The Killing Times: What was your initial reaction when you were approached to play the role of the Rev Huw Owen?
David Threlfall: I thought it was a really interesting world to be a part of and to investigate. Huw Owen is helping to train Merrily Watkins, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, in the deliverance ministry. I didn’t know anything about deliverance ministers. They are very quiet, unassuming, listening, kind, helpful people who other people call if they have a problem. That could be – in our lay terms – what might be perceived as a poltergeist, a ghost or any of those things. But it’s very rarely a problem of personal possession. We had our own deliverance minister as an advisor on the drama and I spoke to him. To then learn there was one in every diocese in the country was surprising. What was also interesting was that not all people inside the Christian church think it’s valid. This is, as I understand it, a divisive thing within the church. Some think people with those kind of problems need a psychiatrist or a social worker. There are those that say, ‘They need to go to a psychiatrist because they’re bipolar or they’re schizophrenic.’ Whereas, in fact, deliverance encapsulates all of that. These ministers have to be open to any situation they go into in order to ask the right questions and listen properly. They are saying, ‘No, these people need help.’ The biggest quality you have to have is to be able to listen. And that’s a perfect thing for an actor. Because it’s sometimes one of the hardest things to do. When you go into a situation you have to be able to listen and be helpful to people, to those that engage with deliverance.”
TKT: Are you a man of faith?
DT: Only in terms of Manchester City. We filmed part of Midwinter Of The Spirit near the Etihad Stadium in an area of Manchester where I used to live.
TKT: Do you believe in other-worldly events?
DT: I think there’s energy around of some kind. I’ve been interested in the way the pre-Christian magic occupied almost literally the power lines, the ley lines in this country. They then were taken over by Christian places of worship. Churches. I find that interesting. One of the references I’ve been reading talks about is the sense of astral power. That helps with the unexplained. That might be the energy that’s caused a vase to fly off a mantelpiece. That there is some imaginative energy in the room that does create the illusion, even though you swear certain things happen. There are certain things I would find hard to explain. I’m not unlike a lot of people in that way. Like it was unfathomable for a whole load of people who support Manchester United to understand why they had slipped down the table last season and Manchester City won the Premiership. Again. The unexplainable and inexplicable.
TKT: Have you ever looked evil in the eye?
DT: There is a whole discussion here about evil. I found this working on the BBC drama The Ark, for example. The story of the deluge is across all of our cultures. It belongs to all of us. Where did we get so divisive? It just seems crazy. Why do people insist on killing other people? Innocent lives. Because they don’t believe in your way of going about your own faith or your beliefs? Religion can lead us into some horrific situations. And I don’t dismiss the Christian church from having done that either.
TKT: You must applaud writers who come up with challenging material?
DT: Absolutely. It’s been nice to be involved with this third ITV drama in a row now after Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This and Code Of A Killer. There’s a real gold standard about these dramas. It’s great that a lot of places are homes for really good and interesting drama.
TKT: What has it been like working with Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays Merrily Watkins?
DT: We’ve come very close to working together before but have never done so until now. It’s delightful to work with her. Because the drama has such a dark undertone it’s perhaps a bit like funeral parlour directors and people who work in hospitals in that there’s a dark humour that goes with it. We had a very fun time in making what is at times is a very emotive and serious thing. Merrily’s personal journey is actually what Huw is tangential to and, therefore, also understanding of. And he’s trying to – if she did but know it – help her with it.
TKT: What was it like to film in and around Hereford?
DT: As well as being a lovely market town right on the borders of England and Wales it has possibly something magical about it. Hereford Cathedral contains both a Mappa Mundi and a revised edition of the Magna Carta. There was the original Magna Carta in 1215 and then one revised in 1217 and issued by Henry III. Hereford Cathedral has one of the four surviving copies. So I took the opportunity to go into the cathedral and see both of them. The Hereford Mappa Mundi is fascinating. That encapsulates a kind of mystical place, if you were to believe in some kind of ancient magical powers before the Christians arrived. That is maybe why that place was chosen. I don’t know. Doing this kind of work sets you off on that kind of trail. But I’ve not put the sandals on and then home to travel around in a caravan. No. I’ve got too much to look forward to this season with City.
Midwinter Of The Spirit: Wednesday 23rd September, 9pm, ITV