Daily Mail | Mail Online
6 April 2013
Cape Town’s poshest hotels, sunshine and wine-tasting – it sounds like a middle-aged man’s dream. But, insists the cast of Mad Dogs, it’s no holiday
It’s breakfast time in sunny Cape Town. Lounging around on the roof terrace of the city’s most elegant boutique hotel are four of Britain’s best-known actors.
To any passer-by unfamiliar with British television drama, they could easily pass as just another group of middle-aged pals attempting to relive past glories on a boozed-up foreign jaunt.
Picking at his full English breakfast and impatiently waiting for his Sunday newspapers to download, Philip Glenister is at pains to point out that, despite appearances, this is no holiday.
As soon as Mad Dogs was announced in 2010, he says, some got the wrong idea.
‘You’ve got four actors, all good mates, heading off into the sunshine for three months to film a TV series. There was an assumption that it would be like the original movie version of Ocean’s Eleven, which was really an excuse for the Rat Pack to live it large in Vegas. But we’re not here for a jolly-up.
‘We’re here to work, and it’s bloody hard work. It’s no fun running about in the baking heat all day. It’s tough being away from friends and family for three months. This ain’t no picnic.’
Max Beesley nods thoughtfully. He takes a sip of coffee, stretches out and takes in the commanding views of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean.
‘Then again,’ he deadpans, ‘it sure beats working down a coal mine.’
The four Mad Dogs have contrasting personalities.
Affable and garrulous, Glenister and Beesley are the two you would be most likely to party with.
Marc Warren is the loner, preferring to retire with his Kindle than join the social mix.
Never the most eager interviewee, John Simm is even grumpier than usual this morning.
He complains of an upset stomach, possibly the result of the curry that Beesley made them the night before.
‘I had a feeling that 16 green chillis might be overdoing it,’ says Beesley, a usually reliable chef who has taken a series of expensive cookery courses at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, near Oxford.
The four actors have crossed paths regularly over the years.
Glenister and Simm first worked together on BBC drama series Clocking Off in 2000, before reuniting for the TV version of State Of Play, which featured Warren.
Warren popped up as a seedy villain in Life On Mars, the series that Glenister and Simm are still most closely associated with. The pair then teamed up for the 2008 bank-heist movie Tu£sday.
Beesley, meanwhile, made an appearance in the BBC drama Hustle, with which Warren is still synonymous.
It was Warren who kick-started the idea of Mad Dogs. Turning 40 in 2007 and feeling frustrated at the quality of roles coming his way, he knocked up a one-page treatment for a drama about four middle-aged musicians getting their band back together.
The idea was too similar to Spinal Tap to impress production companies and was radically reshaped by writer Cris Cole, at which point Sky began taking an active interest.
Frustrated by his attempts to crack Hollywood, Beesley was hauled on board.
Hopelessly miscast in the supernatural drama Demons, Glenister’s career needed a pick-me-up and he required little persuasion to join up.
Simm was the last to sign on, his involvement convincing Sky to invest £4 million in the debut series that began filming in Mallorca in May 2010.
‘To be honest,’ says Simm, ‘I didn’t expect Mad Dogs to go down too well with either the critics or the public. I thought it was maybe too offbeat to connect with people.
‘It’s a show that keeps taking the audience where they least expect to be taken.
‘You have to be prepared to strap yourself in and go on a ride with it. To my amazement, people were prepared to do that.’
With the idea of the reforming rock band now forgotten, the plot of the revamped Mad Dogs centred on a quartet of luckless middle-aged males reuniting to visit a charmingly psychotic fifth friend at his Mediterranean villa.
Cole cites David Lynch and the Coen brothers as key cinema influences, as well as British film classics such as Shallow Grave and Sexy Beast.
What starts out as a chummy, boozy get-together spirals into a claustrophobic nightmare involving shadowy Mafia types, drugs money, corrupt police, a homicidal dwarf in a Tony Blair mask, a corpse in a freezer and a dead goat floating in a swimming pool.
