Interview: Trevor Eve, actor

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FROM Shoestring to Waking the Dead, actor Trevor Eve has rarely been off our TV screens. he says it’s luck, but the star of new drama Kidnap and Ransom has worked for his success

It’s not often that an interviewee warns me to beware of the snakes.

Then again, I don’t often have cause to interview someone in the African bush.

But I find myself at a remote location in South Africa, watching the filming of Kidnap and Ransom, ITV1’s three-part drama about Dominic King, a tough but troubled hostage negotiator played by Trevor Eve.

We could scarcely be further removed from the sort of so-hip-it-hurts central London private members’ club where these interviews are usually conducted. For a start, there is dust everywhere; a thin film of the stuff even coats my glasses.

Nearby, there is a dilapidated bungalow that is doubling for a morgue at a rundown hospital complex in a far-flung corner of Kashmir. In front of the rickety old building stands a tuk-tuk garlanded with orange flowers. A single word is painted on the road that runs past the morgue towards the main hospital building: “Trauma”.

That word might just encapsulate the experience of both starring in and executive producing Kidnap and Ransom. However, Eve takes in his stride the manifold difficulties of simultaneously headlining in and overseeing an epic production so far from home. Having guided me through the snake-infested undergrowth to a shady clearing, he is now sitting opposite me sipping a cup of tea.

Sporting a pair of designer shades, a grizzled grey beard, and a blue shirt and trousers, he is coolness personified.

The fact that we are here on the South African set of a big-budget production underlines Eve’s clout. The actor, 60, is that rarity in the increasingly cash-strapped TV industry: a “green light” star, having enjoyed an almost unprecedented string of hits for more than three decades now, playing leading roles in such well-loved shows as Shoestring, A Sense of Guilt, The Politician’s Wife, David Copperfield, Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A Doll’s House and Parnell and the Englishwoman.

For 11 years, between 2000 and 2011, Eve was also a regular visitor to our living rooms as the brooding DS Peter Boyd in BBC1’s hugely popular detective series, Waking the Dead. The forensics drama came to a close last year after more than a decade at the top of the ratings and Eve feels it was right for them to quit while they were ahead. “I loved Waking the Dead, but I’m very happy it’s not going again,” he says. “It absolutely feels like a weight off my shoulders. There is no chance of it coming back.

“It was the right decision to stop it then. When we finished, everyone said, ‘It’s still a really good series’. That’s great. You don’t want people to say, ‘It’s not as good as it used to be.’”

So to what does he attribute his longevity in an often fickle industry? “I’ve always been very committed to my work,” replies Eve, who has been married for 32 years to fellow actor Sharon Maughan. “When I do something, it means something to me. Maybe that transfers onto the screen.

“When you go into a project, you never know how it will turn out. There is always an unknown element. But we are trying to do work that grabs you, and that we would want to watch ourselves. That’s a pretty good yardstick. If you’re going to be totally involved in something for a long period of time, it has to consume you.”

Eve, who has three children, Alice (herself now a successful Hollywood actress), Jack and George, adds, “You try to make it right.

I’d never think, ‘This is no good. I’m just going to walk through this’. You keep trying. You get back what you put in. I don’t believe in giving up.” Despite his years of success, Eve is relieved to say that he has never had the kind of traffic-stopping global profile that would prevent him from going to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk. “Fans come up to me all the time,” says the actor who, in a neat bit of casting, played Alice’s father in the movie, She’s Out of My League (to add to the in joke, Sharon took the role of her mother.)

“Face-to-face, people are always incredibly positive, and that’s very welcome because I’m out and about a lot. It gives me a lot of satisfaction that I’ve done things which have given people such pleasure. That’s a huge source of pride.”

“There are degrees to fame. I don’t have the sort of fame that is a problem. I always say hello to people, but I don’t have a ‘besieged’ factor. Those actors who can’t go anywhere because they’ll get mobbed – that must be agony. But it is never restrictive for me.”

Eve, from Sutton Coldfield in Warwickshire, originally wanted to be an architect. However, he dropped out of his course at Kingston Polytechnic in south-west London to take up a place at RADA.

Upon graduating, he soon found work in the theatre, giving a memorable performance as Paul McCartney in the 1974 London West End production of Willy Russell’s play, John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert. Eve has always thrived in the theatre, winning Olivier Awards for Children of a Lesser God in 1982 and Uncle Vanya in 1997.

After playing relatively unheralded TV roles such as “Man in Shower” in the short Children in 1976, Eve’s fortunes changed dramatically when he landed the role of the laid-back Bristol “private ear” Eddie Shoestring in 1979. Shoestring was the game changer, and he has never looked back. His latest role, as King in Kidnap and Ransom, plays to Eve’s strengths as an elder statesman.

