An Interview With… Kevin Doyle

Hi everyone, and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome actor Kevin Doyle. Kevin is known for the role of Mr Molesley in the smash hit ITV period drama Downton Abbey. He was kind enough to have a chat about some of my favourite roles of his and how his career began.

Over to you, Kevin…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Did you always want to be an actor growing up or did you have any other career plans for after you left school?

I come from a family with no connection to the industry and growing up in the north of England in the 1970’s it didn’t occur to me that it was an option in life. Up until I was 18 I had no real interest in acting. What changed was the fact that over a period of a couple of years I became surrounded by friends who were interested in acting and talked of drama school. I think the influence of friends at that age can’t be overstated. At 18 years old, I had no idea what I was going to do.

University wasn’t going to happen for me and so I guess I latched on to my friends dreams and worked really hard to make them a reality for me. I applied to the Guildhall School of Drama and they accepted me – that one afternoon in December 1978 literally changed my life. I was on a path that was completely unexpected and alien.

2) Your career has varied between film, television and theatre. Which of the three would you say is your favourite and why?

It’s a question I’m asked quite frequently and my answer has always been that I’m very lucky to be able to switch between them all and as a result I look forward to the changes and the challenges that each offers. In theatre you have to be responsible for so much more of your performance. It depends on whether or not you can be seen and heard, the timing of your entrances etc. But on a film set others take those responsibilities: the sound department, make up, costume etc. You just have to concentrate on your acting.

3) I first saw you as serial killer Geoff Hastings in Scott and Bailey, back in 2011. When you were offered the role, how did you go about your research on murderers? What was it about the character that jumped out at you?

I didn’t do research specifically for that role but I suppose I have over the years read a number of books on people who have done some pretty dark things or endured some trauma in their life (Killing for Company about the life of Dennis Nielsen was I think an extraordinary journalistic achievement).

I’ve played several parts where extreme violence has occurred and I think the thing I always try to do is to recognise the human being and not the acts they’ve committed. I don’t believe in evil, I think that’s a lazy way for society to pigeonhole people. I have to believe that anybody, under certain circumstances is capable of doing self- serving or abhorrent acts. I think by accepting that, I can then begin to try and understand their journey. An audience has to be able to recognise the humanity of someone no matter how terrible their crimes.

4) I have since seen you as Mr Molesley in Downton Abbey, written by Julian Fellowes. What attracted you to this particular role? Did you enjoy revisiting the character in the film version?

That part has evolved over the years. To start with he was a very withdrawn person whose pride in his job was being undermined by his new employer and he had to just take it on the chin. Over the years as Julian and I have lived with the character we’ve seen him grow and slowly become more confident. We’ve just finished filming the second movie which I’m hoping will see him flourish in new ways.

5) In the second series of Happy Valley by Sally Wainwright, you played DS John Wadsworth. What did you find about the character that drew you to the role?

I just loved the slowly increasing desperation of the man. Trying to remain calm to family and professional to work mates while becoming more and more ragged and out of control.

6) How did you find your current agent?

I was told when I was younger that changing agents was akin to leaving a romantic relationship and in a way it is. I’ve done it twice in 40 years and it’s a horrible process. Like leaving a partner it’s a slowly evolving awareness that things aren’t really where you want them to be and so eventually someone says something. The good thing however is that on the whole the agents recognise that it’s not personal, simply business. My agents who I’ve been with for 30 years now approached me while I was working at the Royal Shakespeare Company. They’d heard my previous agents was retiring and met me for a chat.

7) As an actor, how has the pandemic affected you? Is there anything that you miss about the day to day routines of being on a set?

Apart from about 3 months in 2020 when everything shut down, my work hasn’t really been affected. Obviously day to day working life is very different (and a hell of a lot more expensive for the producers -something I was on fairly recently required 14,500 PCR tests over a period of a few months – you can imagine how much that cost).

Because everyone is currently masked up on set, it’s difficult to have the same kind of working relationship with people – for a start if it’s early on in the production I’m never quite sure who I’m talking to and so friendships can’t evolve in quite the same way, and as half the enjoyment of going to work is the relationships you build with people, then that is a considerable loss.

8) What are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite programme that you watch religiously?

The same as everyone else – Succession, Curb your Enthusiasm. I always go back to Seinfeld.

9) What are you currently reading? Can you choose between fiction and non fiction? Do you have a favourite genre?

I flit between crime novels and History books. I’ve been reading a few books about the early Christian church – I’m fascinated by the extraordinary difference between what we know of the life of Jesus and what the established Church becomes. I’ve also just read a terrific book by Sarah Win an called Still Life. I heartily recommend.

10) In preparation for a role, do you sometimes listen to music to get you in your character’s mindset? As a writer, I feel that it sometimes helps.

No I don’t feel the need to do any of that. I just try and respond to what’s on the page.

Thank you for your time today Kevin, it has been a pleasure to interview you. I can’t wait to see the new Downton Abbey film!

Bio: Kevin is known to many as Joseph Molesley in DOWNTON ABBEY, the ensemble cast of which have received international critical acclaim – most recently to the tune of winning the SAG Award 2016 for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. The hit series was recently adapted for the big screen and instantly became a box office hit. DOWNTON ABBEY 2 is due for release in spring 2022. Kevin has recently finished filming the second series of Netflix’ record breaking series THE WITCHER, where he plays the role of Ba’Lian. Kevin will soon feature in the much anticipated series SHERWOOD for BBC. Kevin played John Wadsworth in BAFTA winning British series HAPPY VALLEY, and starred in ITV mini-series PARANOID. He most recently tread the boards in the leading role of Orgon in Blanche McIntyre’s production of TARTUFFE at the National Theatre, FANNY & ALEXANDER at the prestigious Old Vic, and followed Headlong Theatre’s production of THIS HOUSE from its Chichester run to the West End’s Garrick Theatre.

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