Since starting his career in the mid-90s, Daniel mays has established himself as one of the UK’s most prolific and trusted players. On television he appeared in all of Doctor Who at Course of action more on the two later and himself portrayed the ‘big train thief’, Ronnie biggs, in the famous miniseries 2012 Mrs. Biggs. Along the way, he also racked up roles in blockbuster films including Vera drake, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, and Friends of fishermen. He’s so constantly in demand, in fact, that he says the forced seven-month break he suffered during this year’s pandemic is the longest he’s lost without a job.
Now he’s taking on a meaty lead role in spooky UK miniseries Of, which will start on Thursday, October 15, Sundance now. Mays plays the Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay, the London police officer responsible for identifying the victims of Dennis nilsen (interpreted by David tennant at its most frightening), a Scottish serial killer and necrophiliac who murdered at least 12 young men and boys between 1978 and 1983. Based on a biography of Nilsen by Brian Masters who is played by Jason watkins this is not your typical series of real crimes. Nilsen confesses to the murder right away, but getting him to reveal the names of his victims is a bit trickier, as Mays’ character soon finds out.
What did you know about the Dennis Nilsen case before you were chosen Of?
Obviously I knew the bits because this was a high profile case [in the U.K.], but the more I researched, the clearer it became that what Nilsen was doing was so unfathomable to us normal people. The beauty of Of and he is obviously strongly influenced by [the biography] Kill for the company is this Luke nealThe scripts really try to ask questions about how this person came to be Dennis Nilsen, an infamous serial killer. It is not free: there is no violence, no blood, no blood, which I think was a really wise decision. It is much more of a methodical psychological investigation of who he was and how he was born. And it’s very told through the prism of my character, Detective Peter Jay, and Brian Masters, his biographer. It’s a very strange dynamic that these three characters have the one thing Jay and Masters have in common, obviously Nilsen. So it’s definitely not a love triangle, but it’s kind of a triangle.
Do you feel like your character is really in the public eye in a certain way? His reaction to Nilsen’s atrocities is certainly one to which we can relate the most.
Completely when I met Lewis arnold, the brilliant young director, that’s how he was sold to me. He said to me: ‘Look at Danny, the bottom line is that Peter is the heart and soul of the play. It is he who brings humanity: it is through his eyes that we learn everything about the identity of the victims. And as the drama unfolds, you’ll see that Peter Jay is someone who takes the weight of each of these people on his shoulders and wants to close families down. And on top of that, he faces insurmountable pressure from the media on the backs and upper echelons of the Metropolitan Police pushing him to have the case closed. So it is without a doubt the public gaze, and for me it was such a joy to play.
How did you start looking for this real role?
I mean, there have been tons of Dennis Nilsen documentaries given to them to watch, but they’re all on YouTube anyway. And what was great was that Peter seems to have been in all of them! So in terms of this visual interpretation of what it looked like, how it sounded and how it moved, I could tick that box very easily. I also read Kill for the company, which was very helpful. But I guess the biggest source of research was that I actually went to meet Peter’s widow, Linda, and her son from his second marriage, Simon, for lunch. We all got along like a house on fire. Peter died only a few years ago, so their grief and their memories of him were palpable, in fact. It’s always a huge responsibility when you play someone real, but even more so after meeting Linda and Simon, I really wanted to honor his memory. They were so generous in sharing their time and memories of Peter and it became clear that he was a brilliant cop. He was a reserved, hardworking man and truly your traditionally trained British policeman.
As soon as you watch YouTube footage of Nilsen, you realize how scary David Tennant’s performance really is. What was your reaction when you acted in front of him?
Well I remember we had this brilliant read, and David was one of the last actors to arrive. And even in reading, you could tell he was channeling something. It was incredibly thorough and he looked exactly like the real Dennis Nilsen. But then when we came to film the interrogation scene in the first episode, and Nilsen brings up this description of body dissection, it’s something I’ve only experienced very rarely in my 20s. and more actor. Sometimes when you are in front of such a master of their trade, you come out a bit. And sure, when they were shooting that scene and I was off camera, I fed him lines and just watched him deliver that monologue, that was one of those moments. I just walked out of it thinking, ‘This is clearly one of the strangest but brilliant and captivating performances I’ve ever seen. ”
Which of your many roles do audience members ask you the most about?
You know black cab drivers say, “Look, I’ve got Ronnie Biggs in the back. Course of action was another popular one too. And Of was recently in the UK and has ITV’s biggest [ratings] numbers this year, so the response has been fantastic. It’s gratifying to be part of such a big local success because of course I know how much work has been required.
* Spoiler Alert Ahead * If you are not caught Course of action season three, read at your own risk …
Are people still shocked by your Course of action The disappearance of Sergeant Danny Waldron?
Well when everybody is watching this [episode], they tend to have the exact same reaction as I did when I first read the script. I remember participating in the audition with [writer-creator] Jed Mercurio and saying, ‘Please tell me that survives,’ and he said, ‘No, no, he’s not literally going to unplug the main character in the first episode. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow’. But that first episode gave me an incredible hour of TV to play this character, obviously I was gutted that he got killed, but it was really a radical change in my career. It really took me up a notch and I was nominated for BAFTAs, so it just proves what they always say: “There are no small roles, only small actors.”
And finally, do you have fond memories of shooting your Doctor Who episode, “Night Terrors”?
Oh yeah, because I worked with the shine Matt smith and had an absolute bullet with him. And it was a really fun episode to shoot because I was just playing a normal human, not an alien or whatever and all this wonderful stuff was going on around me. For example, we were miniaturized and sucked into this doll’s house and my primordial memory of this experience was being chased by these huge paper dolls and trying to push them away! Matt Smith was supposed to be next to me, but he was laughing so hard he walked off the stage and walked over to the back of the camera to watch. I didn’t realize it so I kept playing and saw him laughing his socks off behind the camera. Honestly, I had a great time with him.
Do you have a favorite Daniel Mays performance?
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