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Your new miniseries, Appropriate Adult, is about the infamous British serial killer Fred West. How did you get involved with the production?
I read the script and I was gripped by it. I had great reservations about the morality of making a film involving this man, but I thought the way it was approached satisfied those moral qualms.
The decision to dramatize the story was controversial in the U.K. What was your take on that?
I understood it. There are a lot of people whose lives have been ruined by this man. You have to be very clear that you're dredging up this story which will cause suffering and pain. [But] drama is a very good place to discuss the depravity of human nature. I think the concerns were that the film would border on horror or pornography, but I was confident that this was a serious attempt to examine the case.
How did playing such a dark role affect your life?
I was having dreams about [Fred West]. There was one particular recurring dream where I was perched on a very high wall and about to fall off, and he was about to grab my feet. I remember waking up a few times to that. But I was pretty determined not to let the bastard get to me.
You're also starring in the horror film The Awakening. Are you ready to be in something lighthearted for a change?
I'd love to, but no one seems to want me to play nice heroes! [Laughs] I'm dying to play something breezy and heroic. It must be a look I've got in my eye, or maybe it's the way my face is aging. [Laughs] Usually the bad guys have the best lines, but for the sake of my soul, I better do something more righteous in the future.
You're best known in the States for playing Detective McNulty on The Wire. How did the experience change your career?
I suppose it's the reason anyone who's heard of me has heard of me. In that way, it really made my career. It's something I treasure as a great piece of work, and a great cast of writers and actors.
You took a three-year break between The Wire and your current BBC series, The Hour. Was that intentional?
I very consciously wanted to take a break. My daughter was in London, and I wanted to get back to her. And I got married and had three kids, so now I'm stuck in London, and I can't get back to America to do anything. [Laughs] Although it was and still is a golden era for American TV, I didn't want to do episodic television for a bit.
Did you find yourself getting typecast after the show finished?
Well, I got offered a lot of cops and a lot of drunks. But one of the good things about McNulty was that as soon as people met me, and the moment I opened my mouth and [they realized] I don't really sound much like him...it wasn't something I was in danger of being typecast as.
I'm from Baltimore, so I have to ask: How hard was it for you to mimic the Baltimore accent as McNulty?
I found it very hard, actually. Sometimes accents really give you a character, and you slip into them really easily—that was the case with Fred West—but with McNulty it was the opposite. I wasn't really comfortable with the Baltimore accent for at least two seasons.
Appropriate Adult premieres Sat 10 on Sundance.