How would you characterise Tom Parker?
He is not Elvis's manager! He is a visionary and a family man. He has an entrepreneurial vein. If we were to transpose him to modern times, he would be someone like Steve Jobs. He's trying to build something brand-new that hasn't been done before. He's inclusive – he wants everyone to join in with his journey. But he ends up biting off more than he can chew, and outside pressures start to weigh down on him to the detriment of his relationship with his family. But he's a great character to play with a very definite arc.
Can you expand on that?
He begins the series quite well-off. I won't tell you how he ends up – no spoilers! But it was a very exciting time. They had just come out of the Battle of Waterloo. It was like the 1920s – a time where youth came to the fore and people were letting loose. They were not quite so buttoned up.
Why is this a good period to set a drama?
It was a time full of promise for this country, just before industrialisation. It was a more bucolic era. Once you go to the Victorian era, you're dealing with industrialisation and pollution and dark satanic mills and social pressure. In this period, there wasn't the grime and the workhouses that we associate with Charles Dickens in the Victorian era. Jane Austen is more about the countryside, bodice ripping, horses, picnics by the river, boating and gentlemanly pursuits. Also, everyone looks great. Sanditon harks back to a nicer looking time. It's more like a painting. That's what we love about it.
Are you worried that hardcore Austen fans might disapprove of this Sanditon?
Obviously there are purists out there. If they don't like it, that's fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But Andrew Davies engages the audience and bridges the gap between Austen and them. Having read a lot of Austen, I found it quite difficult. Maybe it's just me! It takes time to tune into her vernacular, but Andrew makes it more accessible to an audience, especially a male audience. I think people will really engage with this. That's what Andrew does so well.
Do you enjoy period dramas?
Absolutely. I really like doing them, even though it is 15 years since my last one – Doctor Zhivago. They are a lot more structured than modern dramas as you don't have any leeway with what you say. You can't improvise lines off the cuff as modernism might slip in. The social parameters you have to operate in are much tighter as well. For example, I was doing a scene with Anne Reid yesterday, and I automatically put my hand on her back. Then I thought, "Lady Denham and Tom have a business relationship. I shouldn't be touching the dowager at all." You have to keep your eye on those social etiquette and the way you speak.
What else do you enjoy about period drama?
I love the fact that everything is going on beneath the surface. We operate a lot more on the surface now. People were a lot more guarded with their emotions back then. This is a good exercise.
Why is Jane Austen so perennially popular?
It's the sheer quality of her writing. We love everything that is left unsaid in her work. Also, while people did not necessarily carry themselves with more decorum, everything looks so good.
Do period costumes help you to get into character?
Definitely. They help you stand and walk differently. You're much more straight-backed – although that might be the tightness of my costume! I have to jump from a second-floor window just to get into this costume! Everyone looks great. There is nothing like the cut of these clothes. The architecture of Regency England was wonderful too. Everything was so stylish. I would have quite liked to have lived back then – if it wasn't for the consumption, the scurvy and the general early death!
If Sanditon were to go again, would you like to come back?
Absolutely. I would love to do more – mainly because I only live down the road! I spent the last 10 years working everywhere except the UK. I'm sorry you can't come to the Caribbean to interview me this time. I'm sorry you have to sit in the back of a van on a windy beach in Somerset! But this has been fabulous. When you come to work, you’re not just putting on a costume, you're putting on an era that immediately transports you. It's great to be part of something so brilliant.