Roger Allam tells Louise Flind about Johnny Depp’s charm on a Buckinghamshire film set – and how coronavirus has halted filming
Is there anything you can’t leave home without?
A small, ceramic knife-sharpener when I was touring in the theatre. When I’m filming, a little electric coffee-maker.
How have your film and theatre work have been affected by the virus?
All my work has completely collapsed. I was going to be doing a television series in France. I’m not sure if it’s been postponed. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the next Endeavour series – it depends how long this will last and whether there’ll be another lockdown. I don’t know whether I’ll work this year.
What’s your favourite theatrical touring story?
In the mid-seventies I was with a fringe outfit called Monstrous Regiment, and those were the days of nylon sheets. In a place in Newcastle-under-Lyme, there were huge notices saying ‘Baths – 50p extra’ and the landlady had the bath plug. When I asked for a bath, she said, ‘You’ve only been here one day…’
Where did you film Tamara Drewe?
Mainly in Dorset. I had an early version of the coffee machine then, which wasn’t a complete success.
What was it like filming Pirates of the Caribbean – were you in the Caribbean?
No, I was in Pinewood, Bucks, for a week. It was me (playing Henry Pelham, the Whig statesman, pictured), Geoffrey Rush, Richard Griffiths and Anton Lesser, and we’d done all our bit on the first day. Apart from gossiping, it was profoundly boring.
What was Johnny Depp like?
Any exotic locations?
Yes, for Stranded – based on The Swiss Family Robinson – in Thailand. Everything about the job was fantastic except the script [roars with laughter]. When you’re in a speedboat going across to some beautiful island, dressed as a pirate, you sort of think this is better than stacking shelves.
Where did you film The Thick of It? And Endeavour?
Abandoned offices in London’s hinterland and a bit in Westminster. But the bulk of most filming for television is somewhere horrible. Most of Endeavour is shot in abandoned buildings and on location in Oxford.
And Game of Thrones?
My bit was in Malta and Gozo.
What’s your favourite theatre?
Years ago, I performed at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in east London. It’s the most glorious jewel of a theatre, where you can easily connect with everyone in the audience. It’s nice to have a room that’s big enough to shout in; small enough to whisper in.
What are your earliest childhood holiday memories?
My father was a vicar and my mother was particularly brilliant at finding cheap holidays for me and my two older sisters. My parents were keen ramblers – my obsession with the coffee machine comes from being in a storm on a Scottish mountain, when at a certain time of day we had to have a cup of tea from a little gas camping stove. If I don’t have a cup of tea in the afternoon, I do start to feel a bit strange.
Where did you go on your honeymoon?
We didn’t have one – isn’t that awful? We’d been together so long and my partner, Rebecca, was pregnant with our second son. We thought, ‘Oh God, what happens if I get knocked over by a bus – or you do?’ We got married very quickly.
Do you like working away from home?
Working away from home I do find slightly easier, really. Work’s generally easier than domestic life….
Do you have a daily routine even when you’re away?
Tea in the afternoon.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I used to live in Stoke Newington. In various Turkish restaurants, there were ‘Ram’s reproductive organs’, which were lamb’s bollocks – and absolutely delicious.
What are your best experiences in restaurants when abroad?
We’d go touring armed with The Good Food Guide. The restaurateur Jeremy King is an old schoolfriend of mine and, probably because of that, I can always get a table.
Have you made friends when you’ve been away?
When you’re filming, you’re thrown together, and you develop a kind of intimacy.
Do you like coming home?
Yes, but it can take a while to adjust as when away you have a different life. In the theatre, you’re back and forth every day.
What is your top travelling tip?
Be prepared for a very expensive taxi ride if you need one.
If the virus allows, what’s next for you?
I’m meant to be doing another series of Conversations from a Long Marriage with Joanna Lumley for Radio 4.