‘Anyone expecting a straightforward laddish drama was in for a shock,’ says Beesley. ‘This was not four guys out on the lash abroad. It was pure rock ’n’ roll television.’
The first season of Mad Dogs became an instant critical and commercial success, earning itself a Bafta nomination for Best Serial Drama.
Two further series were quickly commissioned, with plotlines dictating a shift from Mallorca to Cape Town for the third season.
As Glenister argues, the show’s longevity owes less to its comic-book violence than to the fact that the audience cares about the friendship between the characters.
‘In some ways the four main characters are like a family,’ he says.
‘I play the mild-mannered dad. John is the slightly neurotic mum. Max is the good kid and Marc is the bad kid.
‘They’re four guys who have reached a fork in the road. Between them they’ve been to hell and back with bereavement, divorce, alcoholism and financial disaster but, like a lot of guys in that age bracket, they’re pretending that things are better than they actually are.
‘In reality, they’re all underachievers. It’s when they’re thrown together and their lives start veering out of control that they start finding out who they are and what their friendships really mean.’
As Glenister admits, playing middle-aged men in crisis forced all four actors to take stock of their own lives, ruminating on how far they’ve come and how far they’ve fallen short.
‘Of course it helps that all four of us have become successful actors. We might feel differently about our lives if we’d ended up cleaning toilets.’
For Simm and Beesley, acting almost got jettisoned along the way as they pursued careers in music.
From the age of 12, Simm would join his musician father on stage in northern working men’s clubs.
He later became guitarist in the highly regarded indie band Magic Alex.
‘We split up after one album,’ he says, ‘but we did get to support Echo and the Bunnymen on two tours. For me, those experiences rank as highly as anything I’ve done in acting. Eventually I had to decide between music and acting.
‘Having a family decided it for me. As an actor on location I miss my family so much but it would be ten times worse if I was touring constantly in a band.’
A classically trained musician, Beesley went on to tour and record with some of the world’s biggest stars, including Stevie Wonder, George Michael and Jamiroquai.
In 2003 he toured the world with Robbie Williams, playing to a staggering two million people.
‘The pinnacle of my musical career was playing piano on stage with James Brown in London at his last-ever gig, a few weeks before his death.
‘If you can survive being in the Godfather of Soul’s band, you can survive anything in this world. James Brown was a hard taskmaster.
‘Before the gig he’d inspect the band like a drill sergeant. Woe betide you if you had a speck of dirt on your shoes or if your shirt wasn’t properly pressed.
‘If any musician played a bum note on stage they’d get an instant $50 fine. Acting is a breeze by comparison.’
At 41, Beesley is the baby of the gang, one year younger than Simm and five years younger than Warren. Having celebrated his 50th birthday on the set of Mad Dogs during filming of its third series, Glenister is the show’s senior citizen, a role he appears to relish.
‘If you look at the characters we play in this show,’ he says, ‘they’re all in their forties, all slowly facing up to the fact that they can no longer do the things that once came easy to them.
‘I suppose I’m part of that generation of men who pretend that middle age isn’t really happening. But there’s no getting away from it.
‘Even if your mind refuses to acknowledge the ageing process, your body starts letting you know in no uncertain terms.
‘Like a lot of men I’ve always enjoyed a lot of things that are bad for me. In recent years it’s almost as if I’ve had to retrain my brain not to enjoy a cigarette and embrace the idea of broccoli. Then there’s alcohol. I don’t recall getting hangovers in my twenties and thirties.
‘Then, seemingly overnight, they hit you like a juggernaut. I’d have to wear dark glasses and all the other parents on the school run would be looking at me with pity, thinking I’ve been out on the razzle with my showbiz chums, whereas all I’ve done is drunk too much red wine while watching I’m A Celebrity…’
For Glenister, the best part of getting older is the knowledge that you can say no without feeling guilty.
