Think of the biggest TV series of the last five years and Anton Lesser is likely to have starred. From The Crown to Game of Thrones, Endeavour to Killing Eve or Wolf Hall, the 70 year-old actor couldn‘t be more in demand if he tried.
And despite a huge part in the new Star Wars series for Disney+ and the last Endeavour due to hit our screens soon, the thespian has still found time to grace the Oxford Playhouse stage this week in The Two Popes.
“THE ENDEAVOUR CAST IS LIKE A BIG FAMILY AND VERY USED TO ENJOYING OUR TIME TOGETHER EVERY YEAR, SO IT IS SAD”
“I have been so blessed which I know is a luxury,” he says “but it means I get to do work based purely on its own merit, rather than taking every job to pay the bills.”
Already a famous face in Oxford as Police Chief Superintendent Reginald Bright in the Oxford based detective series Endeavour, its producers recently announced that Series 9 would be the last, throwing its global fan base into a frenzy of mourning.
So was the cast hit hard by the news? “For the last three years we have assumed that each series would be the last so it wasn’t a big surprise, we knew this was coming,” Anton tells me.
“Having said that we didn’t really believe it would finish until it did, so it seems right that the scripts for the final series come to such an interesting conclusion.”
“WHEN WE WERE FILMING STAR WARS THERE WERE ALL THESE YOUNG ACTORS LOOKING AT ME AS IF I KNEW WHAT I WAS DOING”
So does CS Bright read our interview about him here get his moment in the sun? “For many years I wanted to investigate his back story, so I will treasure the last few series where you’ve been able to see the man behind the uniform,” he says.
“But more than that, the Endeavour cast is like a big family and very used to enjoying our time together every year. Of course we all go off and do our own thing, secure in the knowledge that we’ll be back together again soon, and I will miss that – I think we all will – so it is sad but I’m sure we will all stay in touch,” he says.
As for The Two Popes, Anton said it was his children who persuaded him to take on the role again after Covid closed the play two weeks after it opened, despite rave reviews.
“They said ‘being on stage is what you love and it’s such a good script, you have to do it’. So I did.”
Inspired by the scandals rocking the Catholic church, seen through the eyes of two popes (Anton Lesser as Pope Benedict XVI and Nicholas Woodeson as Cardinal Bergoglio) Anton describes it as “more of a philosophical chat between two contemporaries”.
“THE TWO POPES IS A WONDERFUL HUMAN DRAMA BETWEEN TWO MEN WHO JUST HAPPEN TO BE WEARING FROCKS”
Written by Tony Gilroy of the Bourne films, Anton says “its characters and story-line are terrific, so don’t be fooled by the title or assume that it’s dry or religious and preachy. Don’t assume anything!
“Instead it’s a wonderful human drama between two men who just happen to be wearing frocks. So put aside all your preconceived ideas.
“Yes it is a moment in history but more than anything, it’s about the relationship between these two men who are dealing with all sorts of issues in a radically changing world.”
“it doesn’t get easier, the pressure is the same, the same worries about forgetting your lines or losing your voice. So I just take it as it comes and see what happens next”
So why the hesitancy? “Well, I’m not very good at touring so they asked how long I could manage and I said a few months….”
What doesn’t he like? “As a younger actor you’d pitch up to these ghastly digs in Aberdeen or Belfast and it would be great, but not at my age. Now I find touring exhausting – there’s a new venue every night, and train strikes, and you have to worry about how to get there and where to park. You have to adapt to every new venue basically.
“But the writing was so brilliant I had to do it again even if being on stage means you can always come unstuck and end up in a foetal position in the doctors surgery,” he smiles.
Even now, after all his experience? “Yes and when we were filming Star Wars there were all these young actors looking at me as if I knew what I was doing, but I’ve never done a big Hollywood thing before and there were a lot of lines about intergalactic space and planets to remember, so we were all in the same boat really. It’s the camaraderie that allows you to relax and gets you through.
“And anyway, there’s not a lot of acting required for us to play the doddery old men in The Two Popes,” he jokes.
Anyone who’s seen Anton’s calm, calculated, watchful, implacable characters over the years would disagree, so does he have a favourite role? “Nothing I’ve done before seems as important as what I’m doing at the moment, but it doesn’t get easier, the pressure is the same, the same worries about forgetting your lines or losing your voice. So I just take it as it comes and see what happens next.”
The Two Popes at Oxford Playhouse runs from Tuesday October 18 – Saturday October 22. Go to https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/the-two-popes to book.