A Man of Mystery (Jun 2003)

A Man of Mystery

by Graham Keal (Daily Post - Liverpool, 7 June 2003)

Graham Keal talks to Spooks star Matthew Macfadyen about the new series, his Welsh roots and being hounded by the paparazzi.

IT'S barely two minutes into our interview and already top TV spy Matthew Macfadyen is swearing me to secrecy because, a couple of hours before, a package had been delivered to me. It contained a video tape, and I had already seen the contents:Spooks; series two, episode one. "You're not going to let the cat out of the bag are you?'' asks Matthew, alias senior MI5 Spook Tom Quinn.

More of that in a moment. First we have to settle the mystery of Matthew's ancestry, which is more Welsh than most people realise. For starters, let's scotch the well-publicised myth that he was born in Glasgow: "I was actually born in Yarmouth but we lived all over the place because my father was in the oil industry. His parents were from Glasgow but my mum, Meinir, is Welsh - my grand ad was from North Wales and my grandma was from Mid-Wales.''

Right, having settled that, I reassure Matthew about keeping quiet about the bomb storyline. I almost said "trust me, I'm a journalist'', but I didn't think he'd buy that. I did however give him my word that I wouldn't give away the episode's explosive secret.

Even so, film sets leak almost as badly as government departments, so I don't fancy his chances of protecting the resolution of the cliffhanger which ended the BAFTA award-wining first series.

As Tom, he has inadvertently taken a lap top computer home which is booby trapped with a bomb. The deadly device is now in the secure "safe'' house occupied by Tom's girlfriend and her daughter - they're so secure in there that they can't get out and no one can get in, short of bombing the door off. Which may be what happens next. Or not.

Spooks fans - and there are millions of them - have been patiently waiting for nearly a year to see what happens next, but the ticking clock has stood still between series.

"For a while they wanted to start the story again later, but it's better to pick it up from the second it finished rather than move it on three months and fill in the background with some waffle. And it was a shameless hook for a second series,'' admits Matthew.

Series one hit the screen in the twitchy, security-heightened aftermath to September 11 and scored an immediate hit.

The BBC press blurb massages the truth a little, quoting Matthew's reaction to the ratings thus: "I was thrilled when the producers called me to tell me how well it had done.'' The man himself is rather more frank.

"Jane Featherstone, the executive producer, rang me up and said, 'we've got eight million!' I pretended to be thrilled. I didn't really know what she was talking about. It's never crossed my mind about ratings before. I've done a lot of one-offs and I suppose ratings really don't matter with them.''

Not for the actors anyway. If the job is over then there's no second or third series hanging on the numbers. But after that strong start,Spooks really got itself noticed with its second episode, when one of the leading ladies, Lisa Faulkner, was sensationally killed off after having her head plunged into a deep-fat fryer.

"There were 300 complaints about that,'' says Matthew, 28. "It was just audacious, because no one expected it.

"You know, you don't kill off Lisa Faulkner in episode two. They put her hand in the burning fat and you watch and think, 'Oh well, they're not going to put her head in it,' but we did. And then they think, 'but they're never going to shoot her in the head'. And then we did. That was that.''

Now that they've got your attention, the writers and cast seem prepared to ratchet up our increasing post-Iraq paranoia about terrorism and violence with a series of plot developments which either deliberately ape real life or have proved to be uncannily accurate predictions.

"It is incredibly topical. Episode two is about young suicide bombers being trained in a mosque in Birmingham.''

And - don't tell me - the Imam has one eye and a hook for a hand? "No he hasn't. If we did that nobody would believe it. They'd go, 'Nah, c'mon'.But that one's very topical and so is episode five, which is probably my favourite. It's about an exercise which takes place on the Grid (Spooks jargon for the office complex).

"It's called an EERIE (Extreme Emergency Response Initiative Exercise), which the CIA apparently do and which I think the secret services here do.

"The idea is that there's been a dirty bomb set off in London and everyone's got to react as they would if it were real. Then as the episode unfolds the lines get blurred and you wonder whether it really is just an exercise.

"But there was really going to be an exercise based on a terrorist disaster at Bank tube station in the city, and it kind of mirrored our episode exactly. The real exercise was cancelled because of the Iraq war, but the story line is still very prescient.''

Interest in the series could be higher than ever now, however unwelcome the reasons for that might be. Matthew's love life has also been subject to intrusive media interest, which is the sort of publicity he would prefer to do with out.

But tabloid headlines were inevitable once co-star Keeley Hawes, whop lays fellow-Spook Zoe Reynolds, left her husband of less than three months and then started dating Matthew. Suddenly the couple were being followed, not by foreign spies but by paparazzi with long-lens cameras. How did that feel?

"It's an odd thing, and kind of uncomfortable. If it wasn't Keeley then it would be prosaically boring to them who I was going out with but the fact that we're both actors somehow makes it news to them.

"I'm sure they think of themselves as cutting edge, but it's nonsense really. I don't know what it is, but it's certainly not journalism.''

One year on, Matthew and Keeley, who has a two-year-old son, Myles, are still an item but the paparazzi have mercifully moved on.

Speaking a couple of weeks before shooting on the 10-part series was completed,Matthew was just looking forward to the end of an enjoyable but gruelling six-month stint. Acting may not be quite like coal mining,but pressures to speed up production are so pronounced these days actors can end up working absurdly long hours.

"Everyone's just hanging in rags. It's been six months and it's just exhausting. Winning the BAFTA was a good shot in the arm because we still haven't finished the series.''

Matthew's more or less meteoric career has included major roles in such prestigious productions as Warriors, The Way We Live Now, Perfect Strangers and, more controversially, The Project - for my money a brilliantly accurate portrayal of how New Labour won huge popular backing but lost the plot.

So what's next? "There's nothing on the horizon really, apart from a holiday. All I can think about is going somewhere nice and hot and resting my bones, really.'' And the destination? "Europe somewhere.''

Actors, like spies, sometimes have to keep their precise movements secret.


'Everyone's just hanging in rags...it's just exhausting,' says Matthew Macfadyen about the filming of the second series of Spooks; Matthew Macfadyen, centre, with fellow Spooks stars Keeley Hawes and David Oyelowo. His relationship with Hawes hit the headlines, leaving Macfadyen to reflect: 'If it wasn't Keeley then it would be prosaically boring to them who I was going out with. The fact that we're both actors somehow makes it news to them.'