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 really, 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, a man 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.
The actor fondly recalls a time when Hart travelled down to London to support him in his hour of need.
“I was 16 and working in a theatre company in Wolverhampton. I had no money, I was living in a bedsit, and it was my first time away from home. It wasn’t that long after my dad had died either, and I hadn’t really dealt with that, so I was quite miserable,” recalls Morrissey, who wrote Hart a letter telling him as much.
“Soon after, I was in a rehearsal in this big warehouse and the door opened at the back. I remember thinking, ‘God, that guy looks like Ian’. He’d come to see me, and I’ll always remember that.”
It was during his visit that Hart revealed that dramatist, Willy Russell, was working on a new project, and “seeing everybody”. That project was One Summer, and Morrissey returned to Liverpool and gatecrashed an audition.
“We later got the phone call saying we’d both got parts.”
Morrissey describes The Driver as a “domestic drama”.
“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.
The Drive, Tuesday, 9pm BBC One