In this series, which begins on STV this week, King has to draw on all his negotiating skills to try to secure the release of a busload of Western tourists who have been kidnapped by a couple of desperate, gun-toting hijackers in Kashmir.

Eve says of King: “This is an ex-military man who has really experienced life. He has learnt to contain his emotions. He is not a demonstrative person. I enjoy playing that because as a person, I’m the opposite.”

The actor, whose production company is making Kidnap and Ransom, continues, “I say what I feel. That’s who I am. I’m not rude – I don’t believe in that – but if something is not right, I sort it out.

“That’s the way I work. Most people respond to that.”

During this series, we see the high price King has paid for his total dedication to his job. “The problem is that he’s never at home. His second marriage has finally folded due to his inability to adjust to domestic life. He spends months away from home sitting in grotty hotels all over the world. But that’s what he wants to do. That’s where his adrenaline comes from.”

Kidnap could scarcely be a more topical subject for a drama. If you can believe it, someone, somewhere in the world is taken hostage every six hours.“Kidnap is the fastest-growing crime in the world,” says Eve.

“Kidnaps happen on our doorstep in the UK, and we don’t even hear about them. There are a lot of inter-gang kidnaps in Britain that never hit the headlines and are dealt with quietly. There is an absolute boom in kidnapping. It offers maximum reward for minimum effort.”

To help him research Kidnap and Ransom, Eve has tapped into a network of real-life hostage negotiators. In the world of kidnapping, drama comes with the territory,” says Eve. “It contains inherent drama. You don’t have to struggle to find dramatic moments when you’re dealing with hostage negotiations. The negotiators give us so much information, that we could easily make an eight-hour drama out of it. Without question, they are amazing people.

“We authenticate all our stories through one particular man, a real-life hostage negotiator who wishes to remain anonymous. He gives us lots of information, which is invaluable for our drama.”

Eve says of negotiators, “They are usually ex-military and have the ability to stay very calm. The fact that they are also adrenaline junkies is another matter.

“I met five negotiators recently, and four of them had been in the SAS. One of them told me, ‘It very difficult readjusting to civilian life when you leave active service. Pushing a trolley around a supermarket is not what I was trained to do.’

“They all always have three mobile telephones on them. One of the phones will go, and they will say, ‘Excuse me”, and you know they’re talking to a kidnapper. That’s their life.

“One of them was about to go to Somalia to deal with the pirates. As we sat down to chat, he said to me, ‘I hope you don’t mind if I leave that phone on as I am expecting a call from the Somali pirates”. It’s one of the best lines I’ve ever heard.”

So what’s next for Eve? Would he like to collaborate with daughter Alice again?

He says: “We did She’s Out of My League together, and it was a lot of fun. But I haven’t got any more plans to work with Alice at the moment. In fact,” he adds with a laugh, “it’s the other way round – does she want to work with me? She calls the shots more than I do. I’m waiting for the call from her.”

It’s a busy time for Alice: “She has just been a judge at the Zürich Film Festival. She has also just finished Men in Black III and the last four episodes of Entourage. I’m very proud of her. I thought I would have a degree of objectivity as a parent and think, ‘That’s their life’. But actually, you still worry for them.

“I’m a bit of a worrier. I’m trying not to be because it’s not worth it. It’s one thing you can spend a lot of time doing that doesn’t get you anywhere, and I’m trying to eliminate that.”

One project Eve is not contemplating yet is taking on the classic Shakespearean role for the older male actor. “King Lear?” he exclaims. “For God’s sake, I can’t believe I’m there already! Give me a few years, please. I’d be excited at some point in the future to play Lear, but I’m not there yet. Let’s not even discuss it. I don’t want this to be the interview where I discuss the possibility of my King Lear.”

It’s been quite a ride for Eve over the last three decades. How would he sum it all up? “It’s been great. Working away from home can be difficult at times. But you can’t complain – it’s not like doing a tour of Afghanistan.

“No, I look back with gratitude and contentment. Of course, things have to go right for you, and that does involve a bit of luck. But I have been doing this since 1974. People talk about Waking the Dead, but I think, ‘Hang on, I have been doing this for quite a while now. Shoestring was in 1979, A Sense of Guilt was in 1988, and The Politician’s Wife was in 1994.’

“Do I have any unfulfilled ambitions? I’m fulfilling one by bringing Kidnap and Ransom to fruition. But overall I’d just like to carry on doing more of the same… if they’ll let me.”

Trevor Eve needn’t worry about that. I think they’ll let him.

• Kidnap and Ransom begins on STV at 9pm on Thursday.