however to one of the best of his data his grandfather landed in Edinburgh, joined the RAF and fought within the warfare. Just a few years after it ended, Bonnar’s father, Stanley – now an artist and philanthropist – was born. It was when his dad was a young person, finding out sculpture at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee, that he met Rosi, Bonnar’s mom. Bonnar was born when Stanley was 19 and Rosi was 20, an artwork faculty child “doomed from the start”.

The household moved to Glenrothes after Stanley graduated, and Stanley began a long-running profession as a brand new city artist, creating council-funded stone sculptures. His most well-known, of a family of hippos in Glenrothes, nonetheless stands in the present day, and impressed a documentary Bonnar made with him for the BBC known as Meet You on the Hippos. “I don’t actually keep in mind Glenrothes,” Bonnar says. The household left simply after he began faculty, shifting to East Kilbride, simply exterior Glasgow, and staying there for 2 years. “I simply keep in mind it being onerous, you’d should make pals each time.” Most of his adolescence was spent in a rural village known as Stonehouse, the place his father created concrete elephants.

There are bourgeois connotations of being the kid of an artist, however after Stanley had made a lot of his most well-known works, the Bonnar household moved to Edinburgh and began from scratch once more. “I keep in mind it being fairly troublesome shifting to secondary faculty,” Bonnar says. “I used to be in a brand new metropolis the place I knew completely no one. You simply should survive in your wits, actually.” In the meantime, throughout a bout of inventive unemployment, Stanley was a milkman and Rosi drove a play bus. (She later moved into social work.)

Mark Bonnar with Ashley Jensen in Catastrophe.
Straight speak: with Ashley Jensen in Disaster. {Photograph}: Everett Assortment /Alamy

Bonnar as soon as stated that class place is “in your head”, and that though he has turn out to be a widely known actor, he nonetheless considers himself working class. “I all the time sort of felt that’s what I used to be as a result of that’s the place I used to be introduced up, you recognize? However a number of folks all through my life have gone: ‘What did your ma and pop do?’ I’d say my dad was an artist and my mum was a social employee.” They’d inform him: “‘You’re not fucking working class.’”

“It is dependent upon your definition,” he clarifies now. “To me I used to be introduced up on a council property most of my life. You used to have the ability to separate working class from being socialist after I was younger. I’m nonetheless a socialist though it’s a phrase they’ve tried to drown. I feel in its essence and its soul, it’s a great factor. There’s no dangerous factor in wanting one of the best for everybody. There’s lots of people responsible for the shortage of no matter it’s that the poor people don’t have now, and we all know the place they’re fucking sitting.”

Bonnar feels the identical about his Scottish heritage. “I’ve virtually been down right here longer than I lived up there. That’s a extremely bizarre thought,” he says. “I by no means say I’m proud to be Scottish, as a result of that phrase doesn’t make any fucking sense. As Invoice Hicks used to say, ‘My mum and pop fucked there.’ However I feel there’s one thing that’s inside you, a part of your physicality, that’s particular to the place you’re born. Scotland is a tremendous place, and it’s my residence.” Will he transfer again? He shakes his head. “I don’t assume it’ll ever occur, however I’m decided to take the children and go and present them the place I’m from.”

Mark Bonnar in a red coat with one arm up as if waving
Pink flag: coat by zara.com; black jumper by Missoni and trousers by Prada, each matchesfashion.com. {Photograph}: Simon Lipman/The Observer

He’s since moved to Hertfordshire, organising a quiet life along with his spouse, the actor Lucy Gaskell, and their two youngsters. “There’s a shorthand [we share],” he says of his marriage. He’s obtained somebody who is aware of the semantics of the self-taped audition. “I imply, I’ve been away working for nearly the entire yr. The logistical assist and emotional assist she supplies, it’s monumental. I wouldn’t be right here if it wasn’t for her.” There are few gripes at residence, he says, aside from his sleeping sample. “I’ve all the time been a deep sleeper, a lot to my spouse’s chagrin,” he says, bashfully. “I snore like a buffalo, so I’ll usually get up with a punch within the ribs!”

Bonnar returned to Edinburgh earlier this yr to shoot The Rig, a brand new, supernatural collection set on an oil rig debuting in early 2023. It’s the primary Amazon Prime unique collection to be shot totally in Scotland.

Mark Bonnar, standing on one leg, the other straight and out to the side, wearing pale blue cable knit with a ring of dark blue and white, dark trousers and boots, all hermes.com
‘You overlook that each single day there are people who find themselves serving to us’: Mark Bonnar wears blue cable knit, trousers and boots, all hermes.com. {Photograph}: Simon Lipman/The Observer

After The Rig, 2023 seems even busier: an element within the second season of the tv collection World on Hearth, starring Lesley Manville, and a collaboration with Ridley Scott in his big-budget retelling of the story of Napoleon. Working with Scott was “magical”, he says. “I used to be tongue-tied each time he got here as much as me.” He breaks into an ideal reproduction of the director’s gruff English accent to recreate a second on set: “‘Different folks wouldn’t do it like this, you recognize? Two cameras, it’ll take every week to shoot this scene. In case you have 5 cameras, you may get it achieved in half a day. We’ll be achieved by halfpast 12!’” Bonnar’s in suits of laughter, half on the absurd genius of Scott as a director, and half on the pinch-me thought of working with him in any respect.

“I need to work with good folks,” he says. “I’m particularly proud to have been a part of Litvinenko for that purpose, as a result of it tells a great story about good individuals who have stood up towards tyranny. And as a human, there’s no higher factor you are able to do.”

Litvinenko is accessible to look at now on ITVX

Vogue editor Helen Seamons, trend assistant Roz Donoghue, grooming Juliana Sergot

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