Interview / Print / Serial / Television

Interview with John Simm for The Devil’s Whore

Channel 4 The Devil’s Whore
Cast Interviews: John Simm Interview
Date Published: 16 Oct 2008

John Simm as Edward Sexby in The Devil's Whore

John Simm as Edward Sexby in The Devil's Whore

Edward Sexby is a fascinating character. Explain a bit about him.

When you first meet him, he’s a soldier of fortune, a hired hand who kills people for money, working for whoever pays the most. As the story evolves, he gets values and he falls in love with Angelica – although he takes a long time to realise that he has. And he also falls in love, in a way, with Rainsborough. He sees his philosophy, and it changes him, and he changes sides on the battlefield. He changes his whole philosophy of life, and discovers honour.

He’s a very complex, troubled, heroic character, who really evolves throughout the series. That must be an actor’s dream role.

Oh absolutely, it’s a hell of a role. It’s Indiana Jones with knobs on. Because of his name, the producers didn’t want him to be good-looking in any way whatsoever. Rainsborough’s the pretty boy and the hero, Sexby’s kind of an anti-hero, which I like best. They’re my favourite parts. He’s not really based on the real Edward Sexby. The real one was a Leveller, and did get arrested for trying to assassinate Cromwell, but that’s as far as the similarities go. He’s a fictional character in many, many ways. But because of his name, we really didn’t want him to be ‘sexy’.

Some of the other guys get to wander round looking chiselled, and you’re there with crap hair and a scar across your face. Do you have to divest yourself of any element of vanity in such circumstances?

Absolutely. I don’t think there’s any place for vanity if you’re an actor. Unless you want to be an actor who just takes roles where you look good all the time. In which case, good for you, that’s fine. But for me, looking great is nothing to do with it. It’s being truthful. Sexby is a feral, vicious man, who gives not a toss about how he looks. He’s an ugly guy, it seems much more realistic that way.

As you say, your character only bears a loose relation to the real Edward Sexby. As such, did you research him at all?

I did a lot of research into the Civil War. It’s one of the best things about being an actor, being able to delve into the past and call it work. The history was amazing, incredibly interesting. I buried myself in books about it, just to get a feel of the time. There’s a brilliant book called The Civil War at First Hand, which is letters written back from the front, which was brilliant. But as far as Sexby himself goes, I only read up on him a little. There’s not much information about him, unlike Cromwell, Lilburne or Rainsborough. This guy is just a name, and Peter Flannery wrote an amazing character around him.

Sexby’s a very adept fighter, and you had a lot of fight scenes. Was that exciting, or do you just worry you’ll injure someone, or get injured yourself?

Oh no, it’s great, a real, real, real pleasure to do. It’s such fun. The battle scenes and sword fights were great. If you just ignore the camera that’s on your right, and just look to your left, you’re in the middle of this enormous battle, with cannons going off and horses charging. All of that stuff was the best bit about it, just brilliant. That and the costumes. It’s the finest costume I’ve ever laid eyes on, let alone worn. It was incredible, specially made with all this soft leather, and bullets for buttons and stuff. It’s amazing. And when you put the wig on, the scar on and the outfit, it kind of dictates the way you’re going to play the character. It’s a massive help in getting into character, you just change as soon as you put it on.

You and Dominic had worked together before, hadn’t you?

Yeah, we had. In the mid-90s we worked together on something called Diana and Me, a film with Toni Colette. And we were playing paparazzi in it. As you can imagine, she died, and the film got pulled. Which was probably no bad thing, as it wasn’t great. But me and Dominic spent six weeks in Sydney together, and we just had a ball. So it was wonderful to work with him again. I adore him, and I think he’s an amazing actor as well.

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