Interview: Mark Gatiss

© Catherine Ashmore
Posted: Mon Oct 22 2012

The 'League of Gentleman' star on playing a king, penning 'Sherlock', and the 'outrageous' influence of Prince Charles

He first came to prominence with the twisted comedy troupe The League of Gentlemen, but Mark Gatiss has gone on to find success as both an actor and writer, penning several episodes of 'Doctor Who' and co-creating 'Sherlock'. His latest role is Charles I in '55 Days', Howard Brenton's new play about the trial and execution of the English monarch.

Is Charles I a role you'd always wanted to play?
'Yes, I'm a bit of a Civil War nut. And it's a new play by Howard Brenton, directed by Howard Davies, with Douglas Henshall as Oliver Cromwell: that's all I need!'

Did the Charles in your head and the Charles in the play match up for you?
'It's all very consistent with the man as we know him historically. What always fascinates me about him was that he was so slippery - he'd just say anything. If he wasn't king you'd think he was maybe a sociopath, because he would say what he needed to say in the moment regardless of the consequences.'

Do you think it's strange that there's been so much art about the Tudors and so little about the Stuarts?
'It's never going to be as fun as the six wives of Henry VIII. But in terms of ideas, and the beginnings of proper democracy, then that's where it is. Howard Davies has a lot of friends from Russia. One of them came over in the '70s and Howard said, “What's the first thing you want to do?” And he said, “Visit the statue of Cromwell, of course.” A completely different attitude to us!'

Are you a republican?
'Yes. I don't mind really that we have the Queen as head of state, because we obviously need a head of state. But my big problem is that it isn't just a constitutional monarchy - that's a lie which is peddled to us. Charles - Prince Charles - has an outrageous amount of say. He lives in a bubble of ecological highmindedness coupled with flying around in jets, and can change the Royal Barracks plans because he's the Prince of Wales. That's utterly outrageous.'

You're about to start filming the third three-part season of 'Sherlock': do you wish you could make more?
'I hope people feel it's a bit of a treat; that it's not churned out. I also think coming in for three weeks and fucking off is the best way to avoid people turning on you. But the chief thrill of doing the series was to start at the beginning, see Holmes and Watson as young men, and maybe if we keep doing them every 18 months then in ten, 20 years' time they will be middle-aged and more like the Holmes and Watson of tradition. It might not happen, but it's a thrilling idea that we could grow up with them.'

Does The League of Gentlemen still exist?
'Of course! We never split up but we were together nearly 12 years and all collaborations have a shelf life. And it'd be very different if the controller of BBC2 was banging on the door saying, “Where the fuck is the new League of Gentlemen series?”'

'55 Days' runs at the Hampstead Theatre d Nov 24