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Inspector Lynley turns NASTY: He's best known as an upper-crust sleuth, but Nathaniel Parker has played Nazis, rapists and cruel Henry VIII and his latest character in The Outcast is his darkest yet
Nathaniel Parker is shaking his head as he thinks about some of the dastardly devils he’s played.
‘I’ve never punched a woman in the face before but I did beat the hell out of Tara Fitzgerald for a movie. I’ve played a Nazi and I’ve been playing the wife-murdering Henry VIII on stage for some time.’
Even so, he’s not sure he’s ever played a man quite as monstrous as his latest evil incarnation Dicky Carmichael.
‘Actually, Henry VIII is quite pleasant compared to Dicky,’ laughs Nathaniel, who’s been critically acclaimed – winning an Olivier award and a Tony nomination – as the murderous Tudor king in Wolf Hall, first in London and now on Broadway.
Dicky is the black heart at the centre of BBC1’s The Outcast, a story about what goes on behind the perfectly ordered hedgerows in 1950s Surrey. The drama is based on the bestselling novel by Sadie Jones, who adapted it for a two-part series, which concludes tomorrow night.
All the characters are complicated and have their dark sides; Dicky, who beats up his wife and daughters while pontificating about morality, just happens to be the blackest.
We meet on the show’s set, at a country house on the outskirts of north London, where Nathaniel – who’s now 53 and has two teenage daughters of his own, Angelica, 18, and Raphaella, 16, from his marriage to actress Anna Patrick – is filming one of the grisliest scenes in the drama, in which he doles out a beating.
‘I’ve just taken the blood off my knuckles in make-up,’ grins the actor best known as the aristocratic police investigator in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries. ‘When I was offered the role I leapt at the chance. Obviously beating your teenage daughters is not something I particularly wanted to do but this story is so challenging. It’s a brilliant test.’
The Outcast of the title is young Lewis, who’s left devastated as a ten-year-old when his mother drowns in front of him. His buttoned-up father Gilbert, played by Greg Wise, is grief-stricken himself and hasn’t a clue how to comfort his son. Lewis goes off the rails and in this week’s episode he tries to rebuild his life after coming out of jail.
Dicky, who has the biggest house and is the biggest employer in the area with his construction business and quarry, stands in his way. Although both his daughters are friends of Lewis, he’s the boy’s biggest critic.
‘I don’t think he even considers Lewis human,’ says Nathaniel. ‘Dicky has reached the top and doesn’t have sympathy for people that haven’t; he sees them as a different breed.’ It’s a world that Nathaniel partially understands. His father was Sir Peter Parker, the former chairman of British Rail and his mother Gillian a successful GP and horticulturalist.
‘You still see that kind of hierarchy in some communities,’ he says. ‘When my mother and father had a place in Oxfordshire he was very much the Lord of the Manor. People saw him as this figurehead. I think people like the idea of structure and there is nothing wrong with it – unless the person at the top is an absolute monster.’
Dicky may be top dog and a regular churchgoer but he rules his house through violence. ‘It’s horrendous,’ says Nathaniel. ‘He’s a psychopath, really. How is it this man can throw parties and play tennis and then go inside and beat the hell out of a child?
‘People think it only happens in working-class families but that’s just not true. Lords and Ladies get beaten up too and it carries on if people are complicit. With Dicky’s family there’s a weird dynamic. He’s more or less in love with one of his daughters and despises the other.
He and his wife Claire have an understanding and she’s been put in her place already by him physically. He’s slapped her around for some years. As horrible as it is, she’s accepted it and doesn’t see a way out, which is why she’s still there. She’s jealous of her older daughter and doesn’t stop her youngest being hit.’
Despite being such a monster, Dicky is a character Nathaniel has long wanted to play. He was a fan of the book, which came out in 2008 after first being written as a screenplay, and is good friends with its author as their children were at school together in west London. ‘Sadie is so brilliant – every one of her books is a slice of life,’ he says. ‘You get to know her characters very well almost immediately. And she gets into that post-war society brilliantly.’
Playing the part was something of a labour of love for him. After a day of being nasty in 1950s Surrey he’d travel to London’s West End every night to play Henry VIII, surviving on five hours sleep.
‘They’re both monsters who think they’re nice people. Even Dicky thinks he isn’t doing anything wrong; discipline is how the country became great, he believes. I’ve enjoyed playing them both. With Henry, however tired I am, I come bouncing off the stage.’
He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company when he left drama school, but hadn’t worked with it for 27 years until returning in 2013 for Wolf Hall and its companion piece, Bring Up The Bodies. Ironically, when he was last there in 1986 he worked with Joely Richardson; her daughter Daisy Bevan – the fifth generation of her family to go into showbusiness – plays Tamsin, the daughter he’s so fond of, in The Outcast.
‘It’s weird because she’s so like her mum,’ he says. ‘You could put them next to each other and struggle to tell them apart. It’s taken me back nearly 30 years; it’s a lifetime ago and I’ve played so many weird and wonderful characters since, but I don’t feel any different.’
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