5 February 2011
Fortysomething crime caper Mad Dogs takes the duo to Mallorca in the company of Max Beesley, Marc Warren and Ben Chaplin
It’s sometime after lunch in southern Mallorca and John Simm, escaping the intense heat of summer, lounges around in the shade sipping bottled water. It’s odd; he doesn’t look quite himself. It’s not just the goatee beard or the knee-length holiday shorts. It must be the setting. This is not quite like the strip-lit newspaper office he worked in as Cal McCaffrey in State Of Play nor is it the spartan bedsit he lived in as Life On Mars’ Sam Tyler. Sitting with him around the turquoise pool are his old mates Philip Glenister (you know, Gene Hunt) and Marc Warren (a City wideboy in State Of Play). Also there is Max Beesley, most recently seen looking psychotic in Survivors, who is absent-mindedly stroking his ripped biceps as he chats on his mobile. This is the boys at lunch, taking a break from filming Mad Dogs. It’s a four-part Sky1 drama about four old friends in their 40s who have survived death, divorce, alcoholism and so on, only to face more trauma when they meet up again at the Spanish villa of a fifth friend, played by Ben Chaplin.
What starts as a boozy reunion quickly goes wrong: there’s death, drugs money, dodgy police and, memorably, a nasty little guy in a Tony Blair mask. Instead of walking away after a violent murder, the friends find themselves sucked into a far-fetched but gripping murder mystery. It’s got the white heat of Sexy Beast, Shallow Grave‘s divisive bag of money and the quasi-comic violence of a Coen brothers film; it’s also easy to watch, a guilty pleasure with an undercurrent of darkness.
This is the first time Simm and Glenister have been reunited since their time-travelling police drama became a runaway success, scoring huge ratings and turning Glenister’s Hunt into an antiheroic icon. The pair first worked together a decade ago, however, in the BBC’s Clocking Off and the trajectory from lads to dads that is there in the script of Mad Dogs matches that of their own lives. Both their families are en route to the set, for example, making the trip for half-term. “They can hang out here by the pool,” says Simm, grinning. “It’s not like inviting them to hang around in a caravan on a council estate, which is where I usually end up working.”
Glenister, in linen trousers and shirt and smoking what looks suspiciously like a small cigar, butts in: “My family can get some free nosh too, save me a few quid …”
For Simm, the professional benefits of this reunion are just as obvious. “We’ve got a psychic ability to act together,” he says of his relationship with Glenister. “It feels very comfortable acting with him. He’s just my friend and it’s nice to work with friends, especially when they’re good actors. You can bounce off each other and go places and they’ll go with you instinctively. You can trust them as well. It’s hard to explain, but you feel safe going somewhere else on camera because you know they’ll deal with it.”
‘It’s about men who are at the point where they can’t quite do what they used to be able to do’ Adrian Shergold
As well as a drama about friends, Mad Dogs is about getting on. Director Adrian Shergold, known for his work on standout TV dramas The Second Coming and Clapham Junction, says of the story: “I loved the idea of four middle-aged men going to see a friend, momentarily living a dream they couldn’t live any more. They had to be lads, but I didn’t want it to be a laddish film. It’s about men who are at the point where they can’t quite do what they used to be able to do. There is a vulnerability about them.”
The actors respond to this situation in different ways, both on screen and off. For Warren, being in his early-40s is more about averting a mid-life crisis: he talks about spending his 40th driving alone from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to see Love, the Beatles circus show. For Beesley, who hits 40 this year, it’s simply about feeling “quite handsome and young still”.
For Glenister and Simm it’s different again however. They have been hanging around together after hours, wandering along the seafront at nearby Puerto Pollensa, winding each other up by calling one another “Guv” and “Sam” and clocking the disbelieving glances of British holidaymakers. It all sounds very civilised. “We don’t go clubbing any more; we go out for nice meals instead,” says Simm, fiddling with his goatee (it’s part of his Mad Dogs identity; he hates it). “It might have been a different story 15 years ago; I’d probably be sitting here with a very bad hangover.
“I like getting older,” he goes on. “I feel more comfortable in my skin. If you’re lucky you should have set down roots and established yourself in your career by 40, and I’ve done both those things. And as an actor getting older is much, much better. There are better parts with more meat. You’ve lived more, there’s more to deal with than when you’re in your 20s; those parts tend to be vacuous because nothing much has happened in your life.”
‘We liked the idea of a group of people from a normal background who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances’ Philip Glenister
For Glenister, Mad Dogs was a way of taking more control of his work. “I was doing something in Blighty that I wasn’t happy with so I phoned up my agent and said, ‘I’m fed up with doing crap. What are the chances of trying to find something for me, John and Marc to do together?'” Glenister and Warren played around with ideas for a while. “We liked the idea of a group of people from a normal background who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances,” explains Glenister. “We went to Sky because we thought, ‘They’ll be able to afford Mallorca!’ And if they can’t, we’re seriously fucked.”
Shergold brings class and cohesion to Mad Dogs – and a vision that was not fully realised in Cris Cole’s script. Although no one could fail to see the attraction of filming in the Mallorcan countryside, a mini-series may seem a surprising choice for him, but he doesn’t think so. Later, the actors wander to a beautiful old Mallorcan farmhouse framed by bright pink bougainvillea, rocky mountains and endless blue sky. This is the house of Chaplin’s character and it’s where the late-afternoon action will take place. Simm, Glenister, Warren and Beesley lie on sun loungers and chat among themselves as Shergold prepares to shoot.
Shergold says it probably helped that the actors were friends. “They sparred off each other a lot. They clashed, but in a good way. Ben Chaplin made them raise their game because he was an outsider, but also the friend they’d come to see. The chemistry between them all was very, very good.”
As the sky darkens and a dead goat is discovered in the pool, there’s a break in filming. Beesley, who might just be what Shergold was talking about earlier – a lad but not quite laddish – jokes about the paper-thin walls in their hotel rooms and wonders how loudly they’ll all be playing music when their partners arrive at the weekend. He talks about cooking pasta for Simm and Glenister the previous night. “It’s nice, man. It’s quite weird. I don’t know if we’ll get another job like this for a wee while. We were all worried about egos in the first week; it could’ve been a disaster, it could’ve exploded in our faces. But in fact we’re standing around saying, ‘Nice take, man.'” He laughs and looks around him. “Who knows though, by the end of the week I might want to stab everyone …”