David Morrissey wouldn’t call himself controlling, but he does enjoy a certain amount of influence when signing up to a show.
“Sometimes, as an actor, you come in on the middle of a project and all of the writing has been done, and most of the decisions have been made before you get there,” explains the 50-year-old, who’s played a mass murderer in The Widowmaker, Gordon Brown in Peter Morgan’s The Deal and an arcade owner in the BBC musical series, Blackpool.
“Then you leave a project early and it all gets edited together with music, so I was finding I liked being involved in all of the aspects, and I like the collaborative nature of that.”
It’s why a couple of years back, he co-founded a production company with his friend, producer Jolyon Symonds.
“One of the first things we did was meet writers we wanted to work with, and top of that list was Danny Brocklehurst,” says Morrissey, of the man whose credits include Accused and The Street.
“I’ve known and wanted to work with him for a long time, but we’d never got round to it, so we sat down, he had a few ideas, and this was the one that jumped out.”
He’s referring to The Driver, a three-part drama for the BBC in which Morrissey stars as taxi driver Vince McKee, who, frustrated with the monotony of life, accepts an offer to drive for a criminal gang.
“Vince has walked a straight and narrow line, paid his taxes and supported his family, but he slightly feels like he hasn’t been rewarded for it. He’s wondering where his prize is,” says the Liverpool-born actor, who began his training at the city’s Everyman Youth Theatre before enrolling at Rada.
Vince is introduced to the gang by Colin, a friend who’s resurfaced after a six-year stretch in prison. He’s played by Ian Hart, an old school pal of Morrissey’s, who he previously worked with on the acclaimed 1983 TV series One Summer.
“It’s about a man who’s struggling emotionally because his son is missing,” reveals the father-of-three, who is married to novelist Esther Freud, daughter of artist, Lucian. “His wife [Claudie Blakley] doesn’t want to talk about their son but Vince needs to, so he’s not only in a financially troubling place, he’s in an emotionally troubling place. He’s slightly lost and wondering what life’s all about, really.”
The offer of becoming a driver for gang leader The Horse (Colm Meaney) seems like an exciting proposition. “He’s been given this opportunity, which he knows is the wrong side of the law, but his motivation to get involved with these people is to do with an adrenaline rush,” explains Morrissey.
“The excitement of driving is what he needs as a man; what gives him his machismo back. It’s not another woman or gambling, it’s flirting with danger that makes him feel manly and part of life again. That is a very relatable thing for many people.”
That first rush can determine the rest of your life, he adds. “And what my character does with that first rush really sends him on a handcart to hell.”
The team were keen for the driving sequences to be as enthralling as their budget would allow - “so we’re on that journey with Vince, and you feel the same rush, fear and relief he does,” says Morrissey.
Although there are some impressive driving skills on show - which required professionals to step in - he says he thinks it’s wrong to think of them as simply stunts. “What you do is go, ‘Why do we need to see this happen?’ Our stunts give Vince his mojo, which blinds him to his moral compass, because he’s so excited by it. The audience have to be with him to understand what he’s getting from it.”
He loves how well the industry is doing at the moment.
“I see it with my kids. They watch television in the same way that I used to listen to LPs. They’ll watch something again and again, until they can quote it. I used to go to my bedroom and listen to albums again and again, and that was my source of conversation for everybody.
“TV’s in a really healthy place,” Morrissey adds. “A few years ago, we thought it was dying, so I’ll be interested to see how that develops over the next decade.”
lThe Driver is a three-part drama beginning on BBC One on Tuesday, September 23