‘I’ve started to realise that in the past couple of years. In the first series of Mad Dogs, there’s a scene where all four of us are meant to jump naked into a swimming pool.
‘A few years ago I’d have probably gone along with it, feeling that I shouldn’t let the side down. I didn’t see it as necessary on this occasion. Max in particular is quite happy to get his bits and bobs out. I’ve reached an age where I’d rather avoid all that.
‘At 50, I can say no to anything I like and I find that so liberating. You get guys my age who are out five times a week. It’s insane. If I fancy staying in, I’ll stay in. I suppose it’s different if you’ve got no responsibilities.
‘The great thing about having a wife and kids is that it means you have something bigger than yourself to care about.
‘Learning to love someone, that’s a world away from lust. It’s something that sustains your sense of being and what you’re truly about. It’s about getting to the point where you feel comfortable in your own skin. If you’ve achieved that by the time you’ve hit middle age, you’ve earned a pat on the back.’
On the face of it, Beesley would seem to be Glenister’s polar opposite.
Renowned to be something of a party animal, he has been romantically linked with a string of beautiful women, including Spice Girl Melanie Brown, model Melanie Sykes and singer Mica Paris.
‘My partying reputation has always been a source of bemusement to me,’ he says.
‘I wouldn’t mind if it was true, but I’ve never taken drugs and I stopped drinking hard liquor three years ago.
‘Like Philip, I started getting terrible hangovers and I’d have a problem remembering chunks of the night before. Those were like little alarm bells for me. I train hard to stay in shape and I’m too vain to let that go.
‘At 41 I still feel young but I’m conscious of making the most of the time I’ve got left.’
Of the four actors, Warren seems the least concerned about the ageing process.
‘It was only when I hit 40 that I started thinking about getting older,’ he says.
‘Around that time I thought about death a lot but that soon passed.
‘I can feel middle age approaching but I reckon the trick is to ignore all the signs. I’m lucky in that I’ve always looked half the age I am. So the way I see it is that I’m still in my twenties!’
When the original idea for Mad Dogs came to him in 2007, Warren envisaged a show that he had some measure of control and influence over.
‘As a group of actors, we had a lot of involvement in the development of Mad Dogs and the kind of roles we’d be playing.
‘Then it was more or less taken out of our hands, so we now don’t have much control at all. On the other hand, there’s not too much interference from the TV company. The biggest disagreements tend to be about the amount of swearing in the show.’
Meanwhile, all four cast members are remaining decidedly tight-lipped about what the third series of Mad Dogs holds in store.
‘The show has always been about keeping the audience surprised,’ says Simm.
‘Like all good dramas, it creates its own world and it’s never predictable. Some dramas run aground after a couple of seasons but keep on going for purely commercial reasons.
‘You get a series like Prison Break where, by the third series, they’re starting to break back into prisons and you realise the show has run out of ideas.
‘If I’d felt for a moment that Mad Dogs had got to that point, I wouldn’t have been tempted to come to Cape Town and spend three months away from my wife and kids.
‘Watching my kids grow up on Skype is not what I had in mind when I became a parent.
‘They always say about rock bands that the first album is easy but getting the second album right is a massive challenge.
‘With Mad Dogs we proved that second time around was no problem. I’ve signed up for this third series because the scripts are better than ever. Series Three is seriously going to blow your mind.’
Interview duties completed, the four stars prepare to get on with their day.
Simm, Glenister and Beesley are heading off to enjoy a little wine-tasting in the Cape Town suburbs.
Warren mentions that he’s planning to go and look at some lions.
‘I’ve ridden elephants before,’ he says with an enigmatic shrug. ‘I have no fear.’
And, with a nod to Noël Coward, the four Mad Dogs take their leave and head out to brave the midday sun.
‘Mad Dogs’ series 1 & 2 are now available to watch On Demand; series 3 comes to Sky 1 in June