Actor Tim Downie on his upcoming role in The Mercy, how parenthood keeps you humble and why he loves life in Notting Hill
Lead image: Tim Downie photographed by Tom Dunkley)
I have to be creating all day everyday,’ says Tim Downie as we settle down for a coffee and a chat. ‘I don’t like to keep things bottled up, you see.’
It’s clear from early on in this interview that there’s a lot you can learn from Downie. He’s incredibly funny, without always realising it, notably humble and seems to have this remarkable ability to grab life by the horns and throw himself into every opportunity – not to mention the ones he creates for himself with his own writing.
It perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise that Downie tells me that one of the reasons he loves living in Notting Hill is because he can stroll around the area and garner inspiration for this writing. Recently, Downie has been busy filming several different pilots for shows, which he is beaming with excitement for.
‘I love that feeling when you’re thinking: “One of these will be the one,”’ he says. ‘I’m writing a new series at the moment and Upstart Crow has just started, with an extra Christmas episode in December.’
His latest projects include War Machine, alongside Brad Pitt, which can currently be seen on Netflix, as well as feature film The Mercy, alongside Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz. As a Critic’s Choice nominee and SAG winner, Downie made his film debut in Oscar and BAFTA winning The King’s Speech, Les Miserables and Paddington Bear.
So where did this love of the arts come from in the first place? ‘My parents are quite arty, but I wasn’t surrounded by the world of acting at all,’ says Downie. ‘My father refused to watch anything that was made after 1948 though so I was brought up on Ealing comedies and anything that was black and white. It meant that comedy was in my DNA. I wasn’t really good at anything else.’
My father refused to watch anything that was made after 1948 though so I was brought up on Ealing comedies
Clearly, writing and acting is something that comes incredibly naturally to him. He began writing and directing short films at drama school, his first being short-listed for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival while still in his second year, which was followed up with appearances at Cannes a few years later in the Straight 8 competition.
Downie, however, remains incredibly coy on the matter. ‘“Daddy just dresses up and does silly voices” is what my daughter tells me on a daily basis,’ he laughs. ‘It’s fair enough; there is an element of truth in it. In fact, now I’m saying it out loud, she’s absolutely spot on!’
Comedy is something that he definitely veers toward both in and out of work, but he does have a varied CV and doesn’t limit himself with comedic roles only. ‘It’s a real honour to do comedy as a living,’ he says. ‘But having said that, I love the serious stuff like Wolf Hall as well and it’s great to exercise that muscle too.
’I’m interested to hear if he finds the serious stuff, as he puts it, more challenging than comedy – which clearly comes so naturally to him. ‘It’s just different,’ he says.
‘Comedy can be a serious business, I tell you. Sometimes I find myself in rehearsals having a very long conversation about when a man’s trousers should fall down. To see grown men sitting in a circle discussing this is hilarious. But it can have its challenges!’
He goes on to tell me that despite such a varied career, it is a job that is impossible to pick a highlight from because there are so many.
Comedy can be a serious business, I tell you. Sometimes I find myself in rehearsals having a very long conversation about when a man’s trouser should fall down!
‘Working with Ben Elton and then realising that some of the things that I say and that I thought were my lines were actually from watching his work in Blackadder so much, moments like that are pretty special,’ he smiles.
‘It can be really quite humbling. I loved working with people such as Michael Gambon who is incredible, and you can stand back and watch their process – that is something.’ Downie feels he takes something new from every person and opportunity that he comes across. ‘I’m always learning with each new project,’ he smiles.
‘It’s fascinating to see how people work and why they are as good as they are. Some actors don’t do anything and yet it’s absolutely captivating to watch. There are others that do everything and that’s incredible too. I feed off people’s love for the work.’
He likes being busy and one of his newest projects, The Mercy, is a drama about an around the world yacht race. ‘It’s a fascinating story about maleness, and what you might do when pushed to a certain extent,’ Downie tells me. ‘I hope everyone likes it as I think it’s a very British, great story.’
Upstart Crow can be seen on BBC iPlayer; The Mercy will be released 9 February 2018; Downie is an ambassador for blueskyautism.com